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Quebec singing star and cultural icon Jean-Pierre Ferland dies at 89


Quebec singing star and cultural icon Jean-Pierre Ferland died on Saturday at the age of 89.

The man who left his mark on Quebec with the song "Une chance qu'on s'a" died of natural causes, according to his agency. He had been hospitalized on Feb. 14 at CHSLD Desy, in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, in the Lanaudière region.

Born in Montreal on June 24, 1934 — a date that predisposed him to become an emblematic figure of Quebec culture — Ferland had given a "final concert" at the Bell Centre on Jan. 13, 2007, officially ending his 42-year career. But he didn't disappear from the stage, not by a long shot.

He then took part — with Céline Dion and Ginette Reno, among others — in a concert on the Plains of Abraham in 2008 to mark the 400th anniversary of Quebec City, and in a tribute to him at the Théâtre Saint-Denis in April 2009, organized by the Rythme FM radio station.

In September 2009, Ferland also released an album of duets and trios entitled "Bijoux de famille," in addition to collaborating with Gilles Vigneault and writing a new song for Céline Dion. Another live album follows in 2011: "Les Noces d'or de jaune."

On Aug. 14, 2010, he flew to the rescue of the little church in his adopted village, Saint-Norbert, which was threatened with closure despite being recognized as a landmark by the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec. Ferland and Reno performed in a concert attended by 3,000 people, and the church's fate was changed.

He took part in three festivals in 2011 — the Festival franco-ontarien d'Ottawa, the FrancoFolies de Montréal and the Festival d'été de Québec — then in the "Céline Dion... sans attendre" special in 2012, which attracted 2.4 million viewers. In 2013, he appeared on TVA's "La Voix."

The prolific singer-songwriter's discography numbers some 30 albums, including "Jaune," his 1970 masterpiece that became, in a way, Quebec's "Sergeant Peppers". Some 60,000 copies were sold in just one year.

His career has been rewarded with many honours, including the Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles-Cros in France, twice, in 1968 and 1977, the Best Singer-Songwriter Award at the 1965 Festival du disque de Montréal, and the Best Singer-Songwriter Award at the 1972 Gala des artistes.

More recently, he was named Companion of the Order of Canada in 1996 and Knight of the Ordre national du Québec in 2003. In January 2007, he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

From HEC to 'Jaune'

Before becoming an artist, Ferland attended the École des Hautes Études Commerciales and was hired as an accountant at Radio-Canada in 1956. Encouraged by fellow students at the public broadcaster, he recorded his first songs in 1958, and came to public attention three years later with his second album and the titles "Les Immortelles" and "Ton visage."

In 1962, "Feuilles de gui" won the "Chansons sur mesure" competition organized by Radio-Canada, as well as the grand prize at the Gala international de la chanson in Brussels. A year later, he represented Canada in Sopot, Poland, at the third Concours international de la chanson, winning the prize for best performer in Krakow.

It was also during the 1960s that he began to make a name for himself in Paris. In 1962, he sang at the cabaret "La Tête de l'art," and in 1966, he moved to the City of Light for a month. He made a triumphant return to Quebec in 1968, with his hit "Je reviens chez nous," written in a Paris hotel (while suffering from homesickness). Two years later, in 1970, he sang with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the Osaka International Exposition.

Returning to Quebec just as "L'Ostid'show" was revolutionizing the music scene, Ferland realized he needed to renew his repertoire. He locked himself away in Morin-Heights with a group of great musicians to produce a legendary album: "Jaune"

If the 1970s were marked by the launch of "Jaune," it was also during this period that he gave gigantic concerts at Place des Arts, and recorded "T'es mon amour, t'es ma maîtresse" with Ginette Reno. He also performed at the St. John's Day celebrations in 1976, with Claude Léveillée, Gilles Vigneault, Robert Charlebois and Yvon Deschamps.

Ferland also took advantage of the 1970s to make his first forays into film and television. In 1976, he appeared as actor, scriptwriter and musician in Jacques Vallée's film "Chanson pour Julie," before recording four programs of "Faut voir ça" for Radio-Canada in 1978 — he had already hosted "Jeunesse oblige" on SRC television in the early 1960s. He continued in this vein in the 1980s, hosting various programs: "Station soleil" (Radio-Québec, 1981-1987), "L'Autobus du showbusiness" (SRC, 1987), "Ferland/Nadeau" (Télé-Métropole, 1990).

In 1992, he released his first album in eight years, "Bleu blanc blues." Encouraged by its reception, he returned in 1995 with "Écoute pas ça" (including "Une chance qu'on s'a") and in 1999 with "L'Amour c'est d'l'ouvrage." This comeback enabled him to reconnect with his public, but also to be discovered by younger people.

A short retirement

In early 2005, Ferland launched his final tour, "Trois fois Ferland," which took him to every corner of Quebec. After some 150 performances, he had a stroke on Oct. 12, 2006, the day before the very last show of this tour and of his career, the following day at the Bell Centre. This "farewell show" finally took place on January 13, 2007.

The artist is not retiring, however. He continued to perform on stage from time to time, and even coached on the popular TV show "La Voix" in 2013.

In 2021, after a difficult time during the COVID-19 pandemic, he launched a new album, "Je n'veux pas dormir ce soir," in which he sings his work with other artists, including Florence K, Lynda Lemay and Gilles Vigneault.

"I left this profession, I stopped, I did a farewell show. And then, it didn't last long," he confided with a smile to Radio-Canada host Patrice Roy, in an interview in May 2021.

"I was ashamed, but I came back, and as quickly as possible. It's the most beautiful profession in the world, because it's the most surprising for the person who does it and invents it."

Ferland is survived by his wife, Julie Anne Saumur, his children, Julie and Bruno, his grandchildren Édouard, Charlotte, Loïc and Jean-Félix, and his great-granddaughter, Livia.

Premier François Legault paid tribute to singer-songwriter Jean-Pierre Ferland on Sunday, saying he would contact the deceased's family to propose that a state funeral be held.

"If they wish, we will organize a state funeral," said Legault at a press briefing in Montreal. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 27, 2024. Top Stories

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