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Music / Édith Piaf

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Édith Giovanna Gassion, better known as Édith Piaf (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 also had acting parts in some films, in which she also performed songs.

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 1930s 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. She also used her fame to help and mentor a number of rising singers she saw great potential in, such as Georges Moustaki and Yves Montand.

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 Louis Leplée, but later cleared. Her lover Marcel Cerdan (one of the greatest French boxing champions in history) 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. A close friend of hers, Jean Cocteau, died the next day, a few hours after her.

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)note 
  • "La Foule" (1957)
  • "Mon manège à moi" (1958)
  • "Milord" (1959)
  • "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960)
  • "A quoi ça sert l'amour" (1962)note 

Edith Piaf provides examples of:

  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: The song "L' Homme à la Moto" ("The Man with the Bike") describes a muscled and leather jacket-wearing biker who "spreads terror in the region" and cares more about his bike than his girlfriend. And he has a tattoo that reads "I love you mommy".
  • Alone in a Crowd: "La Foule", about a woman who feels lost in a crowd and can only think about the man she loves.
  • Biopic: The most famous film covering her life is La Vie en Rose, with Marion Cotillard playing her.
  • 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" 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 in the street" ("ombre de la rue").
  • Iconic Outfit: Her black dress because she always performed in black. There were hardly any pictures of her in other outfits.
  • I Regret Nothing: Literally the meaning of "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien".
  • 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 post-breakout career 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 "L'Hymne à l'Amour", recorded after the untimely death of her then-lover, boxing champion 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 perhaps the most famous French-language female singer who has ever lived. As such, many non-French works pertaining to France or wanting a quick reference to French culture tend to think about using her songs (and often only the most famous ones at that, such as "La Vie en Rose") and nothing or not much else.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: She regularly rolled her "r"'s when she sang.
  • Women Prefer Strong Men: "Mon Légionnaire" about a woman who loves a soldier.