Death of Jean-Pierre Ferland: An Homage to “Le petit roi” From His Heirs and Heiresses | Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame
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Death of Jean-Pierre Ferland: An Homage to “Le petit roi” From His Heirs and Heiresses

Blog, CSHF News

It is with a profound sorrow that the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame learned of the passing of the true monument of “chanson française” that was Jean-Pierre Ferland, at the age of 89, on April 27, 2024. We’re eternally grateful for the immense body of work that he bequeaths Québec, Canada, and the Francophonie at large.


Over his entire career, Ferland recorded more than 450 songs and about 30 albums. Jean-Pierre Ferland received a dozen SOCAN Classic Awards, as well as the National Award at the 1999 SOCAN Gala, and the Cultural Impact Award at the 2023 SOCAN Gala – for his immortal anthem, “Un peu plus haut, un peu plus loin.” In 2007, he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame to celebrate his entire career.


Throughout that long and fruitful career, Ferland has constantly elevated and furthered “chanson québécoise,” and for that, we’re forever thankful. The entire family of SOCAN’s talented songwriters, composers, and music publishers extends its most sincere condolences to his family and friends, and to all those who had the good fortune to work with him throughout his musical life.


We asked SOCAN members of all generations to choose their favourite song from his rich repertoire, to celebrate his memory. Here’s what they told us:


La Musique. Twenty-five years after the release of Jaune, the album that turned ‘chanson française’ on its head, made artists think twice, and gave a new direction to the voices of Québec, Jean-Pierre Ferland recorded Écoute pas ça with three of his buddies, Alain Leblanc, Bob Cohen, and Richard Bélanger. The hidden treasure on that magical album is a six-minute-long song that doesn’t have a hooky chorus, isn’t a love story, and actually doesn’t have a story at all. The author simply gets stuff off of his chest. It’s a super-emotionally-charged whisper, carried by a sparse arrangement, the calm after the many storms of a busy life. And yet, despite his best attempts to do something just and simple, a whole world crumbles at the feet of this melody, of only a few notes. It’s a fascinating accomplishment. The perfect song. It’s as if ‘Le Petit Roi,’ now that he’s a grown-up, no longer has it in him and decides to abdicate. His last words are for his loyal soulmate, the companion of all his lyrics, his treasure, his true love, La Musique.”


“As much as I dig left and right into his repertoire, I do believe my song is still Le petit roi. Just so we’re clear, Ferland had a very important place in my parents’ record collection, alongside [Gilles] Vigneault and [Félix] Leclerc. My parents sang in a choir, it was the era of La petite suite québécoise. Although Le petit roi isn’t part of it, my brain associates that song with choir singing, and family nostalgia. I think the opening notes of Le petit roi are the most emblematic of Jean-Pierre’s body of work. The song itself is a masterpiece of originality, with its chord progression and massive melody, but also its lyrics – about the renaissance one goes through in their early thirties, when one truly enters adulthood and experiences this need to shed one’s old skin. There’s a bit of spirituality and mindfulness floating around in there, too. When you’re gripped by such a powerful urge to write, you often enter the realm of the eternal, of dissociation from the ego, of the very soul. It’s beautiful! It’s an important legacy for Québec, and I would go so far as to say that it is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can give to life. Hats off to Michel Robidoux for his contribution to that song. Thank you for that, J.-P. my friend.”


Le chat du café des artistes is an amazingly powerful song. Its lyrics are perfectly anchored at the realms of the political and the intimate. On one hand, you have the disillusionment of the artist, who so poetically describes his uncompromising vision of his status as an artist; on the other, you have society’s perception of the artist as a second-class citizen, making this song a nothing short of a manifesto. The tense arrangements – strings, brass, children’s choir, great contrasts in nuance – are perfectly interwoven with the subject matter, and that’s how you create a timeless masterpiece that follows no format. I had the chance to dig into it, to dissect it, and to re-appropriate it, alongside composer Michel Robidoux, for his own album, and I feel I had a deeply cathartic experience through this process. Jaune completely changed the vision of so many artists… It’s a radical, bold, and fully integrated statement that’s always made me want to surpass myself. Hats off to Ferland – and, of course, his many notorious collaborators, such as André Perry, Alain Leblanc, and the numerous composers that crossed his path. Thank you for everything!”


“A few years ago, I was offered a chance to host the show La chaîne musicale on Ici Musique. To get prepared, we were invited to build playlists. Good student that I am, I started going at it artist by artist. The one artist from Québec who had the longest list of classics was Jean-Pierre Ferland. I didn’t expect it, but it was clear as day in front of my eyes. But then, when I was asked to pick my favourite Jean-Pierre song, it wasn’t easy at all. Still, I choose La musique, from his album Écoute pas ça. It resonates deeply with me as a songwriter. Music also saved my life, to a certain point, and it even gave me a life. It’s a magnificent love song, probably one of Jean-Pierre’s most sincere. Whatever the case may be, music was probably his most successful love story, to everyone’s utter delight.”


Ton visage, lyrics by Jean-Pierre Ferland, music by Paul de Margerie. To me, that’s Ferland most beautiful song, the perfect amalgamation of words and music. The melody sways over a poem that’s mainlined straight to the heart – to me, it’s the perfect breakup song. The metaphor of a storm crashing down over ‘a shipload of sorrow’ has always resonated with my Gaspésienne heart. Maybe it’s also because I have green eyes, and in my mind, as a child, I was somewhat under the impression Jean-Pierre was talking to me. It’s a monumental song; one that belongs to eternity.”


Il faut des amoureux, Ferland, Leblanc, Cohen, from Écoute pas ça, 1995. ‘Le Bon Dieu qui fait l’Irlande et la Bosnie, quand il s’excuse, il fait des amoureux’ [freely: ‘The God that created Ireland and Bosnia also created lovers when he wants to say, ‘I’m sorry’]. When I hear that line, my heart breaks and my eyes get teary. To me, that is Jean-Pierre Ferland: Intimate love and world-weariness in one troubling sentence. It’s a song filled with fresh, unique images and no clichés, over an inspired, vibrant, and timeless melody. Ferland is, by far, the most original of our classics, and the most classic of our originals. Thank you, Jean-Pierre!”


“Back in 1999, when I was in Cégep, I went through a major Ferland phase. I had Écoute pas ça and L’amour c’est de l’ouvrage on repeat, two albums he created with Alain Leblanc and Bob Cohen. There’s no doubt that Ferland, especially with those two albums, was among the artists who made me want to sing in French and find my own voice. It’s also because of those albums that I moved on to Jaune and Soleil, two of my favourite Québécois albums. I was even lucky enough to have seen him play a lunchtime show at my school auditorium. I even managed to slip him a demo tape of my songs! It’s the only time I met him. That’s why I thought I’d pick a song from that period: Les beaux grands bleus d’automne. Ferland had several fresh starts throughout his career, and those two albums are particularly moving and accomplished, and contain many immortal songs. A true tour de force! Thank you, Monsieur Ferland!”


“There are so many crown jewels in Jean-Pierre Ferland’s body of work, it’s really hard to pick only one song. Jaune’s grandiose, timeless arrangements particularly influenced me, just as much as the originality of its poetic lyrics, with such vivid imagery. The production on Le chat du café des artistes is superb. The melodic lines of the orchestration where everything is soaring to welcome that profound voice telling a slightly strange story… But his ‘chansonnier’ period is also filled with beauty. Je reviens chez nous is simply magnificent and so warm. You get the feeling that song has always existed.”


“Of course I could’ve picked Le chat du café des artistes, a monumental song that I’ve even quoted a few chords from… But instead, I chose Qu’est-ce que ça peut ben faire, a song I find particularly moving. I think the lyrics demanded the haunting delivery that Ferland offered on Les Vierges du Québec, still one of my favourite albums of his. I like that he can say a lot with very few words. Turning your back on the traditional paternal model, even if it meant ‘living your life all askance,’ seems rebellious for the time. To me, that album is part of a trilogy that includes Jaune and Soleil – they’re all part of the same exploration effort and, I feel he’s at peak power here.”


Le petit roi, because of everything that goes on in one’s mind [when listening to it]. I had to sing it once, and what a journey that was! My most cherished memory was spending the day at his place  in St-Norbert with Monique Giroux for a radio show… The horses, the breathtaking land, the dream house, and Jean-Pierre, with all his habits and stories. When the show started, Monique played [my song] Tout nue avec toi, and right from the beginning, his eyes changed, and he said, ‘Who wrote that?,’ his voice filled with admiration. He immediately got the meaning of my lyrics, whereas many people think it’s simplistic. I was born in 1969, so it’s no wonder so many of his songs crossed my path and stayed in my heart.”

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