Edith Piaf: French Songbird

Dateline: October 26, 2000

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Edith Piaf Edith Piaf is the first lady of French chanson. Born into poverty on December 19, 1915, Edith Giovanna Gassion was abandoned by her mother shortly after her birth and lived with her grandmother -- a madame who ran a brothel in Normandy. She contracted meningitis at the age of three and lost her sight until the age of seven, when she visited a holy shrine.

Some years later, she began travelling the circus trail with her father, the acrobat Jean Gassion. Gassion took notice of Edith's musical talent and encouraged her to sing in his shows. In between performances, the two literally lived out of their suitcases, sleeping in halls and trunks and hallways.

Already off to a rough start in life, Piaf was destined for more hardship. When she was sixteen she gave birth to a child who died in infancy. The baby's father was a soldier who was transferred before the child was even born. Still poor, she sang in the streets for spare change.

It is no wonder the rugged energy that emerged in Piaf's voice developed. Her delivery is full of emotion and passion. Fortunately, this talent was discovered by Louis Leplee, an impressario. Leplee helped mold her stage persona, changing her last name to Piaf (which means "sparrow" in Parisian slang) and having her wear a simple black dress during her performances.

However, the talent was all Piaf's. Her remarkable stage presence beset the fact she was not even five foot tall and one hundred pounds. Many of her hit songs are still very well known in France and beyond, especially "La Vie En Rose," "Hymne A L'Amour" and "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien", which is the french version of "No Regrets."

Almost as legendary as her music was Piaf's hard lifestyle. She took numerous lovers, many of them younger. It was rumored that she slept with pretty much every male member of her band -- except for Charles Azanvour, who got his start as a young singer performing with Piaf. As well, she drank heavily to combat the pain of depression, and injected herself with morphine/cortison shots to suppress pain supposedly from rhumatism.

Not surprisingly, she died young, in 1963, but her name is still known around the World. Like Aznavour, Piaf is one of the few French language performers who became very well known in the United States. Her legend lives on to this day and is the inspiration for many current stars of French chanson, like Patricia Kaas.

Sources for this article include:

French Music Database
Edith Piaf's Paris

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