On this day in 1915, the great singer Édith Piaf was born. The French Billie Holiday! Stylistically, they are rather different. But they are both highly emotional singers, with tragic lives to back it up. Piaf spent much of her childhood living in her grandmother’s brothel. At the age of 14, she began working with her father as a street performer. She continued in this line of business until she was discovered at the age of 20, when she began working nightclubs. She quickly rose to stardom, but died at only 47 of liver cancer.
It’s better just to listen to her music. Let’s start with one of her biggest hits, “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien.” I love its resolve. I just wish it didn’t include the payoff line, “Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi” (“Today, it begins with you”). That seems to cheapen it. I want it to be a statement about who she is, not what relationship she now finds herself in. Regardless, it is wonderful:
Here is another hit, “Milord.” Exactly what happens in the song is not clear. So let me give you my take. The singer is a woman who works at a cafe as a server. She has seen this rich gentleman walk past before with a beautiful woman on his arm. But the woman is not there today. The server entreats the gentleman to sit down and tries to cajole him out of his sadness. And by the end of the song, she has him dancing around with her. It is very beautiful:
The next song, “Hymne à l’Amour,” Piaf actually wrote the lyrics to. It was written to her lover, after he died in a plane crash on his way to visit her. You don’t need to know the lyrics. It is just one of those “I would do anything for you” songs. You get everything from the performance:
And let’s end with Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose.” The lyrics are also by Piaf and it is pretty similar in content to “Hymne à l’Amour.” Life is rosy when he looks into her eyes. I think the reason the song works so well is simply that there is nothing quite so compelling as a sad woman singing of hope. Here she is singing it in Nine Boys, One Heart:
Happy birthday Édith Piaf!