Today is the 98th birthday of Edith Piaf. This year marks the 50th anniversary of her death, sadly, which is three years longer than her total years alive. There is a quite attributed to her where she says she wants to make people cry without understanding the words she is singing. She achieved that. Maybe it’s a French thing, they seem to have perfected ennui (they are the only language with a word for it), but I absolutely adore it, that sadness, that missing, that loss. It is a much more tricky emotion to convey when compared to the loud explosive happiness and the crash of anger and hatred. It is subtle, quiet, a bit lost.
NAME: Edith Piaf
BIRTH DATE: December 19, 1915
DEATH DATE: October 10, 1963
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France
PLACE OF DEATH: Alpes-Maritimes, France
ORIGINALLY: Edith Giovanna Gassion
NICKNAME: The Little Sparrow
NICKNAME: La Mome Piaf
BEST KNOWN FOR: 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 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.
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.
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.
“I want to make people cry even when they don’t understand my words.” – Edith Piaf
She married twice. Her first marriage, to singer 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.
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.