He is one of the most prolific Canadian songwriters of all time and, especially among French-speaking Canadians, he is a legend.
This Saturday, Stéphane Venne is being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame along with Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and Beau Dommage. Artists paying tribute to the inductees include k.d. lang, Arkells, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Daniel Lavoie, Damien Robitaille, Don Ross, Élage Diouf, France D’amour, Florence K, Julie Payette, Randy Bachman, Whitehorse and more.
But just how much do you know about Venne? Leading up to this weekend's honours, here are five things you should know.
1. He has worked on films by Denys Arcand, Gilles Carle and Xavier Dolan
Venne has composed the music for several films, including Xavier Dolan’s 2010 film Heartbeats — which won awards at Cannes, Rotterdam and Chicago film festivals — and Gilles Carle’s 1981 film Les Plouffe, for which Venne won best achievement in musical score and original song at the 1982 Genies. He also co-directed Denys Arcand’s first film, 1962’s Seul ou avec d’autres, which the two made with Denis Héroux while studying at l'Université de Montréal. Venne also composed the music — even though he had no idea how to score a film.
“I was the only one in the little group of creators of this film who seemed like a musician. Not that I was. I played a piano by ear. But they all turned to me and said, ‘Stéphane, you’re going to make the music for this film,’” he remembered in a 2015 French-language interview. Venne bought books on how to write music, and how to orchestrate for different instruments.
“I bluffed everyone,” he said, with a laugh. Everyone, that is, except the professional symphonic musicians who arrived to perform the score — only to find something was decidedly wrong with the sheet music. “Because I didn’t know anything and wasn’t a real musician, I put the flags [lines at the top of musical notes] on the wrong side of the notes. So when I gave the parts to the musicians, they looked at it as if they had taken LSD. The notes were in the right place on the score, but the flags were in the wrong place,” he said. “So that’s how I learned music. Forced. Bluffed.”
2. His song 'Un jour, un jour' was the official song of Expo '67
Venne’s song “Un jour, un jour" was selected from more than 2,000 songs by musicians from 35 different countries to be the official song of Expo ’67 in Montreal — an event that put Canada on the international map. The song talks about how, when people arrive, we’ll show them wide-open spaces and the colours of summer, and we’ll celebrate. “Nos portes sont ouvertes pour ceux qui arriveront,” read the lyrics: “Our doors are open for those who will come.”
3. He wrote some of Quebec’s most famous songs
Over the course of 15 years in the 1960s and ‘70s, Venne penned nearly 300 songs for some of Quebec’s biggest stars, among them Isabelle Pierre ("Les enfants de l'avenir,” "Heureuse,” "Le temps est bon"), Emmanuelle ("Le monde à l'envers,” "Et c'est pas fini") and Renée Claude ("C'est notre fête aujourd'hui,” "Le tour de la terre," "Le début d'un temps nouveau," "Tu trouveras la paix," "La rue de la Montagne").
“I only write to order,” Venne said in an interview. “Give me a singer, and I’ll know what to write.”
Venne also wrote several French-language versions of Beatles songs — among them “Penny Lane,” “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell” — for acts including Renée Claude and les Sinners. Venne’s adaptations became hits in their own right.
4. In the early 1980s, he left music altogether
After penning myriad songs, launching a record label, co-founding a radio station (CIEL-FM) and acting as president of the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC) — which later gave rise to SOCAN — Venne left the music world to pursue other interests. In the '90s, he joined the diplomatic world as a Quebec cultural delegate in Paris, and when he returned, he became director of communications at the former Communauté urbaine de Montréal (Montreal Urban Community), Montreal’s regional government.
5. Venne found fame again in 2003 when his song appeared in a popular TV show
Thirty years after he first released the hit “Et c'est pas fini” ("And it's not Finished"), the aptly named song took off again when it was used as the theme for the first season of Star Académie — an American Idol-like TV show in Quebec. The song sold over half-a-million copies. When asked if he was touched by the fact that it was chosen 30 years later, Venne said the thing he liked most was when Star Académie contestants told him they thought the track was new. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve reached perennity. Mission accomplished!’”
More to explore: