The Ballad of Serge Singer

It’s extremely rare when my main two nerdy obsessions – harp guitars and Disney – overlap in any way. I’d certainly count this as one of the more unusual.


Yes, it’s a YouTube clip of the famous Paris vocalist Serge Singer with this trademark harpe guitare performing the 1955 hit “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” (Pronounced “Dah-vie” – as you will hear below.)’s intrepid French correspondent Benoit Meulle-Stef has long kept me informed on “Singer sightings” – none of which have yet made it to the web site (I apologize!). Time to correct that, though by the time I’m done, you may be asking me “Why?”

singer-serge-ebaySerge Singer – the stage name of one Dutchman Sjoerd de Jong – put out a couple albums in the 1950s featuring an interesting French-Italian hollow-arm harp guitar. Patterned after the Settimio Gazzo instruments popularized by Pasquale Taraffo in Genoa and beyond, it is a more modern instrument with full geared tuners and large jazz-guitar-style fretboard markers. It has a curious carving of a stylized face attached to, or integral with, the headstock. As for its inspiration or meaning, I haven’t a clue.

singer-serge-ebay2Fragments of Singer’s rather colorful life can be gleaned in the magazine article displayed below and a web article about his one-time girlfriend, “fantastic realism” painter Ellen Lorien (originally Ellen de Jonge and referred to as Ellen Singer in the magazine spread).

The author writes:

Shortly after the war, in 1948, she (Ellen) travelled to France and explored its various regions, making studies of its landscape. Finally, in 1950, she came to live in Paris permanently. Together with a musician named Sjoerd de Jong, she lived a more Bohemian existence in Paris on a houseboat on the Seine near Porte de Plaisance.
“At first, Sjoerd de Jong earned money as a street musican while Lórien made watercolour portraits of children. But with time, Sjoerd was performing at the Moulin Rouge under the name of Serge Singer, and their boat ‘the Siegried-Eric’ was home to guests like Charles Aznavour and Julietta Greco. Or, they’d visit Maurice Chevalier, whose boat was just down the quai from theirs.
“The couple toured through Italy with Josephine Baker, and Singer performed during the intervals. A Dutch television studio even recreated the inside of their boat to film a special on the couple in 1952.
“In 1954, Lórien broke with Singer, and continued on her own in Paris.”

This magazine spread presents the houseboat and a sampling of the couple’s “Bohemian lifestyle.”


Note the different harp guitar on the bed. Here are additional images of it, from a session where Singer performed with the French singer-songwriter Georges Brassens, and a another magazine find by Benoit:


singer-mag2-bmsPretty interesting that Singer owned a couple of interesting (though still anonymous) 6 + 6 harp guitars in the 1950s. So, when I heard about the new YouTube Crockett clip I couldn’t believe my luck. I could now see and hear exactly what kind of a harp guitarist Singer was!

And…not so much.

Go ahead and watch the video.

At least in this clip, he’s not only not a harp guitar player, he’s barely a guitarist, playing just 3 first position chords – all while looking at his left hand so he doesn’t screw up. He doesn’t do anything with his right hand but strum with his thumb, then a plectrum. He never once touches a sub-bass string. His one and only skill? He’s a magician with that pick. We first see it after a closeup camera switch, so who knows where it came from. But then he switches back from pick-to-thumb with an instantaneous sleight of hand, and the thing just vanishes. I am truly astounded.

He is far from the first singer or instrumentalist to use a harp guitar just for show. There are plenty of amateurs and even professionals then and now who assumed the floating sub-bass strings were there simply for extra resonance.

singer-boatSinger was born in 1914 and died in 1986. This intriguing video shows him to be a character to the end. He seems to have visited, and been interviewed in, what must surely be his old houseboat (?!) – which is somewhat the worse for wear. His beard wilder than ever and, missing a tooth or two, he even sings Davy Crockett for us again!

serge-singer-ballade-van-davy-crockett-rcaLegitimate harp guitarist or not, I still wish we had more clips of him – and in his normal attire rather than as a costumed Disney character.

So, there you have it – the brief harp guitar story of Serge Singer, King of the French Frontier. I was born in 1955, so was obviously too young for the coonskin cap craze. I find it delightfully charming (or is that kitsch?) that Serge wasn’t too old for it.


(I love how the unfortunate mammal’s tail perfectly echoes his instrument’s fingerboard!)

Special Thanks to Benoit Meulle-Stef for images, links and information for this article.

  1. Ed Dowling Says:

    Had a (fake) coonskin cap as a kid; if I had just had a harp guitar! – Ed

  2. Ed Dowling Says:

    I think I just met my new role model! They sure worked hard to paint an eccentric figure.

  3. Professor BeeB HôPô Says:

    Just to say that the french lyrics from the Davy Crockett’s song are penned by Francis Blanche, the Pierre Dac partner !
    Ouèche !

  4. José Vizcaíno Says:

    Hi, Gregg: i am really pleased to have found your page with this information. Yesterday I played a couple of (elder) songs to some (elder) ladies and during the series of french songs (and comments), a lady hummed this one: monsieur, vous êtes jeune homme, ayez du sentiment…; I noted the line and started searching in the web. And here we are! What an interesting presentation of this rough character. Thank you for all the surprising details: bohème, Chevalier, BRASSENS!…
    The only quite painful detail is the sound of the untuned harp-guitar when he starts the Crockett song.
    So, thanks again! Regards, José

  5. amaranda de jong Says:

    Dear Gregg, a friend of mine sent me your link. I am Sjoerd’s daughter and I too occasionally zip round the web to see if anything new pops up about him. Thank you so much I have often wondered what on EARTH that instrument was! You are not wrong, he never professed to be a great musician but in my opinion he did have a great voice. The boat was a film prop for a very confused film about Noah, tramps and other crazies so it was got up to look like the Ark. When the film fell through he carried on living on it. They certainly didn’t have to work hard to paint an eccentric figure. Ed, my father was the “real deal” as you yanks say. It is such a rare treat to talk about my Dad thank you. Keep safe and well in these awful times.

  6. Arend Visser Says:

    Hi Gregg,

    Sjoerd de Jong is one of my ancestors. For years I am trying to get in contact with Amaranda one of his five children. I am collecting data and photos to include in my what I call “familybook. I am a 82 years old pensionado living for the moment in Spain although being Dutch. My compliments for your website. I hope to hear from you and Amranda. Arend Visser

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