Édith Piaf (19 December 1915—10 October 1963) was a French singer and cultural icon who is widely accepted as the country's greatest pop singer. Her singing reflected her tragic life, with her specialty being the poignant ballad performed in a heartbreaking voice. Among her famous songs are "La vie en rose" (1946), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), and "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960).
Despite numerous published biographies, much of Piaf's life is shrouded in mystery. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris, the high-immigration district later described by Daniel Pennac. 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 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 Saint 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.
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 8 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 a number of 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, an ongoing 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 per se, 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, and some of them managed to escape.
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 was later married twice. Her first husband was Jacques Pills, a singer. They married in 1952 (Piaf's maid of honour was Marlene Dietrich) and divorced in 1956. Her second husband, Théo Sarapo, was a Greek hairdresser-turned-singer and actor who was 20 years younger than Piaf. They married in 1962 and sang together in some of her last engagements.
In 1951 Piaf was involved in a car crash along with 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. Her first husband, 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 10 October 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 one of 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 Piaf, 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.
Edith Piaf and Rosicrucian Order :
Edith Piaf at member at A.M.O.R.C.
Source : Wikipedia