Frans de KokBorn: January 18th, 1924, Tilburg (the Netherlands)
Died: May 4th, 2011, Mol (Belgium)
In the late 1950s, he earned himself a contract as an arranger for De Zaaiers, the orchestra of one of the Dutch broadcasters, AVRO. In 1962, although without any conducting experience, he was promoted to the post of conductor of this ensemble. Soon after, however, he got the opportunity to work with one of the rising stars of Dutch TV, Rudi Carrell (singer in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960, when he came second last, and later to become one of the biggest stars of German television), who, at that time, was show presenter at VARA, another broadcaster. For VARA, De Kok worked on a host of different television shows with his own orchestra. With Rudi Carrell, he won the Silver Rose of Montreux for the ‘Robinson Crusoe Show’, which, apart from Carrell, also featured Esther Ofarim (another former participant in the contest, for Switzerland in 1963) as a mermaid. In 1965, he conducted the Grand Gala du Disque, a very prestigious award show which was broadcasted live on Dutch national TV. Frans de Kok’s friendly character earned him the epithet ‘Father of crying singers’.
Because of his close involvement in Dutch television, De Kok did not work in the recording studio very often. Occasionally, he arranged and/or conducted studio orchestras for Dutch artists, amongst which, in 1965, the widely acclaimed and highly successful first album of Boudewijn de Groot, one of the Netherlands most acclaimed singer-songwriters. In 1967, he decided to make a steep career move and open a record store in his native Tilburg. Slowly but steadily, he withdrew from working for Dutch TV. Conducting the Dutch preliminaries for Eurovision in 1969 and accompanying Lenny Kuhr in Madrid was one of his last TV appearances.
In a short amount of time, Frans de Kok succeeded in building up a chain of highly profitable record stores in the south of the Netherlands. In 1980, he sold all his stores and set up a computer software company. It was only in 1998 that he retired. Since, he has lived in Balen-Wezel, Belgium.
Frans de Kok in the Eurovision Song Contest
The arrangement to the Dutch entry ‘De troubadour’ was penned by Bert Paige, a Flemish trumpet-player and a much sought-after arranger in the 1960s, who wrote the orchestration to no less than eleven Netherlands Eurovision songs; Frans de Kok made some minor changes to it, the most important one being that he left out the accordion that featured in the record version and substituted it for an organ. During the first rehearsal, it came about that the orchestration which had been sent to Madrid from the Netherlands had not arrived yet. It took until two days before the actual broadcast, when Frans de Kok was on the verge of starting to work on a new arrangement himself, that the original score was found in a drawer of a Spanish custom-house.
Frans de Kok turned his Eurovision participation into a personal success as well. He widely advertised in local newspapers for his record store with slogans such as: “From Madrid too, we provide the music. Watch the Eurovision Song Contest tonight!” He claims his participation in the contest gave a considerable boost to his business.
Other artists on Frans de Kok
Milly Scott (who performed in the 1966 Eurovision Song Contest for the Netherlands, being the first black vocalist ever in the competition) worked with De Kok on several jazz music programmes on Dutch TV: “I held him in high esteem – and I was not the only one. He was a gentleman-conductor. My conductor for Eurovision was Dolf van der Linden, who was a great professional, yet slightly distant and not very accessible. Frans, however, was someone whom you could talk to without any trouble: you simply made an appointment at his place to talk through all kinds of things. He was not a man prone on furthering his career.” (2006)
Piet Souer: “During the Eurovision week in Madrid, he invited Lenny and myself twice to his hotel room, because he wanted to check the score and acquaint himself thoroughly with it. I remember his always being well-dressed. When I myself started working as an arranger, Frans gave me advice during a performance in Tilburg for which I had written a string arrangement; Frans checked it for me.” (2006)
Lenny Kuhr: “Frans was not just my conductor for the contest; he also inspired me a great deal. When the first rehearsal in Madrid was about to commence and it turned out that there were no arrangements, Frans remained perfectly calm. On the third day he said: ‘When the score will not have arrived by tomorrow, I will write an arrangement myself.’ I remember the three of us sitting together working on the piano part of the new score. All that time he kept on smiling, which made me understand that things would turn out well. His smile became even more expressive when the arrangements turned up the following day. It was with that same quiet, friendly smile that he looked up at me at that big moment when we played the first tones of ‘De troubadour’ during the live broadcast of the contest.” (2006)