Happy Birthday, Édith Piaf!
Édith Giovanna Gassion (December 19, 1915 – October 11, 1963) was a French singer born in Belleville, Paris to a street acrobat perofrmer, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, and Annetta Giovanna Maillard, a cafe singer. As an adolescent, she spent a short time performing with her father in his acrobatic street performances, but left his act to become a street singer in Pigalle, Ménilmontant. In 1935, she was discovered in the area by nightclub owner Louis Leplée, who nicknamed her La Môme Piaf, "The Little Sparrow". This meeting catapulted the singer to enormous fame, both in France and internationally. Her signature song "La Vie en Rose" was written in 1945 and was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.
Today she is regarded as perhaps the most singularly popular French singer to have lived, and her soulful crooning gave a voice to the pains and pleasures of the heart. Piaf, however, lived the sort of life that was always destined to be written about, if only because so much tragedy came along with each success.
La Vie en Rose was Édith's most popular song, and has been generously used in popular culture. In Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn sings it to Humphrey Bogart and he realizes that he has fallen in love with her.
When she was still a child, Édith's father enlisted in the French Army and left her with his mother, Emma, who ran a brothel in Normandy. The prostitutes helped look after Édith. Between the ages of three and seven, Édith was allegedly blind from keratitis. According to some sources, Édith's sight returned when the prostitutes pooled their money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
Édith met Simone Berteaut when they were both street singers, and the two girls became lifelong friends. At the age of 17, Édith gave birth to her only child, Marcelle, whom Édith left largely in the care of the baby's father, Louis Dupont. Marcelle died of meningitis several months later.
At the age of 19, Édith was discovered in the Pigalle area of Paris by Louis Leplée, owner of the club Le Gerny, and taught her the basics of stage presence. He also instructed her to wear a black dress, which became her trademark. Leplée's endorsement of "The Little Sparrow" exposed her to many celebrities and led to her releasing two records in the same year. One of the writers, Marguerite Monnot, would remain a collaborator throughout Piaf's life.
The next year, Leplée was murdered by mobsters who had been previously tied to Piaf. The singer was questioned and accused of being an accomplice, but she was acquitted. Soon after, Édith decided to revamp her image by changing her stage name to Édith Piaf. She became very successful in France and even co-starred in Jean Cocteau's successful one-act play Le Bel Indifférent. She travelled to the States and eventually appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" eight times and at Carnegie Hall twice (1956 and 1957).
Piaf was married three times, and she struggled with drugs and alcohol throughout. The love of her life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was a legend in France in his own right, was killed in a plane crash in October 1949, while flying to meet her in New York City. Piaf herself died at the age of 47 from liver cancer, and was denied a funeral mass by the Catholic Church because of her lifestyle, although her funeral procession drew thousands of mourners, and over 100,000 fans attended the ceremony. Her last words were "Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for."
The film La Vie en Rose (2007) is a film about her life, directed by Olivier Dahan and starring Marion Cotillard as Édith. Cotillard won an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role. In France, the film is called La Môme.
- Birthday Date: Friday, 19 December 2014