Jean Cussac

Jean Cussac is a singer, and it’s in this capacity that he’s chosen to play the Prince, who has only one unsung line. But he also sings for the little men. He was a great professional, accustomed to modulating his voice, and would return to Disney often in his career, either as musical director or as singer in films or records.

To evoke his career, there’s no better specialist than Rémi Carémel, of the blog Dans l’Ombre des studios (in French), who wrote the following article, originally published on La Gazette du doublage (in French).

Lyric & Variety

Jean Cussac was born in Paris on May 31, 1922. He studied singing at the Conservatoire National and began a long career as a baritone soloist and chorister. He gave numerous classical concerts (early music, chamber music).

But Jean Cussac does not confine himself to opera! Under the direction of the American Ward Wingle, he was a member of the first “Swingle Singers” group, which performed classical songs in a “vocal jazz” style. This group included a number of singers who were active in dubbing (as soloists or backing singers): Christiane Legrand (sister of composer Michel Legrand), Jean-Claude Briodin (talented singer of the “Double Six”) and the Germain family (Anne, Claude and José).

The group enjoyed some success (their records are still being reissued, and a new line-up has been formed), particularly in the USA, where they received three Grammy Awards for Best Chorus (from 1964 to 1966). They had the honor of performing at the White House for President Johnson, and premiered Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia under the direction of the great Leonard Bernstein.

Jean Cussac accompanied numerous artists, including Édith Piaf, Léo Ferré, Tino Rossi and Gilbert Bécaud. He also worked as maître de chapelle at the Saint-Louis des Invalides church in Paris, and set up several singing classes in the Paris region.

Jean Cussac
Jean Cussac

I have but one synchronized song

In 1962, the Americans at Disney and musical director André Theurer were looking for a prince for the second dubbing of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They put several singers through their paces, but were unsatisfied by their overly “lyrical” approach. In the end, they chose Jean Cussac, who, despite not being in the right register for the role (the prince is supposed to be a tenor, but Jean Cussac is a baritone), fit the character better.

“At the tryout, I did a few measures, and they said ‘that’s him!’, and the director of the dubbing company said ‘that’s not possible, Cussac did a little dwarf yesterday!” he recalls with amusement. “For him, as a man of the cinema, someone who did the little dwarf couldn’t also do Prince Charming! Only, he had no idea that I’d faked my voice to sing Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, it’s home from work we go!”

His performance was picked up by Disney, who asked him to work on several other films, including 101 Dalmatians that same year (Roger’s singing voice), The Sword in the Stone in 1963 (introductory song), Summer Magic also in 1963 (Burl Ives / Osh Popham singing voice) and The Jungle Book in 1967 (vulture quartet). “From then on, the Americans wanted me to be there,” he recalls.

Jean Cussac’s vocal contributions to film dubbing are quite numerous, but he also participated directly in the creation of several film scores by Michel Legrand, Georges Delerue and François Rauber, as head of chorus composition, or, more rarely, as a soloist, as in Jean Yanne’s Me, I Want to Have Dough (1973), where he sings in the credits…

An interesting experience was the recording of songs for Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), in which he sang for the jeweler. “It was funny, because first we did the music at Studio 116 on the Champs Élysées. The actors were there to watch the recording, and when they shot, they had the music in their ears and were dubbing our songs.

Musical director, a profession

Jean Cussac went on to learn the trade of dubbing music director.

In those days, the principle was the same as for dubbing dialogues: the musical director transcribed onto a master tape what he heard in the original version: words and music. He would place markers to indicate where the eighth notes, quarter notes, etc. were located. Then he would transcribe this onto another lip-sync band with a real musical staff and the lyrics written by the adapter.

This detection work was particularly necessary, especially when we know that some productions didn’t send their scores or sent scores that didn’t completely correspond to what was in the film.

After the detection phase, the musical director would (and still does) draw up an estimate of the number of studio recording sessions, the singers’ salaries, etc… Once the sessions were scheduled, he would conduct the sessions with a playback.

Like most music directors, Jean Cussac worked mainly with lyricists (notably Natacha Nahon) and singers (Jean Stout, Henry Tallourd, Jean-Claude Corbel, Michel Barouille, Anne Germain, etc.), but little with artistic directors and adapters, who are not specialized in song. “The few times I was asked to work with a singer, I declined. I wanted to be in charge from A to Z”.

Jean Cussac
Jean Cussac

…and experience

Although Jean Cussac began working as a musical director in the ’60s, his most notable dubbing credits date from the ’80s and early ’90s: the superb Secret of Nimh (1982), An American Tail (1986), the Teddy Ruxpin and Doug series, and more. He also provided musical direction for numerous Disney dubbings, taking over from Georges Tzipine: Dumbo (1979), The Fox and the Hound (1981), Basil The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Lady and the Tramp (1989), and many others…

One of his fondest memories is dubbing John Huston’s Annie (1982). “The nicest compliment I ever got was from the director of a singing school I was teaching at the time. He said, ‘I didn’t realize it was dubbed.

Like many actors, he is quite critical of the phenomenon of stars taking up dubbing. He recalls that Disney wanted to impose a celebrity on him for the dubbing of an animated film. “There was a rather rock song, and I was sent a famous singer to the La Garenne-Colombe studios. He arrived, very nice. He’d had the music and the tape beforehand, but he couldn’t do it, it was too high for him. But you can’t change a playback. So we went back to the performers I’d originally planned, who matched the voice and style exactly… But it turned out to be a real mess, because the singers refused to accept the fees I’d agreed. They said ‘If Disney wants a star, they’ve got the money to pay for it'”.

He believes that using stars in dubbing is a purely commercial argument, not an artistic one at all. On the other hand, even if it wasn’t dubbing as such, he has fond memories of recording the final credits of The Secret of Nimh with Yves Duteil.

Today, after a long career, Jean Cussac is enjoying a well-deserved retirement in south-west France.