Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

PIAF, Edith

(b Edith Giovanna Gassion, '15, Paris; d 11 Oct. '63) French cabaret singer. She was born almost in the street, blind for four years as a child (probably psychosomatic), toured with her father's acrobatic act but became a street singer at 15. First employer Louis Leplee named her 'la mme Piaf' ('the waif sparrow') '35; the gig ended when he was murdered (killers never caught), but within six months she was playing the best vaudeville theatres. First sang on radio '36. Her songs about death, drugs, sex etc make the most degenerate rock songs of today sound like nursery rhymes because there was no self-pity: her husky, powerful, slightly melancholy voice, emotionally naked delivery and identification with her audience made her the best-loved singer in France, incl. several films. Biggest stardom was '45--early '50s; she first toured the USA '47; never wrote any songs but acquired songwriters intuitively. 'Le Vie En Rose' became an international standard; those best-known in USA/UK (where her more characteristic material did not translate well and could not be played on the radio, even in French) incl. 'What Can I Do?' (English words by Harold Rome; as 'Mais Qu'est-ce que J'ai' identified with her and Yves Montand); 'I'll Remember Today' (English words by William Engvick; hit in USA by Patti Page '56), 'If You Love Me (Really Love Me)' ('Hymme l'Amour', English words by Geoffrey Parsons; hit in USA for Kay Starr '54). She created the careers of Montand (b Ivo Livi in Italy, 13 Oct. '21; d 9 Nov. '91, Senlis, France), Charles Aznavour, others; one of her many lovers was world middleweight boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (d '49 in plane crash). She toured USA ten times, with vocal nonet La Compagnons de la Chanson '47, whose 'Les Trois Cloches' became a hit for her late '40s (as 'The Three Bells' or 'The Jimmy Brown Song', a no. 1 USA hit '59, see Jim Ed Brown); her last hit was 'Milord' '60. EMI compilations in France/UK incl. The Complete Piaf '83 on 14 LPs; four volumes of compilation '34--48 on DRG CDs. Edith et Marcel c'83 was a biographical film, two-disc soundtrack; two vols of memoirs were published in Paris '58, '64.