Friday 5 February 1971


The following article is an overview of the career of Belgian pianist, composer, arranger, and conductor Léo Souris. The information about him was gathered from various written sources as well as interviews with Jack Say (Jacques Ysaye) and Frans Van Dyck. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Léo Souris' Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2010

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Léo Souris
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: July 18th, 1911, Marchienne-au-Pont (Belgium)
Died: March 14th, 1990, Seraing (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian


Léo Souris conducted the two Belgian entries in the very first Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Lugano (Switzerland) in 1956, accompanying soloists Fud Leclerc and Mony Marc.


Hailing from the heavily industrialised Charleroi region in Wallonia, Léo Souris studied the piano at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels. He was the younger brother of André Souris (1899-1970), a celebrated classical violinist, composer, and conductor. In the 1930s, Léo Souris, who developed a penchant for jazz from an early age onwards, mainly worked as a piano teacher in Hainaut, most importantly at the conservatoire in Charleroi.

In the war years, Souris moved to Brussels, where he played the piano in various light entertainment orchestras. Throughout the 1940s, he made his mark as an instrumentalist, but as a composer, arranger, and conductor as well. He was involved in arranging and conducting studio sessions for the Magic label, with, amongst others, singer Johnny Steggerda. Souris’ compositions include instrumentals, such as ‘Rêves’ and ‘Tendresse’, as well as fully-fledged film soundtracks. 

In 1952, Souris was the pianist in the Grand Orchestre Symphonique conducted by Jack Say during the Grand Gala de Bienfaisance, a relief concert held in the Ancienne Belgique concert hall in Brussels. Souris’ role in this performance was very important, given the fact that George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’, a composition with very complicated piano solos, was amongst the pieces played.

Léo Souris (far left, at the piano) in the Grand Gala de Bienfaisance in Brussels in 1952, with the orchestra being conducted by Jack Say

In the early 1950s, Léo Souris founded a big band of his own, with which he played at the Palace Hotel at Place Rogier, Brussels. This dance orchestra consisted of twelve musicians (including well-known trumpet player Charly Knegtel, 1926-2009) and performed with various vocalists, including Jean Miret and Jean Walter. Most of the arrangements for the ensemble were penned by Jack Say. With his orchestra, Souris made some recordings of popular dance music; the Polydor record ‘Chiens perdus sans collier – The little lost dog’ was even released in West Germany and England.

Around the same time, Souris got involved in working for the French-speaking broadcaster in Belgium INR (renamed RTB in 1960). He hosted a jazz show on radio for many years and was involved in many other radio and TV projects. In 1957, a jazz band led by Souris and formed under the auspices of the INR went on tour in several European countries as well as in the Belgian colonies in Africa; this ensemble included well-known names, such as saxophonists Roger Asselberghs and Jacques Pelzer, trumpeter Herman Sandy, and double-bassist Benoît Quersin.

Léo Souris stood at the cradle of the summer jazz festival which was held annually between 1959 and 1966 in Comblain-la-Tour, a village to the south of Liège, and which drew 30,000 visitors in 1961. For the first edition, he wrote the accompanying strings to the performance of trumpet-player Chet Baker. One year later, in 1960, Souris performed at the festival with a jazz-band of his own, again including Pelzer and Quersin, as well as saxophonist Lennart Jonsson and percussionist Vivi Mardens. A 4-man string group was added to the band to accompany singer Helen Merrill. Souris arranged and conducted this concert and moreover composed a signature tune to celebrate the occasion, a ‘Comblain Suite’. A live recording of this 1960 Comblain performance was released on an album.

In the 1960s, Souris again started working as a teacher, now at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle (INSAS) in Brussels. Between 1963 and 1970, he taught at the Jeunesses Musicales Summer Courses in Argenteuil, France. Simultaneously, arrangements penned by him were played by Etienne Verschueren’s BRT Jazz Orchestra, the Flemish broadcaster’s radio jazz band, as well as by Jack Say’s RTB television orchestra, most notably for the successful La Caméra d’Argent shows in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On one occasion, Say once again included Souris in his orchestra as a pianist for another relief concert at the Ancienne Belgique with international stars Annie Cordy, Georges Brassens, and Gilbert Bécaud, when the concert hall was on the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1970s.

Léo Souris passed away in Seraing in 1990, aged 78.

The first-ever Belgian Eurovision pre-selection, held in Brussels in 1956, from left to right - Léo Souris, Fud Leclerc, Mony Marc, Henri Segers, and Jacques Goossens - Goossens possibly was the host of the programme


In the 1956 Eurovision Song Contest, the first edition of the festival, each of the seven participating countries submitted two entries. To establish its entries for this festival, the French-speaking Belgian broadcaster INR organized a pre-selection in Brussels, produced by Bob Jacqmain and with the orchestra probably conducted by Léo Souris - somehow, INR Big Band leader Henri Segers was also involved in the show, probably playing the piano in the orchestra led by Souris on the night.

This pre-selection won by Fud Leclerc with the song ‘Messieurs les noyés de la Seine’; this entry was composed by Jean Miret and Jack Say with lyrics by Robert Montal; Jack Say was responsible for the orchestration as well. The runner-up, Mony Marc, was also given a ticket to the international contest in Lugano; she sang ‘Le plus beau jour de ma vie’, which had been composed by David Bee. Bee was a harp player in the Swingtette ensemble of guitarist Chas Dolne, which played in Antwerp’s Century Hotel. David Bee also regularly worked as an arranger for Bobby Naret’s big band and has the distinction to have one of his compositions, ‘Obsession’, played at the 1958 World Expo by the band of jazz legend Benny Goodman. David Bee naturally also penned the arrangement to ‘Le plus beau jour de ma vie’, with lyrics by his partner Claude Alix.

Although Henri Segers was INR's in-house bandleader - and later conducted 5 Belgian Eurovision entries -, the honours in the 1956 contest in Lugano for both Belgian entries were taken by Léo Souris, a freelancer. When asked if he remembers why Souris was sent along to Switzerland instead of Segers, Jack Say can do no little than guess. 

“I wasn’t there in Lugano and there was never a question that I would conduct the song myself. If Segers’ name had been considered for Lugano, I think he could not or didn’t want to go for personal reasons – upon which the job fell to Souris. Honestly speaking, Henri Segers wasn’t a very good conductor either and his orchestra at INR was a pure big band without strings. Léo Souris, on the other hand, had his own entertainment orchestra of about 20 men with which he performed in the Taverne du Palace on Place Rogier in Brussels. (...) Léo was an excellent musician, with whom I always enjoyed a very good relationship. On a number of occasions, he played as a pianist in an orchestra conducted by me.”

In the 1956 Eurovision Song Contest, only the winner was announced: Switzerland’s Lys Assia with ‘Refrain’. More than fifty years later, however, the jurors’ ballot papers were found back, establishing that Fud Leclerc was third in the rankings behind Assia and West Germany’s Walter Andreas Schwarz.

Léo Souris conducting the orchestra for Mony Marc's performance of 'Le plus beau jour de ma vie' in Lugano (Eurovision 1956)


Jack Say (Jacques Ysaye), the composer of ‘Messieurs les noyés de la Seine’, knew Souris professionally, “In 1952, Léo Souris was the piano player in my grand orchestra in the Ancienne Belgique. During the concert, he played the all-important solo in Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’. I remember that, at one stage, Léo got lost in his solo. For me, it was a nervous situation anyway, because it was one of my first public appearances as a conductor; Léo resolved the suspense by giving me a sign when to restart the orchestra after his solo. The anecdote does not tell the real story about Léo, though, for he was an excellent pianist! I wrote arrangements for his orchestra with which he performed at the Palace Hotel. Later, in the early 1970s, he wrote some arrangements for my TV orchestra. In the music business, he was universally liked, being the convivial guy that he was.”

Trombonist Frans Van Dyck worked in the recording studios with Léo Souris in the 1950s: “He regularly called on me to play in recordings for Philips and Decca which he had composed or arranged. Usually, this was modern jazz music. He was a fantastic musician with a predilection for avant-garde. If Souris had been given the choice, he would have played jazz all his life; he did not like the light entertainment genre at all. I should not forget to mention that he was a marvellous arranger who was one of the best conductors I worked with during my career. He always managed to get the best out of his musicians.”


Country – Belgium (A)
Song title – “Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine”
Rendition – Fud Leclerc 
Lyrics – Robert Montal (Robert Frickx)
Composition – Jean Miret (Jean Libotte) / Jack Say 
Studio arrangement – none
Orchestration – Jack Say 
Conductor – Léo Souris
Score – unknown

Country – Belgium (B)
Song title – “Le plus beau jour de ma vie”
Rendition – Mony Marc
Lyrics – Claude Alix
Composition – David Bee (Ernest Craps)
Studio arrangement – none
Orchestration – David Bee (Ernest Craps)
Conductor – Léo Souris
Score – unknown

  • An encyclopaedia of Belgian music: Thierry Levaux, “Dictionnaire des compositeurs de Belgique du moyen âge à nos jours”, ed. Art in Belgium: Brussels 2001
  • An interesting survey of jazz in Belgium: Jempi Salmyn & Sim Simons, “The Finest in Belgian Jazz”, ed. De Werf: Bruges 2002
  • Thanks to Jack Say (Jacques Ysaye) and Frans Van Dyck for their additional comments
  • Thanks to Belgian Eurovision expert Andre Vermeulen for providing us with some valuable information about the 1956 Belgian Eurovision pre-selection
  • Photos courtesy of Jack Say (Jacques Ysaye) & Ferry van der Zant

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