• France's news in English

Sorrowful France marks Edith Piaf’s centenary

AFP · 20 Dec 2015, 14:51

Published: 20 Dec 2015 14:51 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

“You have to keep going,” said Malene Lamarque, a chanteuse who belts out Piaf favorites every Tuesday at Le Vieux Belleville, a cabaret bistro popular with both tourists and locals in the northern Paris neighborhood where the “Little Sparrow” grew up.

Piaf was among many famous performers to have graced the stage of the Bataclan concert hall, where Islamist gunmen shot dead 90 people on Nov. 13 in the worst of a string of attacks on Parisians enjoying a Friday night out.

In the aftermath of the attacks, her songs about the city, and its lot of revelers, philosophers, beggars and lovers, were played and shared over and over in homes and on the airwaves.

In a show of solidarity with France, Piaf’s most famous song, “La Vie en Rose,” was reprised by an emotional Madonna at a show in New York, with only a ukulele for accompaniment.

Piaf’s ballads had a “social function, they gave pleasure, joy and togetherness, but they also consoled,” said Lamarque — qualities they still enjoy today.

Tributes to the little woman with the big voice kicked off Saturday with a Mass and a brief concert in Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, the neo-Gothic church where she was baptized.

Among those who remembered her in song was her stepdaughter Jacqueline Boyer, winner of the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest.

Later, a group of around 40 people laid a wreath on her grave in Pere-Lachaise cemetery in north Paris.

The homages will continue into the new year at venues humble and grand, reflecting Piaf’s rise from singing street urchin to world-class chanteuse.

“She remains a personality who incarnated a past Paris,” Julie Mirasola, a 40-year-old lifelong fan, told AFP at an exhibition dedicated to Piaf at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France earlier this year.

Born on Dec. 19, 1915, into a circus family, to a singer mother and acrobat father, Piaf had it hard as a child, living in a bordello and being partly raised by prostitutes. She started out singing in the street and cafes during her father’s performances before striking out alone as a teenager.

A Paris nightclub owner discovered her at age 19 and put her on stage, and on the path to stardom.

During World War II and Germany’s occupation of France, Piaf left a more ambivalent reputation.

She helped some Jewish friends, but showed no hostility to Gestapo officers she passed in the building where she stayed, and in 1943 she visited French prisoners of war in Germany.

Story continues below…

Although initially seen by some as a traitor, testimonies — some probably embellished — eventually cleared her after the war of being a collaborator.

After the war, a love affair — and musical partnership — with singer Yves Montand ensued and her circle of friends — both of high and low station — grew along with her fame. She helped several singers, including Charles Aznavour, and in 1947 made the first of several visits to the United States.

She starred in several movies and the advent of television fuelled her career.

After a tumultuous love life — her lovers provided the inspiration and sometimes co-penmanship of several of her songs — Piaf married a singer, Jacques Pills, in 1952 and divorced him five years later.

Her second marriage, when she was 46, was to a 26-year-old Greek hairdresser-turned-actor, Theo Sarapo. Piaf died of liver cancer the following year, on Oct. 10, 1963, aged 47.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

London calling for Calais youths, but only a chosen few
Photo: AFP

Dozens of Calais minors are still hanging their hopes on help from the UK, but not all will be so lucky.

17 different ways to talk about sex in French
Photo: Helga Weber/Flickr

Fancy a quick run with the one-legged man?

Yikes! This is what a rat-infested French jail looks like
Photo: YouTube/France Bleu TV.

This video is not for sufferers of ratophobia (or musophobia as the condition is officially called).

France to allow Baby Jesus in Town Halls this Christmas
Photo: AFP

Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are safe to go on display again this year, it seems.

National Front posts locations of migrants in French town
The National Front courts controversy. Photo: AFP

"Local tax payers have a right to know," says local far-right party chief.

Paris thieves use tear gas to steal €500,000 of watches
Photo: AFP

The thieves pretended to be couriers then threatened staff with tear gas to get the watches.

Bataclan survivor recounts attack in chilling drawings
Photo: BFMTV screengrab

One survivor has recounted the horrific night through illustrations.

Anger among French police grows as Hollande vows talks
French police demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. Photo: AFP

A fourth night of protests shows government efforts to ease anger among French police have been fruitless.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
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
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
What's on in France: Ten of the best events in October
jobs available