Ã‰dith Piaf was a French singer and songwriter. Although born into poverty and with an unknown lineage, her extraordinary life and career â€“ marred by suffering, disappointment, and tragedy â€“ has made her a renowned symbol of female empowerment. Her personal struggles and heart-wrenching songs inspired millions.
Ã‰dith Piaf was born in Paris, France on December 19th, 1915, though her exact place of birth remains disputed. Official records show that she was registered at a maternity in Belleville, Paris, but some claim she was hospitalized at a maternity in Montmartre, where she was likely conceived. Her parentsâ€™ marital status is also uncertain and it is speculated her father abandoned the family shortly after her birth.
Ã‰dith was raised primarily by her mother, Annetta Maillard, who eventually married Louis Gassion. Her mother was a street singer and it is thought Paifâ€™s exposure to the music of the street vendors at a young age planted what would become her lifeâ€™s passion. At the age of seven, Ã‰dith joined her parents in singing in the streets and by then she had already developed a powerful voice.
Gassion was a self-proclaimed Breton sailor who employed travelers and other vagrants around the Moulin Rouge and encouraged Ã‰dithâ€™s musical growth. She began taking lessons but didnâ€™t stay and listen to any teacher for long and eventually left to pursue performance opportunities in lower Paris Theaters and offered up her own street performances for charity. A talent scout heard her singing one day and offered her a spot in The Jam in 1935.
At the Palais de la MutualitÃ©, as part of the bill in irregular performances held Valachi, Ã‰dith was given her stage name, Piaf, and a set of sad street songs. Her strong emotion-filled ballads and remarkable story resonated with overworked French citizens and won her widespread popularity.
Ã‰dith seemed to find confidence, success, and music appreciation during her time at The Jam. She thus went on to perform with a wide range of acts including Ray Ventura, Charles Trenet, Jose Famiglietti, Louis Price, and many different jazz bandsâ€”steeped in her own lilting, sorrowful lyrics.
During World War II, Ã‰dith captured the homesickness of an exhausted French nation by singing the French National anthem La Marseillaise and songs such as â€œLâ€™Aniamâ€ for the Resistance movement. She quickly became a powerful symbol of the popular upsurge against the occupying forcesâ€™ deathly grip on the nation. In 1943, she was given the LÃ©gion dâ€™honneur by the French government, making her Franceâ€™s first female conscript to be so honored.
By 1945, Ã‰dith had made a name for herself around the world and released her first hit â€˜La vie en roseâ€™ which solidified her as the Grand Dame of French Ballads. She went on to make numerous unique records, performed multiple international tours, and recognized around the world for her remarkable ability- not only in singing, but in writing and arranging her own songs. She also amassed a successful film career throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s which earned her notable awards.
By the late 1950s however, Ã‰dith had been struggling with health problems and her career began to suffer as a result. A self-destructive spiral saw her dabbling in drugs which caused lapses in memory, and her heavy use of alcohol contributed to a newfound vulnerability. Nevertheless, Ã‰dith Piaf continued to perform her songs of hope and loss until her death on October 10th, 1963.
Ã‰dith Piafâ€™s life may have been short, but her legacy is a lasting one. Her songs of heartache and love have inspired generations and her powerful presence in struggling France during World War II, has earned her a place in French popular culture forever.
Throughout her life she ministered to the crowd and regardless of lifeâ€™s hard shocks Ã‰dith never stopped believing in the extraordinary healing power of singing. Ã‰dith Piaf has become an icon of endurance, an ode to uplifting, a pure, unwavering voice of compassion and hope for generations.