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A Tribute to Jean Ferrat (died March 13th 2010)


A Tribute to Jean Ferrat (died March 13th 2010)

By Jai Pee

On March 13th this year, in the hospital of the small town of Aubenas in the Ardeche region of France, the great poet and singer Jean Ferrat died aged 79. Throughout his life, Ferrat was a tremendous influence on French music and his contribution to the continuance and development of that unique phenomenon ‘La Chanson Francaise’ was and still is immeasurable. Jean Ferrat was born in the Hauts-de-Seine region in the town of Vaucresson to a Russian-Jewish father in December 1930. Soon after, the family moved to Versailles. Eleven years later his father was deported to Auschwitz where he died, Jean never seeing him again. The eleven-year-old boy was rescued by partisan communist militants who looked after him until the end of the war – something he never forgot and something that was to influence his work for the rest of his life.

His poetic and musical talents began to emerge in the mid-to-late fifties, but he had little financial or popular success until the sixties when one album after another was released to great applause and praise, earning him a firm place in the history books and a prestigious musical prize at the same time. His music is totally inspiring in its delightful lyrical and forceful manner – his voice is full of deep sentiment and glowing warmth. The lyrics of his songs often express total dissatisfaction with society on one hand, or simply paint a really evocative picture of French life on the other. Although a communist supporter all his life, in recognition of his saviours way back in 1941, he was never a member of the French Communist Party and indeed he was often very critical of their leanings towards Moscow especially in the sixties. He was an ardent and outspoken critic of the Russian invasion of Prague in 1968 which he condemned in his famous song Camarade. In another great classic song, Ma France he presents a Van Gogh-like canvas of his country while at the same time being quick to criticise its not-so-glorious past. Other songs are immensely amusing such as The Dance of the Three Bachelors (La Bourree des Trois Celibataires) or Pauvre Felicien.

He became a great admirer of the French communist writer, Louis Aragon and two of his later albums, now on CD are devoted to settings of Aragon’s poems and both stand out head and shoulders above much of what was also being written at the time by others in the musical world. In his 1956 book ‘The Unfinished Novel’ (Le Roman Inacheve), Aragon wrote the following words: ‘On the Pont Neuf I met this poor little person, my other half, who above the waters of the Seine showed me the distant rays of the sun’. Those words could have been written as a tribute to Jean Ferrat who, in his vast repertoire of music, showed millions of fans over five decades the sunshine and let them feel its warmth and strength. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten.