Much of her past is unknown and may have been altered over time.
Her mother was a cafe singer, and her father was a street acrobat. Piaf’s mother gave birth to her at the age of 17 and gave away Edith to her mother, because she couldn’t manage taking care of the child. Piaf’s father was fighting in world war I, he came home to find Edith neglected by her maternal grandmother and took her to his own mother, who ran a brothel.
when the war ended Piaf’s father took her back. Her father performed on the streets, encouraging her to sing to make the performance more appealing.
Piaf later separated from her father, and set out on her own as a street singer in and around Paris. At 17, she gave birth to her daughter, Marcelle, who died of meningitis at 2 years old.
In 1935, Piaf was discovered by Louis Leplée,
who gave her the nickname- “La Môme Piaf” (“The Little Sparrow”).
Leplée ran a major publicity campaign to promote Piaf’s opening night, which was a success.
She became very popular and recorded two albums that year.
Leplée was murdered the following spring, shot in the head by gang members, who were Piaf’s acquaintances.
After authorities investigated her as a potential accomplice to the crime, she was released due to lack of evidence.
Piaf and a new team took charge of her career. She began to work with Raymond Asso (a french lyricist), who also became her lover, and adopted her stage name Édith Piaf permanently.
Piaf was a chanson singer.
chanson is a musical genre, in general any lyric-driven French song. The chanson is usually influenced by foreign musical genres (mainly jazz, swing and rock & roll) and is performed by singers with intense stage presence.
As her career progressed she had songwriters, such as Marguerite Monnot and Michel Emer, writing songs specifically for her.
The first of Michel Emer’s songs to be sung by Edith Piaf was “L’Accordeoniste”, which he composed in 1940.
He went on to write more than twenty songs for her, including one of her most famous songs “A quoi ça sert l’amour?” (literally translates to “what’s the point of love?”) which she sang as a duet with her second husband Theo Sarapo.
Marguerite Monnot and Piaf were close friends and began collaborating on songs in the early 1940s. Monnot wrote one of Piaf’s most famous songs, “Millord”.
Piaf was one of the most popular performers in France during World War II. For that reason, Édith was suspected of collaboration with the German authorities in occupied France. Though it was later believed that she had been working for the French Resistance and helped Jewish comrades escape Nazi persecution.
in 1944, she fell in love with Middleweight boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was already married and had three children. Still, the two had an affair for over a year. Marcel flew to New York to visit Piaf at her show, but he found his death when his plane crashed.
Piaf’s life fell apart. She compensated with alcohol, drugs and short-lived relationships.
“L’Hymne à L’Amour” (“Hymn to Love“),written by Marguerite Monnot, was recorded in his honor.
She married twice. Her first marriage was to the singer Jacques Pills in 1952, lasted until 1957.
In 1959, she collapsed after a concert and had to be treated at the hospital for a perforation of the stomach. Édith Piaf was diagnosed with liver cancer but continued to perform.
In 1962 she married to Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser and performer. he was 26 years old when he married the 46-year-old Piaf. The marriage lasted until her death the following year.
One of her most famous songs, written in 1956, by Charles Dumont, is “Non, Je ne regrette rien” (“I do not regret anything”). It spent seven weeks atop the French Singles & Airplay Reviews chart, thanks to her performance.
In April 1963, Piaf recorded “Non, Je ne regrette rien”, which,iconically,was the last song she ever recorded.
Piaf remained professionally active until the final years of her life. Édith Piaf died from liver failure on October ,1963, at the age of 47. She is buried in “Père Lachaise” Cemetery in Paris next to her daughter Marcelle.
In addition to singing, Piaf recorded her thoughts about her life in two books, “Au bal de la chance” (1958; “At the Ball of Fortune”). Which can be found for sale, on the internet.
he was the subject of several biographies as well as plays and movies. La Môme is a 2007 French biographical musical film about the life of Edith.
In the US and the UK this movie was named “la vie en rose” (literally translated to “Life in pink”), which is the name of one of her most popular song, and my personal favorite.
written in 1945, by Piaf herself, with no fewer than seven different versions reaching the billboard charts.
And to my surprise, there is even a hebrew version: