Edith Piaf is without doubt the most famous French female singer of all time and even now almost fifty years after her death, she remains in the hearts of the people of France and continues to sell huge amounts of recordings worldwide.
Legend has it that Edith Giovanna Gassion as she was named was born on a policeman’s cloak on the pavement outside No. 72, Rue de Belleville in the 20th arrondissement on December 19 1915; a plaque on the building states that she was born at Tenon Hospital on Rue de la Chine (20th).
She had a difficult childhood as her father left for the war when she was born, leaving her in the care of her alcoholic maternal grandparents. On his return he took her to his own mother, a cook in a brothel where she lived until she was six and then went on the road with her father’s acrobatic street act.
At the age of 15, Edith set out on her own on the streets of Paris, around the area of Montmartre. Singing on street corners and in cafés she had a baby son (born in 1935) who died from meningitis in 1935. That same year she was spotted by Louis Leplée, owner of the Le Gerny cabaret on Rue Pierre-Charron (8th) and moved from the street to the stage. Edith triumphed at Le Gerny and Leplée named her Edith Piaf -“the little sparrow” (Piaf is slang for sparrow).
Edith Piaf became a star – moving into cinema, theatre and famous music halls winning fans with her intense and passionate singing. Her love life was chaotic and complicated with a series of tragedies for her and her many lovers.
Edith died on 10 October 1963 of liver cancer, she was just 47 years old. She was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery.
A small museum in Paris commemorates her life with an exhibition of intimate belongings of the star – one her famous little black dresses, letters, photos, shoes, toys given to her by her last husband. Mementos from the life of a legend that have been preserved by the owner of the small apartment where they are exhibited, Bernard Marchois who runs the museum in two rooms in his house in Paris met the singer when he was a teenager, an experience he never forgot and he became a lifelong fan (he allows private visits by arrangement only, free of charge at 5 rue Crespin du Gast 75011 Paris Phone: +33 (0) 1 43 55 52 72).
Edit Piaf herself wrote possibly her most famous song, and certainly one of the most popular songs of all time – La Vie en Rose. It was originally called “Les Choses en Rose” but a friend suggested the name change and the rest is history. The black-clad figure of Edith Piaf touched the whole of Paris. Her songs and voice still move us deeply.