3 May 2015 - EDITH PIAF

1915 - 1963
G'day folks,
Welcome to the life and times of a famous singer. Édith Piaf, also known as “The Little Sparrow,” was a French singer who became an icon of France during World War II.

“All I've done all my life is disobey.”

—Edith Piaf


Édith Piaf, also known as “The Little Sparrow,” was a French singer who became an icon of France during World War II. Piaf was born in Paris on December 19, 1915, and rose to international stardom in the 1940s as a symbol of French passion and tenacity. Of Piaf’s many ballads, “La Vie en Rose” is remembered as her signature song. Édith Piaf died in France in 1963.

Early Life

Édith Piaf was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris. She was named after the World War I British nurse Edith Cavell, executed for helping French soldiers escape from German captivity. Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, was an Italian cafe singer, who performed under the name “Line Marsa.” Édith’s father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, was a street acrobat. 

Édith 's parents soon abandoned her, and she may have lived for a short time with her maternal grandmother, who ran a brothel. In 1929, at the age of 14, she joined her father in his street performances all over France. 

Édith soon separated from her father, setting out on her own as a street singer in and around Paris. At 17, she had a daughter named Marcelle, who died of meningitis two years later.

Rise to Fame

In 1935, Piaf was discovered by Louis Leplée, who owned the successful club Le Gerny off the Champs-Élysées. Her nervous energy and small stature inspired the nickname that would stay with her for the rest of her life: La Môme Piaf ("The Little Sparrow"). Leplée ran a major publicity campaign promoting Piaf’s opening night. She was popular enough to record two albums that same year. 

Louis Leplée was murdered the following spring. After authorities investigated her as an accomplice to the crime, Piaf took charge of her image. She adopted her stage name—Édith Piaf—permanently, and commissioned songs that romanticized her life on the streets, emphasizing her passion and inner strength.

Piaf was one of the most popular performers in France during World War II. Her concerts for German servicemen were controversial, although she later stated that she had been working for the French Resistance. While the veracity of this claim is unclear, she was instrumental in helping a number of individuals escape Nazi persecution. 

After the war, her fame spread quickly. She toured Europe, South America and the United States. Although American audiences were initially put off by her dour demeanor and dark clothes, Piaf garnered glowing reviews and ultimately achieved enough of an audience to warrant two televised performances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Personal Life

The personal life of Édith Piaf was characteristically dramatic. She was involved in three serious car crashes after 1951, leading to morphine and alcohol addictions. 

Piaf had high-profile romances with many of her male associates and some of the biggest celebrities in France. She married twice. Her first marriage, to Jacques Pills, lasted for four years. Her 1962 marriage to Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser and performer 20 years her junior, lasted until her death in 1963.

Later Life

Piaf remained professionally active until the final years of her life, performing frequently in Paris between 1955 and 1962. In April 1963, she recorded her last song. 

Édith Piaf died of cancer at her French Riviera villa on October 10, 1963. She was 47. The Archbishop of Paris denied requests for a funeral Mass, citing Piaf’s irreligious lifestyle. She is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle.

Clancys comment:  Interesting and sad that so many famous people died so young.

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