The inaugural edition of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Legends series was held Oct. 11, 2023, at Espace St-Denis, in Montréal, with the support of the RBC Foundation through the RBC Emerging Artists program. The evening celebrated the induction to the Hall of Fame of Marjo, Jean Millaire, and Michel Rivard, and the format was that of an intimate talk show – hosted by Sonia Benezra, interspersed with tribute performances of some of the most iconic songs of these three legends of the Québec music scene.
In the middle of the room, lined with glittering giant screens that added to the glamorous atmosphere, was a small stage with three chairs, where the seasoned host would draw out intimate stories from the inductees. On the main stage, special guests rendered their very personal takes on the three songwriters’ most memorable works.
From left to right: Jean Millaire, Marjo, Sonia Benezra
Marjo and Jean Millaire inaugurated the event, which was full of anecdotes and emotion. Right from the start, with all the energy and enthusiasm for which she’s known, Marjo made an announcement most had given up on: “This honour stirs up beautiful memories, and makes me want to pick up songwriting again!” she said, to the applause of a floor level full of friends, fellow artists, and industry people (while the balcony was reserved for the general public). Her ex-life-partner and longtime co-writer, guitarist Jean Millaire, revealed that he gave Marjo 10 instrumental tracks two or three years ago, and she admitted feeling ready to get back to writing lyrics and melodies. A promising perspective, indeed!
Jean Millaire, who’s much more at ease performing onstage than answering interview questions, seemed to not yet fully realize the honour he was being given: As he admitted, “I thought it was a hoax when I got a phone call to inform me of this!” “I’ve always said we go hand in hand. We’re a team!” said Marjo, before turning her attention to the main stage, where a selection of artists dove into the creative duo’s repertoire with obvious pleasure. First up was the ever-electrifying and energetic Lou-Adriane Cassidy, who, with great aplomb, sang “Provocante,” Marjo and Millaire’s Québec mega-hit from 1990. The song, we learned, was inspired by “Gabrielle, a Montréal stripper I knew,” as Marjo explained to Benezra.
Other, equally memorable performances honouring Marjo and Millaire’s work were sung by Martin Deschamps (“S’il fallait”), Lulu Hughes (“Illégale”), Tina Leon (“Chats sauvages”), and Laurence Jalbert (“Ailleurs”). Each song triggered more personal memories during the interview segments. “I did my fair share of crazy things and I don’t regret a single thing!” clamoured Marjo about “Provocante.” Then, about Chats sauvages, she sad, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to release it, initially, I thought it was childish… And as we know, it became mythical!” As for “Ailleurs,” “It’s a song Marjo dug up from the deepest recesses of herself, and when she recorded her vocals, it was in complete darkness, because she didn’t want us to see her,” said Millaire, before the team stepped onstage to receive the trophy for their official induction.
After the intermission, it was Michel Rivard’s turn. The singer-songwriter has had a remarkable musical career with Beau Dommage, starting in the early ’70s, before his own still-flourishing solo career. Rivard has left a deep, permanent mark on the Francophone musical scene. Known as an engaging storyteller, he captivated the entire audience with a string of wonderful anecdotes throughout his segment. “In the very beginning of Beau Dommage, I didn’t like my singing voice at all,” he admitted. “We even pitched our first songs to Donald Lautrec, but he turned them down! But then, Pierre Bertrand and Marie-Michèle Desrosiers joined the band, and our vocal harmony did the rest…
“When I started my solo career,” Rivard continued, “I refused to do Beau Dommage material in concert. I was pretentious and arrogant, and that position was disrespectful to the audience. I thankfully understood that later on… “Is it [songwriting] a gift that I have? I think to be an artist, one mostly needs talent, but I also believe that artists are able to see things other people can’t. But one can never underestimate the importance of work, work, work… “What writing tip could I give to up-and-comers? The first rule is to read a lot, as much as you can: poetry, songs, and then try to figure out how it’s constructed, and why it works.”
Paul Piché, Michel Rivard
Rivard also enjoyed the performances presented in his honour, by artists from all horizons and generations: Elliot Maginot (“Maudit Bonheur”), Martin Léon (“Schefferville, le dernier train”), Safia Nolin (“Je voudrais voir la mer”), and Isabelle Boulay (“Entre Matane et Bâton Rouge”). The tribute culminated when Paul Piché, another Hall of Fame inductee, surprised Rivard with his interpretation of a bona fide monument of Rivard’s repertoire, “La complainte du phoque en Alaska,” before handing him the trophy inducting him among the greatest Canadian songwriters.
SOCAN, owner of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, warmly congratulates Marjo, Jean Millaire, and Michel Rivard on their well-deserved induction, and the organization thanks the whole Hall of Fame team for this great first in Québec!
The second edition of the Legends series will take place in Toronto on Nov. 1, 2023, inducting four iconic songs, co-written and recorded by Canadians who‘ve become true global influences.