• France's news in English

Paris to remember Edith Piaf 50 years on

AFP · 10 Oct 2013, 09:09

Published: 10 Oct 2013 09:09 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Even the Catholic Church, which refused to grant the divorced, hard-living singer a funeral mass following her death, aged 47, on October 10, 1963, has come round to embracing "the little sparrow" with the unmistakeable voice.

A memorial mass, presided over by one of the Paris diocese's auxiliary bishops, will be held at 5:00 pm at St Jean-Baptiste, the parish church in the Belleville district where Piaf was born to - and soon abandoned by - her singer mother.

Loud speakers and giant screens have been rigged up outside the church in which Piaf was baptised to allow as many residents as possible to follow a mass which marks the start of a four-day festival of remembrance in a neighbourhood that remains one of the rougher corners of the otherwise much-gentrified French capital.

Prior to the mass, there will be a silent march from Pere Lachaise, the cemetery where Piaf was buried half a century ago with only a token blessing from a local priest.

It will all seem a very long way removed from the way in which the church reacted to news of Piaf's death, from liver cancer, half a century ago. Then, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano observed that Piaf had lived her life in a "state of public sin" and condemned her as an "idol of prefabricated happiness."

That she was a sinner, Piaf would not have denied. She struggled throughout her life with alcoholism and drug problems, which contributed to three near-fatal car crashes as well as the disease to which she finally succumbed.

Her only child, a daughter born when she was 17, died at the age of two from meningitis, compounded by neglect according to some versions of her pain-filled life story.

Legend has it that Piaf was literally born on the streets of Belleville. Not true, according to a new biography by Robert Belleret, "Piaf, a French Myth." Belleret says the star, who was born Edith Gassion, came into the world via a local hospital on December 15, 1915.

Belleret also dispels stories of Piaf having suffered childhood blindness, which she herself had recycled along with a claim to have been miraculously cured.

The biographer also sheds new light on Piaf's conduct during World War II, during which she lived close to Gestapo headquarters in German-occupied Paris and regularly performed for Nazi officers.

After the war, she faced accusations of having been a collaborator who had lived the drunken high-life while much of the city was starving.

Story continues below…

But she escaped with her reputation intact, thanks in no small part to a story - completely made-up according to Belleret - about how she had helped French prisoners to escape from German prison camps by passing on fake papers during singing tours, or by allowing them to have pictures taken with them which they could later use to forge identity documents.

That brush with disaster overcome, Piaf embarked on a post-war career which was to see her conquer America and become a household name in many more corners of the globe thanks to the success of "La Vie en Rose" and "Je ne regrette rien."

She was never, however, able to shake off the shadow of tragedy. The love of her life, married French boxer Marcel Cerdan, died in a plane crash while travelling from Paris to New York to meet her and, in the end, the drink robbed her even of her most precious asset, her voice.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France sees biggest drop in jobless rate for 20 years
Photo: AFP

Good news at last. But it's unlikely to keep President François Hollande in his job.

Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Photo: AFP

Some in France have shown solidarity with their new guests, while others have made it clear they are not welcome.

Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
The fantastic new Bordeaux wine museum. Photo: AFP

After The Local France, the Lonely Planet has followed suit by urging everyone to head to Bordeaux in 2017.

Jungle shacks set ablaze and torn down as camp razed
All photos: AFP

IN PICTURES: The razing of the Jungle has finally begun.

Frenchwoman finds WW1 grenade among her spuds
Photo: AFP

It could have been a very explosive family dinner.

Refugee crisis
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Photo: AFP

What does the future hold for the migrants of the Jungle? Can they work or claim social benefits or travel freely inside Europe?

Pampers nappies 'contain carcinogenics': French study
Photo: Robert Valencia/Flick

The substances in the nappies are meant to prevent skin irritation but are cancerous, the study concludes.

France to scrap special prison wings for dangerous jihadists
Photo: AFP

The experiment has been ditched.

Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
A model at the Pulp Fiction fashion show in Paris that represents society's diverse spectrum . Photo: AFP

Hold on, aren't the French all meant to be finely toned specimens with not an ounce of fat on them?

France poised to send bulldozers into Calais Jungle
Photo: AFP

As hundreds of migrants leave, the bulldozers are set to tear down the sprawling Calais shanty town on Tuesday.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available