Jean Ferrat is a legend

Amal Chatterjee
6 min readDec 17, 2018


Source : Google photo of Jean Ferrat

Synopsis : This blog is about a well loved singer Jean Ferrat who left his imprint on the French conscience permanently though his songs and made them aware of all the injustices in the world but he also sang about the beauty and love.

Source : U tube video

The most beautiful songs of Jean Ferrat

Source : U tube video)

The most poignant songs that touch your heart

Ferrat was born in Vaucresson, Hauts-de-Seine, the youngest of four children from a modest family which moved to Versailles in 1935, where Ferrat studied at the Jules Ferry College. His Russian-born father (naturalized in 1928) was forced to wear the yellow star and deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where he died.

In the early 1950s, he started in Parisian cabaret. After that he avoided any particular musical style, but remained faithful to himself, his friends and his public. In 1956, he set “Les yeux d’Elsa” (“Elsa’s eyes”), a Louis Aragon poem which Ferrat loved, to music. Its rendition by popular artist André Claveau brought Ferrat some initial recognition as a songwriter.

His first 45 RPM single was released in 1958, without success. It was not until 1959, with publisher Gérard Meys, who also became his close friend and associate, that his career started to flourish. He signed with Decca and released his second single, “Ma Môme”, in 1960 under the musical direction of Meys.

In 1961, Ferrat married Christine Sèvres, a singer who performed some of his songs. She died in 1981 at age 50. He met Alain Goraguer, who became an arranger of his songs. His debut album, Deux Enfants du Soleil, was released that year. Ferrat also wrote songs for Zizi Jeanmaire and went on the road, sharing billing with her at the Alhambra for six months.

Nuit et Brouillard (“Night and Fog”), which followed in 1963, was awarded the Académie Charles Cros’s Grand Prix du Disque and showed any topic could be put in songs.[2] Ferrat toured again in 1965, but stopped performing on stage in 1973.

In 1990, he received an award from the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique, (SACEM) the French association of songwriters, composers and music publishers.

In 2010, Ferrat died following a long illness at the age of 79. He lived in Antraigues-sur-Volane, a small village of not even 700 people in Ardeche. ( source : Wikipedia)

I first learned of Jean Ferrat when I was in Algeria where I got to listen to his records at my friend Yves’ house and was mesmerized by the richness of his voice and the beauty of his words that he sang with such great passion. Yves and I enjoyed many evenings listening to Jean Ferrat in stereo . Later when I visited Paris, a friend brought me to the FNAC record shop where I bought my first album of Jean Ferrat that brought to India where my brother learned to appreciate his rich voice although he could not understand French.

I am so sad that he died in 2010 at the age of 79 because there will not ever be another Jean Ferrat. His songs live on in France and other French speaking countries . His songs gave life to the songs written by Aragon and has eternalized them the only way Jean Ferrat could. ( Source :U tube video )

This song called Un air de liberte was sung during the war in Vietnam where I served for two years as a volunteer agronomist so I was particularly impressed by its message that all France understood and protested against the war there. He made the atrocities in Vietnam war known through his soul ful songs. He sang about Pablo Neruda and about many who fought for freedom and suffered.

Here are the lyrics of the song and its translation

Un air de liberte

Les guerres du mensonge les guerres coloniales
C’est vous et vos pareils qui en êtes tuteurs
Quand vous les approuviez à longueur de journal
Votre plume signait trente années de malheur

The wars of lies of colonial wars
It is you and your kind who are guardians
When you approve them in long news papers
Your pen signed thirty years of misfortune

La terre n’aime pas le sang ni les ordures
Agrippa d’Aubigné le disait en son temps

Votre cause déjà sentait la pourriture
Et c’est ce fumet-là que vous trouvez plaisant

The earth does not like blood or garbage
Agrippa d’Aubigné said it in his time
Your cause already smelled of rot
And it is this aroma that you find pleasant

Ah monsieur d’Ormesson
Vous osez déclarer
Qu’un air de liberté
Flottait sur Saigon

Avant que cette ville s’appelle Ville Ho-Chi-Minh

Ah sir d’Ormesson
You dare to declare
That an air of freedom
Floating on Saigon
Before this city is called Ho Chi Minh City

[Couplet 2]
Allongés sur les rails nous arrêtions les trains
Pour vous et vos pareils nous étions la vermine

Sur qui vos policiers pouvaient taper sans frein
Mais les rues résonnaient de paix en Indochine

[Verse 2]
Lying on the rails we stopped the trains
For you and your kind we were the vermin
On whom your police could hit without braking
But the streets resounded with peace in Indochina

Nous disions que la guerre était perdue d’avance
Et cent mille Français allaient mourir en vain

Contre un peuple luttant pour son indépendance
Oui vous avez un peu de ce sang sur les mains

We said that the war was lost in advance
And a hundred thousand Frenchmen were going to die in vain
Against a people fighting for independence
Yes you have some of that blood on your hands

Ah monsieur d’Ormesson
Vous osez déclarer
Qu’un air de liberté
Flottait sur Saigon

Avant que cette ville s’appelle Ville Ho-Chi-Minh

Ah sir d’Ormesson
You dare to declare
That an air of freedom
Floating on Saigon
Before this city is called Ho Chi Minh City

[Couplet 3]
Après trente ans de feu de souffrance et de larmes
Des millions d’hectares de terre défoliés
Un génocide vain perpétré au Viêt-Nam
Quand le canon se tait vous vous continuez

[Verse 3]
After thirty years of fire of suffering and tears
Millions of hectares of defoliated land
A futile genocide perpetrated in Vietnam
When the cannon is silent you continue

Mais regardez-vous donc un matin dans la glace
Patron du Figaro songez à Beaumarchais
Il saute de sa tombe en faisant la grimace

Les maîtres ont encore une âme de valet

But look at you one morning in the mirror
Patron du Figaro think of Beaumarchais
He jumps from his grave by making a face
The masters still have the soul of a valet

I love Jean Ferrat because he sang against the cruelty of war and the sufferance of people under dictators of this world. He was an activist and brought awareness of war and misery through his songs. His own father was executed in Auschwitz by the Nazis so he knew all about suffering.

I listen to his songs from time to time and think of all that has changed since I first heard Jean Ferrat in Mostaganem in 1971. Yves has disappeared and is lost to me. Our mother’s house in India has been sold and I do not know what happened to my Jean Ferrat LP records and the stereo. I have become old and live in a different country now. Jean Ferrat himself has died reminding us all that nothing is permanent in this life. Like fallen leaves , we are all swept away by the wind of time but singers like Jean Ferrat will endure. His songs and lyrics are engraved in the heart of all who loved him and his music.

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