Édith Piaf facts for kids
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Piaf in 1939
|Birth name||Édith Giovanna Gassion|
|Also known as||La Môme Piaf
(The Little Sparrow)
19 December 1915|
|Died||10 October 1963
Plascassier, Grasse, France
Édith Piaf (UK: //, US: //, French: [edit pjaf] ; born Édith Giovanna Gassion, French: [edit dʒɔvana ɡasjɔ̃]; December 19, 1915 – October 10, 1963) was a French singer, lyricist and actress. Noted as France's national chanteuse, she was one of the country's most widely known international stars.
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).
Since her death in 1963, several biographies and films have studied her life, including 2007's La Vie en rose. Piaf has become one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century.
Despite numerous biographies, much of Piaf's life is unknown. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris. Her birth certificate states that she was born on December 19, 1915 at the Hôpital Tenon, a hospital located in the 20th arrondissement.
She was named Édith after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, who was executed 2 months before Édith's birth for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Piaf – slang for "sparrow" – was a nickname she received 20 years later.
Louis Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944), Édith's father, was a street performer of acrobatics from Normandy with a past in the theatre.
Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, better known professionally as Line Marsa (1895–1945), was a singer and circus performer born in Italy of French descent on her father's side and of Italian and Kabyle on her mother's. Her parents were Auguste Eugène Maillard (1866–1912) and Emma (Aïcha) Saïd Ben Mohammed (1876–1930), daughter of Said ben Mohammed (1827–1890), an acrobat born in Mogador and Marguerite Bracco (1830–1898), born in Murazzano in Italy.
Annetta and Louis-Alphonse 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). When her father enlisted with the French Army in 1916 to fight in World War I, he took her to his mother, who lived in Bernay, Normandy.
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 pilgrimage honouring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Piaf claimed this was the result of miraculous healing.
In 1929, at age 14, she was taken by her father to join him in his acrobatic street performances all over France, where she first began to sing in public. At the age of 15, Piaf met Simone "Mômone" Berteaut, who may have been her half-sister, and 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 Mômone were able to rent their own place; Piaf took a room at Grand Hôtel de Clermont (18 rue Véron , 18th arrondissement of Paris), working with Mômone as a street singer in Pigalle, Ménilmontant, and the Paris suburbs (cf. the song "Elle fréquentait la rue Pigalle").
In 1932, she met and fell in love with Louis Dupont. Within a very short time, he moved into their small room, where the three lived despite Louis' and Mômone's dislike for each other. Louis was never happy with the idea of Piaf's roaming the streets and continually persuaded her to take jobs he found for her. She resisted his suggestions until she became pregnant and worked for a short while making wreaths in a factory.
In February 1933, the 17-year-old Piaf gave birth to her daughter, Marcelle (nicknamed Cécelle) at the Hôpital Tenon. Like her mother, Piaf found it difficult to care for the child and had little parenting knowledge. She rapidly returned to street singing, until the summer of 1933, when she started performing at Juan-les-Pins, Rue Pigalle.
Following an intense quarrel over her behavior, Piaf left Louis Dupont (Marcelle's father) taking Mômone and Marcelle with her. The three stayed at the Hôtel Au Clair de Lune, Rue André-Antoine. During this time, Marcelle was often left alone in the room while Piaf and Mômone were out on the streets or at the club singing. Dupont eventually came and took Marcelle away, saying that if Édith wanted the child, she must come home. Like her own mother, Piaf decided not to come home, though she did pay for childcare. Marcelle died of meningitis at age two.
In 1935, Piaf was discovered in the Pigalle area of Paris by nightclub owner Louis Leplée, whose club Le Gerny's 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 142 centimetres (4 ft 8 in), 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 (Paris slang meaning "The Waif Sparrow" or "The Little Sparrow"). Leplée taught her the basics of stage presence and told her to wear a black dress, which became her trademark apparel.
Leplée ran an intense publicity campaign leading up to her opening night, attracting the presence of many celebrities, including actor and singer Maurice Chevalier. The bandleader that evening was Django Reinhardt, with his pianist, Norbert Glanzberg. 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. A barrage of negative media attention now threatened her 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.
In 1940, Piaf co-starred in Jean Cocteau's successful one-act play Le Bel Indifférent. The German occupation of Paris did not stop her career; she began forming friendships with prominent people, including Chevalier and poet Jacques Bourgeat. She wrote the lyrics of many of her songs and collaborated with composers on the tunes. Spring 1944 saw the first cooperation and a love affair with Yves Montand in the Moulin Rouge.
In 1947, she wrote the lyrics to the song "Mais qu'est-ce que j'ai ?" (music by Henri Betti) for Yves Montand. She contributed greatly to the revolutionizing of the cabaret-genre. Within a year, he 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 Atahualpa Yupanqui (Héctor Roberto Chavero) – a central figure in the Argentine folk music tradition – the opportunity to share the scene, making his debut in July 1950. She 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. After a glowing 1947 review in the New York Herald Tribune by the influential New York critic Virgil Thomson, himself a contributor to international avant-garde culture, her popularity grew to the point where she eventually appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show eight times, and at Carnegie Hall twice (1956 and 1957).
Piaf wrote and performed her signature song, "La Vie en rose", in 1945 and it was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.
Bruno Coquatrix's famous Paris Olympia music 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 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, "L'Homme de Berlin".
Role during the German occupation
Piaf's career and fame gained momentum during the German occupation of France. 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 fancy 16th arrondissement of Paris (today rue Paul-Valéry).
Piaf was deemed to have been a traitor and collaborator. She had to testify before a purge panel, as there were plans to ban her from appearing on radio transmissions. However, her secretary Andrée Bigard, a member of the Résistance, 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. Piaf was very popular among Nazis; therefore, she was able to help those living difficult times. In fact, at the beginning of World War II, she worked professionally with Michel Emer, a famous Jewish musician whose song "L'Accordéoniste" was soon adored by many. Piaf paid for Emer's way into France before German occupation. He lived in France in safety until the liberation. Piaf was quickly back in the singing business and in December 1944, she went on stage for the Allied forces together with Montand in Marseille.
At age 17 Piaf had a daughter, Marcelle, who died aged two. Piaf neither wanted nor had other children.
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. Piaf and Cerdan's affair made international headlines, as Cerdan was the former middleweight world champion and a legend in France in his own right.
In 1951, Piaf was seriously injured in a car crash along with Charles Aznavour, breaking her arm and two ribs. Two more near-fatal car crashes exacerbated the situation.
Piaf married Jacques Pills (real name René Ducos), her first husband, in 1952 (her matron of honour was Marlene Dietrich) and divorced him 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 her junior. The couple sang together in some of her last engagements.
Piaf lived mainly in Belleville, Paris, with her father from 1915 to 1931. From 1934 to 1941, she lived at 45 rue de Chézy in Neuilly-sur-Seine; she lived alone from 1941 to 1952 and with Jacques Pills from 1952 to 1956. She continued to live there alone from 1956 to 1959. In her final years, she lived at 23 rue Édouard Nortier in Neuilly-sur-Seine – alone from 1959 to 1962 and with Théo Sarapo from 1962 until her death in 1963.
Death and legacy
Copious amounts of medications, initially for rheumatoid arthritis and later insomnia, took their toll on Piaf's health. A series of car accidents only exacerbated the situation. She eventually underwent a series of surgeries for a stomach ulcer in 1959. Coupled with a deteriorating liver and the need for a blood transfusion, by 1962 she had lost a significant amount of weight, reaching a low of 30 kg (66 pounds). Piaf drifted in and out of consciousness for several months. She died at age 47 on October 10, 1963, at her villa on the French Riviera in Plascassier (Grasse). The cause of death is believed to be liver failure due to liver cancer and cirrhosis, though no autopsy was performed.
It is said that Sarapo drove her body back to Paris secretly so that fans would think she had died in her hometown. Her old friend Jean Cocteau died the very next day; it was reported that he had a heart attack on hearing of Piaf's death.
She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle, where her grave is among the most visited. Buried in the same grave are her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and Théo (Lamboukas) Sarapo. The name inscribed at the foot of the tombstone is Famille Gassion-Piaf. Her name is engraved on the side as Madame Lamboukas dite Édith Piaf.
Although she was denied a funeral Mass by Cardinal Maurice Feltin since she had remarried after divorce in the Orthodox Church, 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. Charles 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. On October 10th, 2013, fifty years after her death, the Roman Catholic Church recanted and gave Piaf a memorial Mass in the St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Belleville, Paris, the parish into which she was born.
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 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.
In Paris, a two-room museum is dedicated to her, the Musée Édith Piaf (5, Rue Crespin du Gast).
A concert at The Town Hall in New York City commemorated the 100th anniversary of Piaf's birth on 19 December 2015. Hosted by Robert Osborne and produced by Daniel Nardicio and Andy Brattain, it featured Little Annie, Gay Marshall, Amber Martin, Marilyn Maye, Meow Meow, Elaine Paige, Molly Pope, Vivian Reed, Kim David Smith, and Aaron Weinstein.
Films about Piaf
Piaf's life has been the subject of several films and plays.
- Piaf (1974), directed by Guy Casaril, depicted her early years
- Piaf (1978), play by Pam Gems
- 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.
- Entre Saint-Ouen et Clignancourt
- Mon apéro
- La Java de Cézigue
- Fais-moi valser
- Les Mômes de la cloche
- J'suis mordue
- Mon légionnaire
- Le Contrebandier
- La Fille et le chien
- La Julie jolie
- Va danser
- Chand d'habits
- Les Hiboux
- Quand même (from the film La Garçonne)
- La Petite boutique
- Y'avait du soleil
- Il n'est pas distingué
- Les Deux ménétriers
- Mon amant de la coloniale
- C'est toi le plus fort
- Le Fanion de la légion
- J'entends la sirène
- Ding, din, dong
- Madeleine qu'avait du cœur
- Les Marins ça fait des voyages
- Simple comme bonjour
- Le Mauvais matelot
- Celui qui ne savait pas pleurer
- Le Grand Voyage du pauvre Nègre
- Un jeune homme chantait
- Tout fout le camp
- Ne m'écris pas
- Partance (with Raymond Asso)
- Dans un bouge du Vieux Port
- Mon cœur est au coin d'une rue
- С'est lui que mon cœur a choisi
- La Java en mineur
- Le Chacal
- Corrèqu' et réguyer
- Y'en a un de trop
- Elle fréquentait la rue Pigalle
- Le Petit Monsieur triste
- Les Deux Copains
- Je n'en connais pas la fin
- On danse sur ma chanson
- Sur une colline
- C'est la moindre des choses
- Où sont-ils, mes petits copains?
- C'était un jour de fête
- C'est un monsieur très distingué
- J'ai dansé avec l'Amour (from the film Montmartre-sur-Seine)
- Tu es partout (from the film Montmartre-sur-Seine)
- L'Homme des bars
- Le Vagabond
- Jimmy, c'est lui
- Un coin tout bleu (from the film Montmartre-sur-Seine)
- Sans y penser
- Un monsieur me suit dans la rue
- J'ai qu'à l'regarder...
- Le Chasseur de l'hôtel
- C'était une histoire d'amour
- Le Brun et le Blond
- Monsieur Saint-Pierre
- Coup de Grisou
- De l'autre côté de la rue
- La Demoiselle du cinqième
- C'était si bon
- Je ne veux plus laver la vaisselle
- La Valse de Paris
- Chanson d'amour
- Ses mains
- Les deux rengaines
- Y'a pas d'printemps
- Les Histoires de coeur
- C'est toujours la même histoire
- Le Disque usé
- Elle a...
- Regarde-moi toujours comme ça
- Les Gars qui marchaient
- Il Riait
- Monsieur Ernest a réussi
- La Vie en rose
- Les trois cloches (with Les Compagnons de la chanson)
- Dans ma rue
- J'm'en fous pas mal
- C'est merveilleux (from the film Étoile sans lumière)
- Adieu mon cœur
- Le Chant du pirate
- Céline (with Les Compagnons de la Chanson)
- Le petit homme
- Le Roi a fait battre tambour (with Les Compagnons de la Chanson)
- Dans les prisons de Nantes (with Les Compagnons de la Chanson)
- Elle chantait (with Les Compagnons de la Chanson)
- Un refrain courait dans la rue
- Miss Otis Regrets
- Il est né, le divin enfant
- C'est pour ça (from the film Neuf garçons, un cœur)
- Qu'as-tu fait John?
- Sophie (from the film Neuf garçons, un cœur)
- Mais qu'est-ce que j'ai ?
- Le Geste
- Si tu partais
- Une chanson à trois temps
- Un Homme comme les autres
- Les Cloches sonnent
- Johnny Fedora et Alice Blue Bonnet
- Le Rideau tombe avant la fin
- Elle avait son sourire
- Monsieur Lenoble
- Les Amants de Paris
- Il a chanté
- Les vieux bateaux
- Il pleut
- Cousu de fil blanc
- Amour du mois de mai
- Monsieur X
- Bal dans ma rue
- Pour moi tout' seule
- Pleure pas
- Le Prisonnier de la tour (Si le roi savait ça Isabelle)
- L'Orgue des amoureux
- Paris (from the film L'Homme aux mains d'argile )
- Hymne à l'amour
- Le Chevalier de Paris
- Il fait bon t'aimer
- La p'tite Marie
- Tous les amoureux chantent
- Il y avait
- C'est d'la faute à tes yeux
- C'est un gars
- Hymn to Love
- Autumn Leaves
- The Three Bells
- Le Ciel est fermé
- La Fête continue
- Simply a Waltz
- La Vie en rose (English version)
- Padam, padam...
- Avant l'heure
- L'homme que j'aimerai
- Du matin jusqu'au soir
- Demain (Il fera jour)
- C'est toi (with Eddie Constantine)
- Rien de rien
- Si, si, si, si (with Eddie Constantine)
- À l'enseigne de la fille sans cœur
- Une enfant
- Plus bleu que tes yeux
- Le Noël de la rue
- La Valse de l'amour
- La Rue aux chansons
- Chante-moi (with M. Jiteau)
- Chanson de Catherine
- Chanson bleue
- Je hais les dimanches
- Au bal de la chance
- Elle a dit
- Notre-Dame de Paris
- Mon ami m'a donné
- Je t'ai dans la peau (from the film Boum sur Paris)
- Monsieur et madame
- Ça gueule ça, madame (with Jacques Pills) (from the film Boum sur Paris)
- Bravo pour le clown
- Sœur Anne
- N'y va pas Manuel
- Les Amants de Venise
- L'effet qu'tu m'fais
- Johnny, tu n'es pas un ange
- Jean et Martine
- Et moi...
- Pour qu'elle soit jolie ma chanson (with Jacques Pills) (from the film Boum sur Paris)
- Les Croix
- Le bel indifférent
- La Goualante du pauvre jean
- Enfin le printemps
- Mea culpa
- Le "Ça ira" (from the film Si Versailles m'était conté)
- Avec ce soleil
- L'Homme au piano
- Sérénade du Pavé (from the film French Cancan)
- Sous le ciel de Paris
- Un grand amour qui s'achève
- C'est à Hambourg
- Le Chemin des forains
- La Vie en rose (Spanish)
- Heaven Have Mercy
- One Little Man
- 'Cause I Love You
- Chante-Moi (English)
- Don't Cry
- I Shouldn't Care
- My Lost Melody
- Avant nous
- Et pourtant
- Marie la Française
- Les amants d'un jour
- L'Homme à la moto
- Soudain une vallée
- Une dame
- Toi qui sais
- La Foule
- Les Prisons du roy
- Opinion publique
- Salle d'attente
- Les Grognards
- Comme moi
- C'est un homme terrible
- Je me souviens d'une chanson
- Je sais comment
- Les Orgues de barbarie
- Eden Blues
- Le Gitan et la fille
- Fais comme si
- Le Ballet des cœurs
- Les Amants de demain
- Les Neiges de Finlande
- Tant qu'il y aura des jours
- Un étranger
- Mon manège à moi
- T'es beau, tu sais
- Non, je ne regrette rien
- La Vie, l'amour
- Rue de Siam
- Jean l'Espagnol
- La belle histoire d'amour
- La Ville inconnue
- Non, la vie n'est pas triste
- Kiosque à journaux
- Le Métro de Paris
- Cri du cœur
- Les Blouses blanches
- Les Flons-Flons du bal
- Les Mots d'amour
- T'es l'homme qu'il me faut
- Mon Dieu
- Boulevard du crime
- C'est l'amour
- Des histoires
- Je suis à toi
- Les Amants merveilleux
- Je m'imagine
- Le vieux piano
- C'est peut-être ça
- Les bleuets d'azur
- Quand tu dors
- Mon vieux Lucien
- Le Dénicheur
- J'n'attends plus rien
- J'en ai passé des nuits
- Faut pas qu'il se figure
- Les Amants (with Charles Dumont)
- No Regrets
- Le Billard électrique
- Qu'il était triste cet anglais
- Toujours aimer
- Mon Dieu (English version)
- Le Bruit des villes
- Dans leur baiser
- Le Droit d'aimer
- À quoi ça sert l'amour (with Théo Sarapo)
- Une valse
- Inconnu excepte de dieu (with Charles Dumont)
- Quatorze Juillet
- Les Amants de Teruel (with Mikis Theodorakis/Jacques Plante)
- Roulez tambours
- Musique à tout va
- Le Rendez-vous
- Toi, tu l'entends pas!
- Carmen's Story
- On cherche un Auguste
- Ça fait drôle
- Le petit brouillard (Un petit brouillard)
- Le Diable de la Bastille
- C'était pas moi
- Le Chant d'amour
- Tiens, v'là un marin
- J'en ai tant vu
- Les Gens
- Margot cœur gros
- Monsieur Incognito
- Un Dimanche à Londres (with Théo Sarapo)
- L'Homme de Berlin (her last recording)
- La garçonne (1936), Jean de Limur
- Montmartre-sur-Seine (1941), Georges Lacombe
- Star Without Light (1946), Marcel Blistène
- Neuf garçons, un cœur (1947), Georges Freedland
- Paris Still Sings (1951), Pierre Montazel
- Boum sur Paris (1953), Maurice de Canonge
- Si Versailles m'était conté (1954), Sacha Guitry
- French Cancan (1954), Jean Renoir
- Música de Siempre (1958), sang "La vida en rosa", the Spanish version of "La Vie en rose".
- Les Amants de demain (1959), Marcel Blistène
- Le Bel IndifférentJean Cocteau (1940),
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
- 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
- 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 Spanish: Édith Piaf para niños
- Music of France
- French popular music
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