Édith Piaf (born Édith Giovanna Gassion; 19 December 1915 – 10 October 1963) was a French singer best known for performing songs in the cabaret and modern chanson genres. She is widely regarded as France's greatest popular singer and one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century.
Édith Giovanna Gassion
19 December 1915
|Died||10 October 1963 (aged 47)|
|Other names||La Môme Piaf (English: The Little Sparrow)|
(m. 1962; died 1963)
Piaf's music was often autobiographical, and she specialized in chanson réaliste and torch ballads about love, loss and sorrow. Her most widely known songs include "La Vie en rose" (1946), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), "La Foule" (1957), "L'Accordéoniste" (1940), and "Padam, padam..." (1951).
Piaf began her career touring with her father at the age of fourteen. Her fame increased during the German occupation of France and in 1945, Piaf's signature song, La Vie en rose ("life in pink") was published. She became France's most popular entertainer in the late 1940s, also touring Europe, the United States, and South America. Her popularity in the United States led her to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times.
She continued to perform, including several series of concerts at the Paris Olympia music hall, until a few months before her death in 1963 at age 47. Her last song, L'Homme de Berlin, was recorded with her husband in April 1963.
Since her death, several documentaries and films have been produced about Piaf's life, and her music is a touchstone of French culture.
Early life edit
Her birth name was Édith Giovanna Gassion. The name "Édith" was inspired by British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed 2 months before Édith's birth for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity during World War I. Twenty years later, Édith's stage surname Piaf was created by her first promoter, based on a French term for sparrow.
Édith's father Louis Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944) was an acrobatic street performer from Normandy with a theater background. Louis's father was Victor Alphonse Gassion (1850–1928) and his mother was Léontine Louise Descamps (1860–1937), who ran a brothel in Normandy and was known professionally as Maman Tine. Édith's mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945) was a singer and circus performer born in Italy who performed under the stage name Line Marsa. Annetta's father was Auguste Eugène Maillard (1866–1912) of French descent and her mother was Emma (Aïcha) Saïd Ben Mohammed (1876–1930), an acrobat of Algerian and Italian descent. Annetta and Louis divorced on June 4, 1929.
Piaf's mother abandoned her at birth, and she lived for a short time with her maternal grandmother, Emma (Aïcha), in Bethandy, Normandy. When her father enlisted with the French Army in 1916 to fight in World War I, he took her to his mother, who ran a brothel in Bernay, Normandy. There, prostitutes helped look after Piaf. The bordello had two floors and seven rooms, and the prostitutes were not very numerous – "about ten poor girls", as she later described. In fact, five or six were permanent while a dozen others would join the brothel during market days and other busy days. The sub-mistress of the brothel was called "Madam Gaby" and Piaf considered her almost like family; later, she became godmother of Denise Gassion, Piaf's half-sister born in 1931.
From the age of three to seven, Piaf was allegedly blind as a result of keratitis. According to one of her biographers, she recovered her sight after her grandmother's prostitutes pooled money to accompany her on a pilgrimage honouring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Piaf claimed this resulted in a miraculous healing.
At age 14, Piaf was taken by her father to join him in his acrobatic street performances all over France, where she first began to sing in public. The following year, Piaf met her half-sister Simone "Mômone" Berteaut, who became a companion for most of her life. Together they toured the streets singing and earning money for themselves. With the additional money Piaf earned as part of an acrobatic trio, she and Berteaut were able to rent their own place. Piaf took a room at the Grand Hôtel de Clermont in Paris and worked with Berteaut as a street singer around Paris and its suburbs.
In 1935, Piaf was discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplée. Leplée persuaded Piaf (then known by her birth name of Édith Gassion) to sing despite her extreme nervousness. This nervousness and her height of only 142 centimetres (4 ft 8 in), inspired Leplée to give her the nickname La Môme Piaf, which is Paris slang for "The Waif Sparrow" or "The Little Sparrow". Leplée taught Piaf about stage presence and told her to wear a black dress, which became her trademark apparel.
Prior to Piaf's opening night, Leplée ran an intense publicity campaign leading, resulting in the attendance of many celebrities. The bandleader that evening was Django Reinhardt, with his pianist, Norbert Glanzberg.: 35 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 and one of her favourite composers.
On April 6, 1936, Leplée was murdered. Piaf was questioned and accused as an accessory, but acquitted. Leplée had been killed by mobsters with previous ties to Piaf. A barrage of negative media attention now threatened Piaf's career. To rehabilitate her image, she recruited Raymond Asso, with whom she would become romantically involved. He changed her stage name to "Édith Piaf", barred undesirable acquaintances from seeing her, and commissioned Monnot to write songs that reflected or alluded to Piaf's previous life on the streets.
Piaf's career and fame gained momentum during the German occupation of France in World War II. She began forming friendships with prominent people, such as actor and singer Maurice Chevalier and poet Jacques Bourgeat. Piaf also performed in various nightclubs and brothels, which flourished between 1940 and 1945. Various top Paris brothels, including Le Chabanais, Le Sphinx, One Two Two, La rue des Moulins, and Chez Marguerite, were reserved for German officers and collaborating Frenchmen. Piaf was invited to take part in a concert tour to Berlin, sponsored by the German officials, together with artists such as Loulou Gasté, Raymond Souplex, Viviane Romance and Albert Préjean. In 1942, she was able to afford a luxury flat in a house in the upmarket 16th arrondissement of Paris area. She lived above the L'Étoile de Kléber, a famous nightclub and bordello close to the Paris Gestapo headquarters.
Piaf was accused of collaborating with the German occupying forces and had to testify before a Épuration légale (post-war legal trial), as there were plans to ban her from appearing on radio transmissions. However, her secretary Andrée Bigard, a member of the French Resistance, spoke in her favour after the Liberation. According to Bigard, she performed several times at prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and was instrumental in helping a number of prisoners escape. At the beginning of the war, Piaf had met Michel Emer, a Jewish musician famous for the song L'Accordéoniste. Piaf paid for Emer to travel into France before German occupation, where he lived in safety until the liberation. Following the trial, Piaf was quickly back in the singing business and in December 1944, she performed for the Allied forces in Marseille, alongside singer/actor Yves Montand.
In 1947, she wrote the lyrics to the song "What Can I Do?" for her lover Montand. Within a year, Montand became one of the most famous singers in France. 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. In Paris, she gave Argentinian guitarist-singer Atahualpa Yupanqui – a central figure in the Argentine folk music tradition – the opportunity to share the scene, making his debut in July 1950. Piaf also helped 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 American audiences, who expected a gaudy spectacle and were disappointed by Piaf's simple presentation. However, after a glowing review by influential New York critic Virgil Thomson in 1947, her popularity in the U.S grew to the point where she eventually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times, and at Carnegie Hall twice (in 1956 and 1957).
Between January 1955 and October 1962, Piaf performed several series of concerts at the Paris Olympia music hall. Excerpts from five of these concerts (1955, 1956, 1958, 1961, 1962) were issued on vinyl record (and later on CD), and have never been out of print. In the 1961 concerts, promised by Piaf in an effort to save the venue from bankruptcy, she first sang Non, je ne regrette rien. In April 1963, Piaf recorded her last song before her death, titled L'Homme de Berlin.
Personal life edit
During a tour of America in 1947, Piaf met boxer Marcel Cerdan and fell in love. They began an affair, which made international headlines since Cerdan was the former middleweight world champion and famous in France in his own right. In October 1949, Cerdan flew from Paris to New York City to meet Piaf; however, his flight was Air France Flight 009, which crashed while attempting to land at a stopover in Portugal. The crash killed everyone on board, including Cerdan and noted violinist Ginette Neveu. The hit song Hymne à l'amour, written in dedication to Cerdan, was recorded by Piaf in May 1950.
Piaf was injured in a car accident that occurred in 1951. Both Piaf and singer Charles Aznavour (her then-assistant) were passengers in the vehicle, with Piaf suffering a broken arm and two broken ribs. Her doctor prescribed the drug morphine as a treatment, which became a dependency alongside her alcohol problems. Two more near-fatal car crashes exacerbated the situation. In 1952, her then-husband forced Piaf into a detox clinic on three separate occasions.
In 1952, Piaf married her first husband, singer Jacques Pills (real name René Ducos), with Marlene Dietrich performing the matron of honour duties. Piaf and Pills divorced in 1957. In 1962, she wed Théo Sarapo (Theophanis Lamboukas), a singer, actor, and former hairdresser who was born in France of Greek descent. Sarapo was 20 years younger than Piaf and the two remained married until Piaf's death.
In early 1963, soon after recording L'Homme de Berlin with her husband Théo Sarapo, Piaf slipped into a coma due to liver cancer. She was taken to her villa in Plascassier on the French Riviera where she was nursed by Sarapo and her half-sister Simone Berteaut. Over the next few months she drifted in and out of consciousness, before dying at age 47 on October 10, 1963.
Her last words were "Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for." It is said that Sarapo drove her body from Plascassier to Paris secretly, so that fans would think she had died in her hometown.
Piaf's body is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where her grave is among the most visited. Buried in the same grave are her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and her final husband Théo Sarapo.
Funeral and 2013 requiem mass edit
Shortly after her death, Piaf's 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. According to Piaf's colleague Charles Aznavour, Piaf's funeral procession was the only time since the end of World War II that the traffic in Paris had come to a complete stop.
However, at the time, Piaf had been denied a Catholic Requiem Mass by Cardinal Maurice Feltin, since she had remarried after divorce in the Orthodox Church. Fifty years later, the French Catholic Church recanted and gave Piaf a Requiem Mass in the St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Belleville, Paris (the parish into which she was born) on October 10, 2013.
Since 1963, the French media have continually published magazines, books, plays, television specials and films about the star, often on the anniversary of her death. In 1969, her half-sister Simone "Mômone" Berteaut published a biography titled "Piaf". In 1973, the Association of the Friends of Édith Piaf was formed, followed by the inauguration of the Place Édith Piaf in Belleville in 1981. Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina named a small planet, 3772 Piaf, in her honor.
A concert titled Piaf: A Centennial Celebration was held at The Town Hall in New York City on December 19, 2015, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Piaf's birth. The events was hosted by Robert Osborne and produced by Daniel Nardicio and Andy Brattain. Performers included Little Annie, Gay Marshall, Amber Martin, Marilyn Maye, Meow Meow, Elaine Paige, Molly Pope, Vivian Reed, Kim David Smith, and Aaron Weinstein.
Piaf's life has been the subject of the following films:
- Piaf (1974), directed by Guy Casaril, depicted her early years
- Édith et Marcel (1983), directed by Claude Lelouch, Piaf's relationship with Cerdan
- Piaf ... Her Story ... Her Songs (2003), by Raquel Bitton
- La Vie en Rose (2007), directed by Olivier Dahan, with Marion Cotillard who won an Academy Award for Best Actress
- The Sparrow and the Birdman (2010), by Raquel Bitton
- Edith Piaf Alive (2011), by Flo Ankah
- Piaf, voz y delirio (2017), by Leonardo Padrón.
Documentaries about Piaf's life include:
- Édith Piaf: A Passionate Life (May 24, 2004)
- Édith Piaf: Eternal Hymn (Éternelle, l'hymne à la môme, PAL, Region 2, import)
- Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs (June 2006)
- Piaf: La Môme (2007)
- La Vie en rose (biopic, 2007)
- Édith Piaf: The Perfect Concert and Piaf: The Documentary (February 2009)
In 2023, Warner Music Group (WMG) announced a new biopic of Piaf that would be narrated by an artificial intelligence program that has been trained replicate Piaf’s voice. The project has been conducted in partnership with the Piaf estate, which supplied the recordings used in the process.  
The following titles are compilations of Piaf's songs and not reissues of the titles released while Piaf was active.
- Edith Piaf: Edith Piaf (Music For Pleasure MFP 1396) 1961
- Potpourri par Piaf (Capitol ST 10295) 1962
- Ses Plus Belles Chansons (Contour 6870505) 1969
- The Voice of the Sparrow: The Very Best of Édith 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
- Éternelle: The Best Of (January 29, 2002)
- Love and Passion (boxed set), original release date: April 8, 2002
- The Very Best of Édith 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)
- Édith Piaf: L'Intégrale/Complete 20 CD/413 Chansons, original release date: February 27, 2007
- Édith Piaf: The Absolutely Essential 3 CD Collection/Proper Records UK, original release date: May 31, 2011
|1936||La garçonne||Jean de Limur|
|1940||Le Bel Indifférent[a]||Jean Cocteau|
|1946||Star Without Light||Marcel Blistène|
|1947||Neuf garçons, un cœur||Georges Friedland|
|1951||Paris Still Sings||Pierre Montazel|
|1953||Boum sur Paris||Maurice de Canonge|
|1954||Si Versailles m'était conté||Sacha Guitry|
|1954||French Cancan||Jean Renoir|
|1958||Música de Siempre[b]||Tito Davison|
|1959||Les Amants de demain||Marcel Blistène|
See also edit
- Huey, Steve. Édith Piaf biography at AllMusic. Retrieved December 22, 2015.
- Burke, Carolyn. No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, Alfred A. Knopf 2011, ISBN 978-0-307-26801-3.
- Morris, Wesley (15 June 2007). "A complex portrait of a spellbinding singer". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 12 February 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- "Biography: Édith Piaf". Radio France Internationale Musique. Archived from the original on 27 February 2003. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Rainer, Peter (8 June 2007). "'La Vie en rose': Édith Piaf's encore". The Christian Science Monitor. Boston. Retrieved 3 September 2009.
- Vallois, Thirza (February 1998). "Two Paris Love Stories". Paris Kiosque. Archived from the original on 14 July 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2007.
- Ray, Joe (11 October 2003). "Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel live again in Paris: The two legendary singers are making a comeback in cafes and theatres in the City of Light". Vancouver Sun. Canada. p. F3. Archived from the original on 11 December 2012. Retrieved 18 July 2007.
- Souvais, Michel. Arletty, confidences à son secrétaire (in French). Editions Publibook. ISBN 978-2-7483-8735-3.
- "Monique Lange (auteur de Les cabines de bain)". Babelio (in French). Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Monique Lange et Edmonde Charles-Roux à propos d' Edith Piaf | INA (in French), retrieved 20 February 2023
- Death certificate Year 1890, France, Montluçon (03), 1890, N°501, 2E 191 194
- Her grandmother, Emma Saïd Ben Mohamed, was born in Mogador, Morocco, in December 1876, " Emma Saïd ben Mohamed, d'origine kabyle et probablement connue au Maroc où renvoie son acte de naissance établi à Mogador, le 10 décembre 1876 ", Pierre Duclos and Georges Martin, Piaf, biographie, Éditions du Seuil, 1993, Paris, p. 41
- "Her mother, half-Italian, half-Berber", David Bret, Piaf: A Passionate Life, Robson Books, 1998, p. 2
- Piaf, un mythe français, Robert Belleret, Fayard, 2013.
- Piaf, Simone Berteaut, Allen & Unwin (1970).
- Willsher, Kim (12 April 2015). "France celebrates singer Edith Piaf with an exhibition for the centenary of her birth". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
- "Piaf - NE". www.goodreads.com (in French). Retrieved 8 July 2023.
- Fine, Marshall (4 June 2007). "The soul of the Sparrow". Daily News. New York. Retrieved 19 July 2007.
- Mayer, Andre (8 June 2007). "Songbird". CBC. Retrieved 19 July 2007.
- And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris, Alan Riding Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, October 19, 2010.
- Véronique Willemin, La Mondaine, histoire et archives de la Police des Mœurs, hoëbeke, 2009, p. 102.
- Jeffries, Stuart (8 November 2003). "The love of a poet". The Guardian. United Kingdom. Retrieved 19 September 2007.
- "Die Schließung der 'Maisons closes' lag im Zug der Zeit", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 15, 1996. (in German)
- Sous l'œil de l'Occupant, la France vue par l'Allemagne, 1940–1944. Éditions Armand Colin, Paris 2010, ISBN 978-2-200-24853-6.
- "Edith Piaf: la Môme, la vraie". L'Express (in French). 21 August 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Robert Belleret: Piaf, un myth français. Verlag Fayard, Paris 2013.
- Myriam Chimènes, Josette Alviset: La vie musicale sous Vichy. Editions Complexe, 2001, S. 302.
- "Edith Piaf". Music and the Holocaust.
- Prial, Frank (29 January 2004). "Still No Regrets: Paris Remembers Its Piaf". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- MacGuill, Dan (19 October 2017). "Did Edith Piaf Make Fake Passports to Help Prisoners Escape from Nazi Camps?". Snopes. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Thomson, Virgil "La Môme Piaf", New York Herald Tribune, November 9, 1947.
- "Marcelcerdanheritage - Toutes vos actualités sportives". Marcelcerdanheritage (in French). Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Marcel Cerdan's tragic disappearance (1949) Archived April 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine – Marcel Cerdan Heritage
- Cramer, Alfred W. (2009). Musicians and Composers of the 20th Century. Vol. 4. Salem Press. p. 1107. ISBN 9781587655166.
- Piaf, Edith (2004). The Wheel of Fortune: The Autobiography of Edith Piaf. Peter Owen. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-7206-1228-8. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
- "Theo Sarapo Biography". Christie Laume. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
- "Edith Piaf continues to inspire, 50 years after her death". France24. 8 October 2013.
- Langley, William (13 October 2013). "Edith Piaf: Mistress of heartbreak and pain who had a few regrets, after all". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 11 January 2022. Retrieved 13 June 2015.
- (in French) Édith Piaf funeral – Video Archived December 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine – French TV, 14 October 1963, INA
- "Parisians mourn Edith Piaf". The Guardian. 13 October 2008. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
- "Tragic singer wins over Catholic Church, 50 years after death". NZ Herald. 9 July 2023. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
- Musée Édith Piaf Archived 9 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- "Musée Edith Piaf, Paris". www.travelsignposts.com. Archived from the original on 22 April 2012.
- Durell, Sandi (21 December 2015). "Piaf Centennial Celebration – Town Hall". Theater Pizzazz. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Holden, Stephen (20 December 2015). "Review: A Grand Tribute to the Little Sparrow Édith Piaf". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 February 2023.
- Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (14 November 2023). "Édith Piaf's voice re-created using AI so she can narrate own biopic". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 15 November 2023.
- "Creators of the Edith Piaf AI-Generated Biopic Speak Out: 'We Don't Want Her to Look Cartoonish' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.
Further reading edit
- Berteaut, Simone (1965) . Laffont, Robert (ed.). Au bal de la chance (in French). Translated by G. Boulanger. Paris: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-003669-5., translated into English
- The Piaf Legend, by David Bret, Robson Books, 1988.
- Piaf: A Passionate Life, by David Bret, Robson Books, 1998, revised JR Books, 2007
- "The Sparrow – Edith Piaf", chapter in Singers & The Song (pp. 23–43), by Gene Lees, Oxford University Press, 1987, insightful critique of Piaf's biography and music.
- 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.
- Find Me a New Way to Die: Édith Piaf's Untold Story by David Bret, Oberon Books, 2016.
- Piaf, by Margaret Crosland. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1985, ISBN 0-399-13088-8. A biography.
- Édith Piaf, secrète et publique, [by] Denise Gassion (sister of É. Piaf) & Robert Morcet, Ergo Press, 1988; ISBN 2-86957-001-5
- Edith Piaf: Her Songs & The Stories Behind Them Translated Into English: Volume One: The Polydor Years 1935-1945 by David Bret, Independently published, 2021.