Knokke - Heist song festival

The past half year we got a lot of e-mails and traffic on us mentioning the Belgian Knokke - Heist songcontest. As we found out ourselves there is very little information about this contest although older people (especially in the Benelux) remember it well. But if you’re born after 1955 you’ll be bound to be oblivious of the excistence of this festival. Still, it played an important part in giving a stage to the light-popular genre in Europe in the sixties  Below is a history of the festival put together from the bits and pieces we were able to find.

The World Exhibition in Brussels of 1958 was a one of those moments in European pophistory that turned out to be a key event. Not only was it a mayor influence to the development of electronic music (read: 'The audible future in Brussels') it also sparked the idea for the Knokke - Heist song festival. The management of the Casino Knokke suggested a contest with international character creation. Previous experiences during performances at the Casino showed that only the light musical genre (read early pop) seemed eligible for this idea. Now the Eurovision Songcontest and San Remo were already in full swing but the Belgians gathered that there was room in Western Europe for another songcontest, mainly focussing on young talent from the various European countries. In contrast to the Eurovision Song Contest, where only the presented song was judged - Knokke looked at the whole interpretation of the song (or at least so say the regulations). The contest was named the 'Europabeker voor zangvoordracht’ (European Cup for vocal recitation). 1959 was the first year the contest was held with France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy and England each sending six contestants. Two years after the birth of the first European Cup the contest was also broadcasted on television on various foreign channels. This did not contribute to a wide international reputation of the contest however.

Since the Knokke-Heist songfestival was something different then the Eurovision Belgium held a separate pre-selection for that called Canzonissima. That contest was held three times, in 1963, 1967 en 1971. Over the years, the rules of the Knokke-Heist songcontest changed several times, to end it off in 1970 with a super final set. In this set the best individual singers had to come out against a U.S. team (who were in the finals immediately). In 1971 Rumanian singer Aura Urziceanu won the contest this way (receiving the highest marks ever from the jury) after which she moved to the USA. The competive element was the beginning of the end. In 1972 the last Knokke-Heist songfestival was held followed by a farewell show in 1973 where some of the contestant from past years made an appearance.

In the years that followed the songcontest was revived several times in some form or other. The 15-year anniversary in 1980 was reason enough for the Belgians to see if they could really start a new contest. After much debate it did under the title 'Knokke Cup', which in itself became a well known festival for Schlager, cabaret and variety artists. Currently the town of Knokke organises the more rock focussed ‘Kneifestival’.

Click here for a list of all the contestants between 1959 and 1972.

Some of the contestants also contacted us. We obviously feel honoured, especially if we can persued them to write a small memoire. We hope this collection of personal memories will grow over the years. If you performed at the contest feel free to contact us and add your personal memories.

Go to: Contestants' diaries