Here’s a test: close your eyes and think of Paris. Now, what do you hear? Many will hear some kind of music, often involving an accordion. This is probably the result of watching numerous films where a scene set in Paris is heralded by some romantic music. Or maybe you’ll hear a powerful voice singing “La Vie en Rose” or “Non, rien de rien”? That is Edith Piaf, the wonderful Parisian. In this case, you must be a true fan.
Edith, whose real name was Édith Giovanna Gassion, had such an incredible life that one might think she is a fictional character. Born in Paris in December 1915, her mother was a café and street singer, her father a street acrobatic performer. Her mother left her with her maternal grandmother, who did not take proper care of her. Later, her father took Edith from that grandmother, and left her in Normandy, where his own mother ran a brothel. Edith was raised surrounded by prostitutes. Later, when she was nine, her father took her back to Paris, and she helped him collect money as he performed in the streets. One day, he asked her to sing to add to the show.
At 15, she decided to leave her father. To survive, she took odd jobs and sang in the streets with a friend, until she was discovered in 1936 by a cabaret owner. He asked her to sing in his cabaret and that was the beginning of her career, which ended all too soon, in 1963. She died, exhausted by a life of tragedies and triumphs, abuse of alcohol and pain-killers for her polyarthritis – but happily married to her last love, Theo Sarapo, who was 20 years her junior.
Should you be an Edith Piaf fan, you could enhance your stay in Paris with a tour of some locations. Would you like to visit one of the apartments where Edith lived early in her career? One of her fans has transformed it into a small private museum dedicated to her, Le Musée Édith Piaf (5 rue Crespin-du-Gast). Here, you will be able to see one of the little black dresses she wore onstage and many objects that belonged to her. Remember to make an appointment by calling the number 01 43 55 52 72.
After this, why not visit the places where she sang, that are still open to the public?
Here’s an excellent reason for spending an evening at the Moulin Rouge (82 boulevard Clichy) and enjoying their slightly “risqué” shows: Edith Piaf sang there in the spring of 1944.
It is thanks to her that the music hall L’Olympia (28 boulevard des Capucines) still exists. Bruno Coquatrix was its manager in the early 1960s. When he realised it was going bankrupt, he asked his friend Edith Piaf to help him out of his predicament. At the time, her health was in decline, but she could not resist the challenge. Besides, she wanted to introduce her new song “Non, rien de rien” to the public. As her first 30 performances were a triumph, she went on, despite her increasing frailty. At the end of Piaf’s 90 performancess, the financial situation of L’Olympia was no longer a problem. Nowadays, a wide variety of singers and groups perform at the venue. If you’re staying at our Michodière residence, it is worth the 10 minute walk.
Have you ever visited Père Lachaise cemetery (16 rue du Repos)? It is an extraordinary, beautiful place, where many rich and famous Parisians are buried. Edith Piaf is one of them, and you could finish your pilgrimage with a walk through Père Lachaise to visit her tomb.
Edith Piaf loved Paris and sang various songs about the French capital. She hasn’t been forgotten by Parisians yet, and many can still sing a few of her songs.