bon anniversaire édith piaf!

by ally redmond

At this time of year when there is so much going on, and we seem to be living by our to-do lists, I thought you’d like to sit down with a coffee and think about something completely different.    It’s Edith Piaf’s birthday today – a girl to remember!

from rags to riches: the édith piaf story

Today in 1915,  Édith Piaf  – one of France’s most iconic singers – was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in working-class Belleville, Paris to an acrobatic street performer father and a singer and circus performer mother.

Sadly, Piaf was abandoned by both, and her care fell to her grandmother who was the madam of a brothel in Bernay, Normandy. It was the upbringing by prostitutes that Piaf would later attribute her “weakness for men” to in life.


famous french singer edith piaf early life


In 1929, when Édith was 14, her father returned and she joined his street performances as a singer and acrobat. It was around this time she met another young street singer, Simone “Mômone” Berteaut, who became her companion on tour and in life (it is widely speculated that the two may have actually been half sisters!). The girls toured all over France but most often could be found entertaining on the streets of PigalleMénilmontant and the suburbs.

Mômone and Piaf lived together in Paris’ 18th Arrondissement until 1932, when Piaf fell in love with a man named Louis Dupont. A year later, she gave birth to their daughter, Marcelle. Unfortunately both her romance and motherhood was decidedly short-lived; like her mother before her, Piaf abandoned Marcelle for the streets, and the child passed away at the age of two.


famous french singer edith piaf


In 1935, Piaf was “discovered” by Louis Leplée, the owner of a popular, mixed-class Parisian nightclub called Le Gerny. It is Leplée who is credited with moving her from the streets to the stage, as well as coining her first stage name – La Môme Piaf, or “The Little Sparrow” (Piaf stood at a height of only 142cm, or 4ft 8in). Thanks to Leplée’s training, guidance and marketing, she quickly landed two records.

famous french singer edith piaf performing

The following year, in a dramatic turn of events, Leplée was murdered by mobsters from Piaf’s street days. Paif turned to French lyricist (and love interest) Raymond Asso to protect her image. To dissociate her from Leplée and his murder, Asso modified Piaf’s stage name to that which we refer to her today – simply Édith Piaf.

When the war ended, Piaf toured Europe, South American and the United States, gaining international fame and making prominent connections and friendships with influential people along the way. She received a stellar review in the New York Herald Tribune by popular critic Virgil Thomson and was a frequent guest on America’s The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as at Carnegie Hall. In 1945, Piaf penned “La Vie en rose,” her signature song which won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998, and in 1947 she released her famous “Mais qu’est-ce que j’ai ? (“What Can I Do?”), which has been said to have completely revolutionized the cabaret-genre.


famous french singer edith piaf

A true rags to riches story, Piaf lived out rest of her wild life as Paris’ sweetheart, marrying twice and battling addiction before passing away at the age of 47. More than 40,000 admirers attended her funeral procession (fellow singer Charles Aznavour said it was “the only time since the war that he had seen the traffic in Paris come to a standstill.”) Piaf was laid to rest at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, where you can still pay your respects to the singer “with a voice like black velvet” today.

For another famous French birthday, see our post of Marie-Antoinette.


Karen December 19, 2019 - 9:12 pm

Beautiful lady, such sad eyes. I love her songs and have her music which I Play on the piano. I am Francophile living in NZ, so far from France I am afraid..

Lisa D. December 19, 2019 - 10:41 pm

What a heartbreaking and tragic story.

Eileen December 20, 2019 - 1:31 am

I listen to her on Pandora. Just a hauntingly beautiful voice. Such a sad background.

Robert December 20, 2019 - 2:48 am

My high school loved Edith and played her records during French class. As a teenager, I thought she sounded so sad and forlorn.
But learned to recognize her talent and her importance to French culture.

Colleen Taylor December 20, 2019 - 5:18 am

Fascinating but sad story about Edit. I love that song “La Vie en rose.” I had no idea the history behind it. Thank you for such a beautiful post Sharon. X

Constance Kappos December 20, 2019 - 5:33 am

Five years ago, on a blustery, cold day in May my daughter and sister and I were thrilled to arrive ( albeit very late) at the Iconic Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – those who love old cemeteries can appreciate our enthusiasm. What a gorgeous, historic place! Knowing our time was limited , my daughter KK ran off to find Proust’s final resting place, sister Barb hunted down Jim Morrison’s and I stumbled here and there hoping to find Edith Piaf’s. I had seen La Ve En Rose and was enamored with Edith’s music and unconventional life. The guard was warning us to return to the gates as the cemetery was closing when I happened upon her beautiful gravesite…an above ground granite memorial with her beautiful visage and family tributes. Had to cut it my visit short as I didn’t want to spend the night among the departed! May her memory be eternal.

Taste of France December 20, 2019 - 8:39 am

Such a big voice from such a small person. When you hear her music, you are immediately transported to Paris and the era of black-and-white movies.
Marion Cotillard did a fantastic job of playing her in “La Môme.”

Evangeline December 20, 2019 - 9:40 pm

Thank you for remembering and sharing the life of Édith Piaf with all of us. Sadly, I did not know what a tragic life she had and now, know why her eyes were sad. Her voice is beautiful and could be haunting at times. I will always cherish her voice, having fond memories of many places throughout France that her voice was in the background and making the moment even more special.

Ann pauley December 21, 2019 - 1:53 am

Her life was very sad. The fact she gave up her child
For the streets ? Very tragic

Gay Mccormick December 23, 2019 - 11:36 pm

So interesting. I have loved Édith Piaf for so long. No Regrets. What an iconic piece of music. She died so young. After such a tragic life. But the world was different then and I guess she made the most of what she had and what came her way

Nippon December 24, 2019 - 7:35 am

Totally enjoyable one!! Thanks a lot!


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