Frans de Kok

Born: January 18th, 1924, Tilburg (Netherlands)
Died: May 4th, 2011, Mol (Belgium)
Nationality: Dutch

Eurovision record
Frans de Kok took part once in the contest, for the Netherlands in 1969, when the regular Dutch conductor of those days, Dolf van der Linden, declined going to Madrid. The song conducted by De Kok, ‘De troubadour’, won the contest – although it had to tie for first place with the entries from Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

Frans de Kok was born into a merchant family. He quit secondary education at sixteen and turned to a merchant training-school. In 1943, he was forced into hard labour in Germany, but managed to escape Cologne when it was bombed by the Allies. The remainder of the war, he spent in hiding. During those days, he taught himself to play the accordion. Later, he mastered the guitar and the double-bass as well. After World War II, he found employment in the jazz orchestra of Joe Andy, in which he played the double-bass and was the principal arranger. The orchestra toured the continent, mostly playing for American troops stationed in Europe.

Frans de Kok (second from left, playing the double-bass) in the Jo Andy Orchestra, late 1940s

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.

Frans de Kok posing with Lenny Kuhr in Madrid after her Eurovision victory

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
In 1969, De Kok was asked by producer Warry van Kampen to substitute Dolf van der Linden, conductor of the Metropole Orchestra and regular at Eurovision in those days, who, for reasons that remain unclear, declined to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest that year. Some suggest Van der Linden, because of his experiences during World War II, had such contempt for the Franco regime in Spain that he refused to travel to Madrid. Frans de Kok compiled an orchestra with which he accompanied the Dutch national final in Scheveningen, from which ‘De troubadour’, sung by young singer-songwriter Lenny Kuhr, emerged as the winner. He travelled to Madrid with Kuhr and guitarist Piet Souer, himself a future Eurovision arranger and conductor.

During the rehearsals of the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid

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.

Can I start? Rehearsing in Madrid

Other artists on Frans de Kok
Boudewijn de Groot, Dutch singer-songwriter: “My producer Tony Vos asked Frans to be the conductor for my first album. Unlike most of the arrangers and conductors that worked in the recording business at that time, Frans’ style was really ‘swinging’. I wish I had had the opportunity to work with Frans more often.” (2006)

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)

Frans de Kok in 2006. In the background, a replica of the work of art Salvador Dali was commissioned to paint on the occasion of the 1969 festival in Madrid. Each delegate of the contest was given one

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)

Links & sources


Songs conducted
1969: De troubadour