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Snapshots in History: December 19: Remembering Édith Piaf

December 19, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)


(Credit: Edith Piaf - Film clips of her life and funeral 1963)



(Credit: British Pathe – Edith Piaf Tribute (1963))



(Credit: Edith Piaf - Non, Je ne regrette rien)


On December 19 and beyond, take a moment to remember French singer Édith Piaf  (Born: Édith Giovanna Gassion at Belleville, Paris (20th arrondissement), France on December 19, 1915; Died: October 10, 1963 at Plascassier (Grasse), French Riviera, France). She was named Édith for English nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by German troops in World War One for helping French soldiers to escape from German captivity. She was abandoned by her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, at birth and lived briefly with her maternal grandmother. Her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, took Édith to live with his mother (who ran a brothel) in Normandy before enlisting in the French army in 1916.

Between the wars, Édith engaged in acrobatic street performances with her father and toured the streets singing for money with possible half-sister Simone "Mômone" Berteaut. Nightclub owner Louis Leplée discovered Édith in 1935 in the Pigalle area of Paris and gave her the stage name La Môme Piaf (= The little sparrow, or the waif sparrow) from which she changed her stage name to Édith Piaf. She became friends with contemporaries such as Maurice Chevalier and helped launch the career of Yves Montand. She had relationships with different men and married twice (to Jacques Pills in 1952 and to Theophanis Lamboukas in 1962) but the love of her life, the married boxer Marcel Cerdan, was killed in an airplane crash in 1949. When Édith Piaf died in October 1963, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris at the time denied her a funeral mass on account of her lifestyle. Nonetheless, tens of thousands attended her funeral procession along Paris streets and over 100,000 mourners attended her burial at Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On October 10, 2013, fifty years after her death, the Roman Catholic Church relented and gave Édith Piaf a memorial mass in the St. Jean-Baptiste Church in Belleville, Paris, the area in which she came into the world.

Édith Piaf left the world many beautiful songs, including some whose lyrics paralleled some of her earlier experiences in life. Some of Édith Piaf’s most famous songs included: "La Vie en rose" (1946), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960), "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), and "La Foule" (1957). Consider the following Édith Piaf music CDs for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

Le coffret Edith Piaf [5 sound discs] / Edith Piaf; Wagram, 2011. 5 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA

Edith Piaf reborn and remastered [Rough guide legends] [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf; World Music Network, 2011. 2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA

Edith Piaf [Légendes] [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf, 2011.  2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA (Songs recorded between 1937 and 1959)

Hymne á la môme [2 sound discs] / Edith Piaf, 2012. 2 CDs. Songs. French language. POPULAR PIA


What to learn more about Édith Piaf? Then consider the following titles for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:


No regrets the life of Edith Piaf

No regrets: the life of Edith Piaf / Carolyn Burke, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA BUR

Read this sympathetic biography of Édith Piaf and follow her rise to fame from humble circumstances. Follow the various roadblocks along the way that she had to face, viz.: the death of her only child at age two from meningitis, coping with the death of her great love Marcel Cerdan, and bouncing back with the song “Non, je ne regrette rien” in 1960 following her illness on a stressful 1959 tour.

Read the review in the Telegraph. Read the review in New Republic. Read the review in the New York Times.

Also available in eBook format.  


Piaf a biography

Piaf: a biography / Monique Lange, 2008. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA LAN

Follow the tumultuous and stormy career of Édith Piaf, the “little sparrow” who changed the nature of popular singing and influenced a generation of actors and singers including Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand. 


A cry from the heart the life of Edith Piaf revised edition

A cry from the heart: the life of Edith Piaf [Rev. ed.] / Margaret Crosland with Ralph Harvey, 2002. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA CRO

Juxtapose Édith Piaf’s rise to global popularity with ongoing addictions to alcohol and drugs and her tempestuous love affairs, tempered by her friendships with Marlene Dietrich, Jean Cocteau, Maurice Chevalier, Yves Montand, and Charlie Chaplin.  


My life / Edith Piaf with Jean Noli; translated from the French by Margaret Crosland, 1990. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA

Shortly before her death in 1963, Édith Piaf dictated her autobiographical recollections to journalist Jean Noli in which she presented herself in contradictory terms as both abusive and abused, both selfish and selfless, and both vulnerable and indefatigable. Piaf was unapologetic about her desire for love. She discussed her philosophical and religious beliefs as well as the scandalous aspects of her life.


Consider the following DVDs for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:  


Edith Piaf a passionate life

Edith Piaf: a passionate life [1 videodisc] / Marcel Blistène (producer); Kultur, [2004?]. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 782.42164 PIA EDI


This documentary used rare film footage denoting Édith Piaf’s life and career as well as her romantic interests and her funeral. News reports and interviews were used in the making of this documentary.


Read a review summary in the New York Times. 


La vie en rose [1 videodisc] / Marion Cotillard, Olivier Dahan (Director), Gérard Depardieu, Alain Goldman (Producer) et al.; Légende Films et al., 2007. DVD. Feature Film. French language with English subtitles and English closed captioning.


Enjoy this feature film with Marion Cotillard starring as Édith Piaf and Gérard Depardieu as Louis Leplée in this dramatic recreation of Piaf’s life.


Read the review of this film in the New York Times.


Pour les matériaux de la bibliothèque dans la langue française concernant Édith Piaf, s'il vous plaît cliquez ici.


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