Birthday: December 19, 1915
Died At Age: 47
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Édith Giovanna Gassion
Born in: Belleville, Paris, France
Famous as: Singer, Songwriter, Actress
Lyricists & Songwriters
Spouse/Ex-: Jacques Pills (m. 1952–1956), Theophanis Lamboukas (m. 1962–1963)
father: Louis-Alphonse Gassion
mother: Annetta Giovanna Maillard
Died on: October 10, 1963
place of death: Plascassier (Grasse)
Cause of Death: Cancer
Who was Edith Piaf?
Edith Piaf was a French singer. She is considered the greatest icon of French popular music. Albeit her short physical stature, audiences the world over were amazed by her powerful vocals. Her music embodied the wretched life of the streets of Paris and was highly sentimental and passionate. Steeped in poverty and abandoned by her mother, she grew up with her grandparents until her father made her a part of his acrobatic show. She had to earn her living singing on the streets of Paris. She was discovered by Louis Leplee who groomed her into a night-club singer. After he was murdered, she recruited Raymond Asso who gave her an image makeover and the basic education. She had an endless stream of lovers. After cementing her place in the world of music, she took upcoming musicians under her wings and groomed them. She was not formally educated, yet managed to pen the lyrics of quite a few of her songs. In spite of making it big in the world of music, she continued to suffer psychologically. She became addicted to morphine and alcohol, following a series of near-fatal accidents. Even today she continues to be heard by music lovers all over the world.
Childhood & Early Life
Edith Piaf was born as Giovanna Gassion. Her father was Louis-Alphonse Gassion, a street acrobat from Normandy and her mother was Annetta Giovanna Maillard, a cafe singer from Italy.
She was abandoned by her mother and lived with her maternal grandmother. Her father, before enlisting with the French Army during World War I, took her to his mother who ran a brothel.
When she was twelve years old, her father took her with him and travelled all over France showcasing his acrobatic street performances. She did not receive any formal education.
In 1930, she met Simone ‘Momone’ Berteaut, a half-sister and companion, and together they toured, singing, to earn money for themselves in the suburbs of Paris.
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In 1935, Louis Leplee, persuaded her to sing at his nightclub. He nicknamed her ‘La Mome Piaf’ meaning ‘The Little Sparrow’ because of her short height.
Leplee taught her the basics of stage presence and asked her to wear a black dress. It was to become her trademark look. Her opening night was attended by many celebrities including, Maurice Chevalier.
In 1936, Leplee was murdered. She was arrested and later acquitted. Her reputation was ruined. She recruited Raymond Asso to give her an image makeover. He gave her the stage name, ‘Edith Piaf’.
In 1940, she starred in Jean Cocteau’s play, ‘Le Bel Indifferent’. She became friends with personalities such as, Maurice Chevalier and Jacques Borgeat. She wrote the lyrics and partnered with composers.
In 1944, she discovered Yves Montand in Paris. She included him in her act. She was his mentor and lover until she broke off with him after he became famous.
By this time, she became quite famous in France. She started touring all over Europe, the US and South America. She helped the Argentine folklore singer, Atahualpa Yupanqui, and Charles Aznavour built their careers.
She gave many memorable performances in Bruno Coquatrix's Paris Olympia music hall. In 1961, she helped to save the hall from bankruptcy by offering debut performance of her song, ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’.
Her last song, ‘L'Homme de Berlin’ was recorded in April 1963.
Among her most popular songs are "Mon legionnaire", "Hymne a l'amour", "Sous le ciel de Paris", "Milord" and, probably the best known, "Je ne regrette rien", all of which catapulted her to great fame.
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Awards & Achievements
Her signature song ‘La vie en rose’ won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. She won Grammy nominations for ‘Best Album Cover (other Than Classical) Award’ and for ‘Best Album Notes Awards’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1932, she fell in love with Louis Dupont. He moved in with her and Momone. He persuaded her to stop street performances. When she became pregnant, she started working in a wreath-making factory.
In 1933, she gave birth to her daughter, Marcelle. She returned to street singing much to the fury of Louis Dupont, whom she never married. They quarrelled frequently.
Edith parted ways with Louis Dupont and left with Momone and Marcelle to stay at a hotel. Marcelle died of meningitis at the age of two.
Edith Piaf had an affair with former middleweight world champion, Marcel Cerdan, who was already married. He later passed away in a plane crash, while travelling from Paris to New York to meet her in October, 1949.
In 1951, she broke her arm and two ribs in a car crash. Her injuries were further aggravated when she was involved in two more near-fatal accidents. She became addicted to morphine and alcohol.
In 1952, she married Jacques Pills, her first husband. Their marriage ended after four years.
In 1962, she married Theo Sarapo, who was twenty years younger to her. He was a Greek hairdresser who had turned a singer and actor. He performed with her in some of her shows. She was with him until her death.
She died of liver cancer on the French Riviera. Her body was secretly brought to Paris by her husband, Theo Sarapo.
She was not given a funeral mass by the Archbishop of Paris owing to her lifestyle. Her funeral procession was attended by a huge crowd. She is buried next to her daughter, Marcelle, in Pere Lachaise Cemetary, Paris.
A museum has been built in her memory called the Musee Edith Paif. Her songs appear in many movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Inception, Bull Durham, La Haine, The Dreamers and Madagascar 3.
Movies made on her life include ‘Paif’, ‘Edith et Marcel’, ‘Piaf...Her Story...Her Songs’ and ‘La Vie en Rose’. A biography on her life was written by David Bret called ‘Piaf, A Passionate Life’.
This soulful singer was left-blind due to keratitis at childhood. She allegedly had a miraculous healing when she was sent on a pilgrimage to honour, ‘Saint Therese’ of Lisieux.
This famous singer posed with French prisoners and then used the photographs to make passports for them.