Music / Édith Piaf

Édith Piaf (born Édith Giovanna Gassion, 19 December 1915 – 10 October 1963) was a singer who became widely regarded as France's national diva, as well as being one of France's greatest international stars of the 20th century. She sang in the streets of Paris as a teen and was discovered in Pigalle by nightclub owner Louis Leplée, who persuaded her to sing in his cabaret on the Champs-Elysées. She then rose to national stardom in the late 1930's and to international stardom after World War II. She was nicknamed "La Môme Piaf" (meaning "The Waif Sparrow" or "The Little Sparrow" in Parisian slang), hence her stage name. She sang mostly about love, and she always wore a Little Black Dress on stage.

Some parts of her early life were heavily romanticized if not purely invented, but otherwise her personal life was characteristically dramatic. From the age of 3 to 7, she was allegedly blind as a result of keratitis. Her one and only daughter died at age 2 in 1935. She was watched by the police as a suspect after the murder of her first manager, but later cleared. Her lover Marcel Cerdan (the greatest French boxing champion) died in a plane crash in 1949. She was involved in three serious car crashes after 1951, leading to morphine and alcohol addictions and rheumatoid arthritis. Said addictions and illness weakened her, made her look much older than she was and ultimately caused her death on October 10, 1963 at age 47.

She had high-profile affairs with many of her male associates and some of the biggest celebrities in France. She married twice : her first marriage in 1952, to singer Jacques Pills, lasted for four years. Her 1962 marriage to Théo Sarapo, a French singer and performer of Greek origins 20 years her junior, lasted until her death. Théo Sarapo didn't survive her for long, he died from his wounds after a car crash in 1970 at age 34.

Some of her most famous songs :

  • "Mon Légionnaire" (1936)
  • "La Vie en Rose" (1946)
  • "L'Hymne à l'amour" (1949), dedicated to her then lover Marcel Cerdan (before he died). note 
  • "Padam ... Padam ..." (1951)
  • "L'Accordéoniste" (1955)
  • "Les Amants d'un Jour" (1956)
  • "L'Homme à la moto" (1956), the French version of The Cheers' song "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots"
  • "La Foule" (1957)
  • "Mon manège à moi" (1958)
  • "Milord" (1959)
  • "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960)
  • "A quoi ça sert l'amour" (1962), her last major song, co-sung with Théo Sarapo

Edith Piaf provides examples of:

  • Biopic: The most famous film covering her life is La Vie en Rose, with Marion Cotillard playing Edith.
  • The Dead Rise to Advertise: A British ad campaign featured real footage of Edith Piaf singing "Je ne regrette rien." Instead of an accurate translation, the subtitles claimed she's singing that there's actually one thing she does regret- she could have got cheap glasses from Specsavers.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: "Milord", about a gentle lower-class "girl of the port" (perhaps a prostitute) who develops a crush on an elegantly attired apparent upper-class British traveller (or "milord"), whom she has seen walking the streets of the town several times (with a beautiful young woman on his arm), but who has not even noticed her. The singer feels that she is nothing more than a "shadow of the street" (ombre de la rue).
  • Iconic Outfit: Her black dress because she always performed in black. There was hardly any pictures of her in other outfits.
  • Legion of Lost Souls: "Mon Légionnaire," about a woman's yearning for an unhappy legionnaire she knew for a short time.
  • Little Black Dress: She always performed in black. Hardly any pictures of her depicted her in other outfits.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The tragedies in her life inspired the lyrics to many of her songs, such as "Hymne A L' Amour", recorded after the untimely death of her partner Marcel Cerdan in a plane crash.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Her life was full of love affairs, substance abuse, alcoholism and all of it was reflected in her songs.
  • Small Reference Pools: She is the most famous French chansonnière in the world. Only Jacques Brel matches her, who was Belgian. Second is perhaps Serge Gainsbourg, though his music is more rock 'n' roll and poppy.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: She regularly rolled her "r"'s when she sang.
  • Women Prefer Strong Men: "Mon Légionnaire" about a woman who loves a soldier.