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Édith Piaf

Édith Piaf (December 19, 1915—October 10, 1963) was a French singer and cultural icon who "is almost universally regarded as France's greatest popular singer." Her singing reflected her life, with her specialty being the ballads. Among her famous songs are "La vie en rose" (1946), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960), and "Padam Padam".

Early life

Despite numerous biographies, much of Piaf's life is shrouded in mystery. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris, a high-immigration district. Legend has it that she was born on the pavement of Rue de Belleville 72, but her birth certificate states she was born at Hôpital Tenon, the hospital for the 20th arrondissement of which Belleville is part. She was named Édith after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Piaf—a Francilien colloquialism for "sparrow"—originated as a nickname she would receive 20 years later.

Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945), was a French pied noir of French-Italian descent on her father's side and of Kabyle Berber origin on her mother's. She was a native of Livorno, a port city on the western edge of Tuscany, Italy. She was working as a café singer under the name Line Marsa. Louis-Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944), Piaf's father, was a Norman street acrobat with a past in the theatre. Piaf's parents soon abandoned her, and she lived for a short time with her Kabyle maternal grandmother, Emma (Aïcha) Saïd ben Mohammed (1876–1930). Before enlisting with the French Army in 1916 to fight in World War I, her father took Piaf to his mother, who ran a Normandy brothel. The prostitutes helped look after Piaf.

From the age of three to seven, Piaf was allegedly blind as a result of keratitis. According to one of her biographies, she recovered her sight after her grandmother's prostitutes pooled money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux, resulting in a miraculous healing. In 1929, at 14, she joined her father in his acrobatic street performances all over France, where she first sang in public. She took a room at Grand Hôtel de Clermont (18 rue Veron, Paris 18ème) and separated from him, going her own way as a street singer in Pigalle, Ménilmontant, and the Paris suburbs (cf. the song "Elle fréquentait la Rue Pigalle"). She joined her friend Simone Berteaut ("Mômone") in this endeavor, and the two became lifelong partners in mischief. She was about 16 when she fell in love with Louis Dupont, a delivery boy. At 17, she had her only child, a girl named Marcelle, who died of meningitis at age two. Like her mother, Piaf found it difficult to care for a child while living a life of the streets, so she often left Marcelle alone while she was away, and Dupont raised the child before her death. Piaf's next boyfriend was a pimp named Albert who took a commission from the money she made singing in exchange for not forcing her into prostitution. One of her friends, a girl named Nadia, killed herself when faced with the thought of becoming a prostitute, and Albert nearly shot Piaf when she ended the relationship in reaction to Nadia's death.

Singing career

In 1935 Piaf was discovered in the Pigalle area of Paris by the nightclub owner Louis Leplée, whose club Le Gerny off the Champs Élysées was frequented by the upper and lower classes alike. He persuaded her to sing despite her extreme nervousness, which, combined with her height of only 147 cm (4 feet 10 inches), inspired him to give her the nickname that would stay with her for the rest of her life and serve as her stage name, La Môme Piaf (The Waif Sparrow, Little Sparrow or Kid Sparrow in Parigot slang). Leplée taught her the basics of stage presence and told her to wear a black dress which would later become her trademark apparel. Leplée ran a large publicity campaign prior to her opening night, which resulted in celebrities including actor Maurice Chevalier attending the opening. Her nightclub gigs led to her first two records produced that same year, with one of them penned by Marguerite Monnot, a collaborator throughout Piaf's life.

On April 6, 1936, Leplée was murdered and Piaf was questioned in the matter and accused of being an accessory, but she was acquitted. He had been killed by mobsters with previous ties to Piaf. This resulted in much negative media attention directed towards Piaf, which threatened her career. To rehabilitate her image, she recruited Raymond Asso, with whom she would also become romantically involved. He changed her stage name to "Édith Piaf," barred her undesirable acquaintances from seeing her, and commissioned Monnot to write songs that reflected or alluded to Piaf's previous life on the streets.

In 1940, Édith co-starred in Jean Cocteau's successful one-act play Le Bel Indifférent. She began to make friends with famous people, such as Chevalier and the poet Jacques Borgeat. She wrote the lyrics of many of her songs and collaborated with composers on the tunes. In 1944, Édith Piaf discovered Yves Montand in Paris, made him part of her act, and became his mentor and lover. Within a year, he became one of the most famous singers in France, and she broke off their relationship when he had become almost as popular as she was.

During this time, she was in great demand and very successful in Paris as France's most popular entertainer. After the war, she became known internationally, touring Europe, the United States, and South America. She helped to launch the career of Charles Aznavour in the early 1950s, taking him on tour with her in France and the United States and recording some of his songs. At first she met with little success with US audiences, who regarded her as downcast. After a glowing review by a prominent New York critic, though, she met with better success and her popularity in the United States was such that she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show eight times and at Carnegie Hall twice (1956 and 1957).

Edith Piaf's signature song "La vie en rose" was written in 1945 and was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.

The legendary Paris Olympia concert hall is where Piaf achieved lasting fame, giving several series of concerts at the hall, the most famous venue in Paris, between January 1955 and October 1962. Excerpts from five of these concerts (1955, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962) were issued on record and CD and have never been out of print. The 1961 concerts were promised by Piaf in an effort to save the venue from bankruptcy and where she debuted her song \"Non, je ne regrette rien\". In April 1963, Piaf recorded her last song, \"L'homme de Berlin\".

World War II

During World War II, she was a frequent performer at German Forces social gatherings in occupied France, and many considered her a traitor; following the war she claimed to have been working for the French resistance. While there is no evidence of this, it does seem to be true that she was instrumental in helping a number of individuals (including at least one Jew) escape Nazi persecution. Throughout it all, she remained a national and international favorite. Piaf dated a Jewish pianist during this time and co-wrote a subtle protest song with Monnot. According to one story, singing for high-ranking Germans at the One Two Two Club earned Piaf the right to pose for photographs with French prisoners of war, to boost their morale. The Frenchmen were supposedly able to cut out their photos and use them as forged passport photos,

Personal life

The love of Piaf's life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash in October 1949, while flying from Paris to New York City to meet her. Cerdan's Air France flight, flown on a Lockheed Constellation, went down in the Azores, killing everyone on board, including famous violinist Ginette Neveu. Piaf and Cerdan's affair made international headlines, as Cerdan was the middleweight world champion and a legend in France in his own right. Piaf married Jacques Pills, a singer, in 1952 (her matron of honour was Marlene Dietrich) and divorced him in 1956. In 1962 she wed Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years younger than she. The couple sang together in some of her last engagements.

In 1951 Piaf was involved in a car crash along with Charles Aznavour, breaking an arm and two ribs, and thereafter had difficulty breaking serious morphine and alcohol addictions. Two more near-fatal car crashes exacerbated the situation. Jacques Pills took her into rehabilitation on three different occasions to no avail.

Death and legacy

Piaf died of liver cancer at Plascassier, on the French Riviera, on October 10, 1963, but officially made public on the 11th, the same day that her friend Jean Cocteau died. She slipped in and out of consciousness for the last months of her life. It is said that Sarapo drove her body back to Paris secretly so that fans would think she had died in her hometown. She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, in Paris, where her grave is among the most visited.

Although she was denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris because of her lifestyle, her funeral procession drew tens of thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris and the ceremony at the cemetery was attended by more than 100,000 fans. Aznavour recalled that Piaf's funeral procession was the only time since the end of World War II that he saw Parisian traffic come to a complete stop.

The minor planet of 3772 Piaf, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1982, is named after her.

In Paris, a two-room museum is dedicated to her, the Musée Édith Piaf (5 rue Crespin du Gast).

La Vie En Rose, a film about her life directed by Olivier Dahan, debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2007. Titled La Môme in France, the film stars Marion Cotillard in the role that won her the Academy Award for Best Actress (Oscar), as Piaf. Dahan's film follows Piaf's life from early childhood to her death in 1963. David Bret's definitive biography, Piaf, A Passionate Life, was re-released by JR Books to coincide with the film's release. Her love story with Cerdan was also depicted on the big screen by Claude Lelouch in the movie Édith et Marcel (1983) with Marcel Cerdan Jr. in the role of his father and Évelyne Bouix portraying Piaf.

Songs

1935

  • Mon apéro
  • La java de Cézigue 1936
  • L'étranger
  • Les mômes de la cloche
  • J'suis mordue
  • Fais-moi valser
  • La fille et le chien
  • La Julie jolie
  • Va danser
  • Chand d'habits
  • Reste
  • Les hiboux
  • Quand même
  • La petite boutique
  • Y' avait du soleil
  • Il n'est pas distingué
  • Les deux ménétriers
  • Mon amant de la coloniale1937
  • Mon légionnaire
  • Le contrebandier
  • Un jeune homme chantait
  • Tout fout le camp
  • Ne m'écris pas
  • C'est toi le plus fort
  • Le Fanion de la Légion
  • Partance
  • Dans un bouge du vieux port
  • Paris-Méditerranée
  • Browning
  • Entre Saint-Ouen et Clignancourt
  • J'entends la sirène
  • Mon cœur est au coin d'une rue
  • Le chacal
  • Corrèqu'et réguyer
  • Ding, ding, dong 1938
  • Madeleine qui avait du cœur
  • Les marins ça fait des voyages
  • С'est lui que mon cœur a choisi
  • Le grand voyage du pauvre nègre
  • La java en mineur
  • Le mauvais matelot 1939
  • Y' en a un de trop
  • Elle fréquentait la rue Pigalle
  • Le petit monsieur triste
  • Les deux copains
  • Je n'en connais pas la fin 1940
  • Embrasse-moi
  • On danse sur ma chanson
  • Sur une colline
  • C'est la moindre des choses
  • Jimmy, c'est lui
  • Escale
  • L'accordéoniste
  • Y' en a un de trop1941
  • Où sont-ils mes petits copains?
  • C'était un jour de fête
  • C'est un monsieur très distingué
  • J'ai dansé avec l'amour
  • L'homme des bars 1942
  • Simple comme bonjour
  • Le vagabond
  • Un coin tout bleu
  • C'était une histoire d'amour
  • Sans y penser 1943
  • Tu es partout
  • J'ai qu'à l'regarder
  • Le chasseur de l'hôtel
  • Le disque usé
  • Le brun et le blond
  • Monsieur Saint-Pierre
  • Coup de grisou 1944
  • Un monsieur me suit dans la rue
  • Les deux rengaines
  • Y a pas d'printemps
  • Les histoires de coeur
  • C'est toujours la même histoire 1945
  • Celui qui ne savait pas pleurer
  • Escale
  • Regarde-moi toujours comme ça
  • Les gars qui marchaient
  • Il riait
  • De l'autre côté de la rue
  • J'ai qu'à le regarder1946
  • La Vie en rose
  • Les trois cloches
  • Dans ma rue
  • J'm'en fous pas mal
  • C'est merveilleux
  • Adieu mon cœur
  • Le chant du pirate
  • Céline
  • Le petit homme
  • Le roi a fait battre tambour
  • Dans les prisons de Nantes
  • Miss Otis regrets
1947

  • C'est pour ça
  • Mariage
  • Monsieur Lenoble
  • Qu'as-tu fait John ?
  • Un refrain courait dans la rue
  • Sophie
  • Le geste
  • Si tu partais
  • Une chanson à trois temps
  • Un homme comme les autres
  • Les cloches sonnent
  • Johnny Fedora et Alice blue bonnet
  • Le rideau tombe avant la fin
  • Elle avait son sourire
  • Monsieur Ernest a réussi1948
  • Les amants de Paris
  • Il a chanté
  • Les vieux bateaux
  • Il pleut
  • Cousu de fil blanc
  • Amour du mois de mai
  • Monsieur X1949
  • Bal dans ma rue
  • Pour moi tout' seule
  • Pleure pas
  • Le prisonnier de la tour
  • L'orgue des amoureux
  • Dany
  • Paris 1950
  • Hymne à l'amour
  • Le chevalier de Paris
  • Il fait bon t'aimer
  • La p'tite Marie
  • Tous les amoureux chantent
  • Il y avait
  • C'est d'la faute à tes yeux
  • C'est un gars
  • Hymn to love
  • The three bells
  • Le ciel est fermé
  • La fête continue
  • Simply a waltz
  • Autumn leaves
  • Cause I love you
  • Chante-moi (in English)
  • Don't cry
  • I shouldn't care
  • My lost melody
  • La vie en rose (in English)1951
  • Padam... Padam...
  • Avant l'heure
  • L'homme que j`aimerai
  • Du matin jusqu'au soir
  • Demain il fera jour
  • C'est toi
  • Rien de rien
  • Si, si, si, si
  • Demain (il fera jour)
  • À l'enseigne de la fille sans cœur
  • Télégramme
  • Une enfant
  • Plus bleu que tes yeux
  • Le Noël de la rue
  • La valse de l'amour
  • La rue aux chansons
  • Jézébel
  • Chante-moi
  • Chanson de Catherine
  • Chanson bleue1952
  • Au bal de la chance
  • Elle a dit
  • Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Mon ami m'a donné
  • Je t'ai dans la peau
  • Monsieur et madame
  • Ça gueule ça, madame (with Jacques Pills) 1953
  • Bravo pour le clown
  • Sœur Anne
  • N'y va pas Manuel
  • Les amants de Venise
  • L'effet qu'tu m'fais
  • Johnny, tu n'es pas un ange
  • Jean et Martine
  • Et moi
  • Pour qu'elle soit jolie ma chanson (with Jacques Pills)
  • Les croix 1954
  • La Goualante du pauvre Jean
  • Enfin le printemps
  • Retour
  • Mea culpa
  • Heureuse
  • Ça ira
  • Avec ce soleil
  • L'homme au piano
  • Sérénade du pavé
  • Sous le ciel de Paris 1955
  • Un grand amour qui s'achève
  • Miséricorde
  • C'est à Hambourg
  • Enfin le Printemps
  • Légende
1956

  • L'accordéoniste
  • Heaven have a mercy
  • One little man
  • Avant nous
  • Et pourtant
  • Marie la Française
  • Les amants d'un jour
  • L'homme à la moto
  • Soudain une vallée
  • Une dame
  • Toi qui sais1957
  • La foule
  • Les prisons du roy
  • Opinion publique
  • Salle d'attente
  • Les grognards
  • Comme moi1958
  • C'est un homme terrible
  • Je me souviens d'une chanson
  • Je sais comment
  • Tatave
  • Les orgues de barbarie
  • Eden blues
  • Le gitan et la fille
  • Fais comme si
  • Le ballet des cœurs
  • Les amants de demain
  • Les neiges de Finlande
  • Tant qu'il y aura des jours
  • Un étranger
  • Mon manège à moi1959
  • Milord
  • T'es beau, tu sais1960
  • Non, je ne regrette rien
  • La vie, l'amour
  • Rue de Siam
  • Jean l'Espagnol
  • La belle histoire d'amour
  • La ville inconnue
  • Non, la vie n'est pas triste
  • Kiosque à journaux
  • Le métro de Paris
  • Cri du cœur
  • Les blouses blanches
  • Les flons flons du bal
  • Les mots d'amour
  • T'es l'homme qu'il me faut
  • Mon Dieu
  • Boulevard du crime
  • C'est l'amour
  • Des histories
  • Ouragan
  • Je suis à toi
  • Les amants merveilleux
  • Les bleuets d'azur
  • Quand tu dors
  • Mon vieux Lucien
  • Je m'imagine
  • Jérusalem
  • Le vieux piano 1961
  • C'est peut-être ça
  • Le dénicheur
  • J'n'attends plus rien
  • J'en ai passé des nuits
  • Exodus
  • Faut pas qu'il se figure
  • Les amants (with Charles Dumont)
  • Non, je ne regrette rien
  • Le billard électrique
  • Marie-trottoir
  • Qu'il était triste cet Anglais
  • Toujours aimer
  • Mon Dieu (en anglais)
  • Le bruit des villes 1962
  • Dans leur baiser
  • À quoi ça sert l'amour?
  • Le droit d'aimer
  • À quoi ça sert l'amour? (with Théo Sarapo)
  • Fallait-il
  • Une valse
  • Inconnu excepté de Dieu
  • Le droit d'aimer
  • Quatorze Juillet
  • Les amants de Teruel (of Mikis Theodorakis and Jacques Plante)
  • Roulez tambours
  • Musique à tout va
  • Le rendez-vous
  • Toi, tu l'entends pas!
  • Carmen's story
  • On cherche un Auguste
  • Ça fait drôle
  • Emporte-moi
  • Polichinelle
  • Le petit brouillard
  • Le diable de la Bastille
  • Elle chantait (with Théo Sarapo)1963
  • C'était pas moi
  • Le chant d'amour
  • Tiens, v'la un marin
  • J'en ai tant vu
  • Traque
  • Les gens
  • Margot Cœur Gros
  • Monsieur Incognito
  • L'homme de Berlin (her last recording)

Her song Hymne à l'amour inspired the film Toutes ces belles promesses by Jean-Paul Civeyrac. It was also translated into English as "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" and covered by various artists including Shirley Bassey, Dorothy Squires and Kay Starr, who had a hit with it in 1954.

Films

Appeared in

About

Plays

Appeared in

About

  • Piaf (1978), by Pam Gems
  • Piaf Piaf (1988), by Juha Siltanen and Jorma Uotinen
  • Pure Piaf (2006), by Alex Ryer

Discography

The following titles are compilations of Edith Piaf's songs, and not reissues of the titles released while Edith Piaf was active.

  • The Voice of the Sparrow: The Very Best of Edith Piaf, original release date: June, 1991
  • Édith Piaf: 30th Anniversaire, original release date: April 5, 1994
  • Édith Piaf: Her Greatest Recordings 1935-1943, original release date: July 15, 1995
  • The Early Years: 1938-1945, Vol. 3, original release date: October 15, 1996
  • Hymn to Love: All Her Greatest Songs in English, original release date: November 4, 1996
  • Gold Collection, original release date: January 9, 1998
  • The Rare Piaf 1950-1962 (April 28, 1998)
  • La Vie en Rose, original release date: January 26, 1999
  • Montmartre Sur Seine (soundtrack import), original release date: September 19, 2000
  • Eternelle: The Best Of (January 29, 2002)
  • Love and Passion (boxed set), original release date: April 8, 2002
  • The Very Best of Edith Piaf (import), original release date: October 29, 2002
  • 75 Chansons (Box set/import), original release date: September 22, 2005
  • 48 Titres Originaux (import), (09/01/2006)
  • Edith Piaf: L'Integrale/Complete 20 CD/413 Chansons, original release date: February 27, 2007

There are in excess of 80 albums of Edith Piaf's songs available on online music stores.

Edith Piaf on DVD

  • Edith Piaf - A Passionate Life (May 24, 2004)
  • Edith Piaf : Eternal Hymn (Éternelle, l'hymne à la môme, Non-US Format, Pal, Region 2, Import)
  • Piaf - Her Story, Her Songs (June 2006)
  • Piaf: La Môme (2007)
  • La Vie en Rose (film) (biopic, 2008)

Books on Edith Piaf

  • The Wheel Of Fortune: The Autobiography of Edith Piaf by Edith Piaf (originally written in 1958, 5 years before her death), Peter Owen Publishers; ISBN 0720612284
  • Edith Piaf, by Edith Piaf and Simone Berteaut, published January 1982; ISBN 2904106014
  • The Piaf Legend, by David Bret, Robson Books,1988.
  • Piaf: A Passionate Life, by David Bret, Robson Books, 1998, revised JR Books, 2007
  • Marlene, My Friend, by David Bret, Robson Books, 1993. Dietrich dedicates a whole chapter to her friendship with Piaf.
  • Oh! Père Lachaise, by Jim Yates, Édition d'Amèlie 2007, ISBN 978-0-9555836-0-5. Piaf and Oscar Wilde meet in a pink tinted Parisian Purgatory.

Edith Piaf in contemporary music

  • Edith Piaf is mentioned in the song "St. Dominic's Preview" on the 1972 album of the same name by Van Morrison.
  • Edith Piaf is mentioned in the song "My Mother was a Chinese Trapeze Artist" by The Decemberists on the EP "5 Songs" (2001)
  • Edith Piaf is mentioned in the song "Piaf chanterait du rock" by Luc Plamondon, which was most famously recorded by Marie Carmen and Céline Dion.
  • The song "Edith and the Kingpin" on Joni Mitchell's 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns was revealed to be about Édith Piaf in an interview with Mitchell published in the February 2008 issue of Mojo.
  • The Elton John song "Cage the Songbird", from his 1976 Blue Moves album, is a tribute to Edith Piaf.
  • The Marillion song "Lady Nina" has the following line: "And Edith Piaf sings a lullaby for the night."
  • Edith Piaf is mentioned in the song "Chocolate Cigarette" by Tom Russell and Sylvia Tyson on Tom Russell's 1991 album Hurricane Season.
  • Jeff Buckley, on the track 'Last Goodbye' from his live album 'Mystery White Boy', asks the crowd in French 'Qu'est-ce que c'est Piaf?', before singing an impersonation.

Notes

See also

External links

Movie La Vie En Rose :

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