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Édith Piaf was petite in stature, but she sang like a giant. She lived life fiercely and suffered many tragedies in her too-short life, but she defiantly declared that she had "no regrets."
Piaf, who was nicknamed the “Little Sparrow” (La Môme Piaf ) was a famous French singer in the 1940’s. She earned this nickname because of her small statue (4' 8") and her nervousness.
Piaf was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris on Decmber 19, 1915. Édith’s father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion, was a street acrobat. Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard, was an Italian cafe singer, who performed under the name “Line Marsa.”
Edith gave birth to a daughter at the age of 17. She did not marry the father. Her child, named Marcelle, died at the age of 2 from meningitis. .
Piaf lived life with a flamboyant enthusiasm, just as she sang. She was notorious for her romances with married men, her male associates, and a number of the biggest celebrities in France. She became addicted to alcohol and morphine after a serious car accident in 1951.
She married twice. Her first marriage was in 1952 to singer Jacques Pills., They were divorced four years later in 1957. She married Théo Sarapo, a Greek hairdresser and performer, who was 20 years her junior, in 1962. Her second marriage lasted until her death.
Édith Piaf died of cancer at the age of 47 on October 10, 1963. Her funeral procession drew thousands of mourners, bringing traffic in Paris to a standstill.
I want to make people cry even when they don't understand my words.
— Edith Piaf
In 1935, Édith Piaf began her career in the Pigalle area of Paris. She was discovered and promoted by nightclub owner, Louie Leplée. She released her first record later that same year. She went on to become one of the most popular concert performers of her time, achieving international fame, and even appearing on the Ed Sullivan show eight times. Piaf appeared in several films and performed in a stage play. Piaf made hundreds of record albums.
Piaf is most famous for her songs, La Vie en Rose, Padam…Padam, and Je, Ne Regrette Rien.
The story of Piaf's life is told in over a dozen films and plays.The most recent film was La Vie en Rose in 2007. Piaf was portrayed by Marion Cotillard who won an Best Actress Academy award for her performance in the film.
There are also books about Piaf, including her own autobiography.
Singing is a way of escaping. It's another world. I'm no longer on earth.
— Edith Piaf
Marion Cotillard Won a Best Actress Oscar for Her Portrayal of Edith Piaf.
Money? How did I lose it? I never did lose it. I just never knew where it went.
— Edith Piaf
Bust of Edith Piaf in Celebrity Alley in Kielce (Poland)
A Poem in Tribute to Edith Piaf
I was so moved by the story of Edith Piaf's life after seeing the movie, La Vie en Rose, I wrote a poem about her.
Édith Piaf, called by all, “The Little Sparrow,”
was petite in stature,
but sang like a giant,
gaining fame with her songs of life, love, and sorrow.
Her songs blasted into the air, as if some fuse,
being lit, had shot them from an iron cannon.
and so she became, and so she ever will be,
France’s most famous and most beloved chanteuse.
One favorite song that she always liked to sing
was the one she called, “Non,
Je ne regette rien,”
which in English translates as “I regret nothing.”
She sang it with élan, her soprano voice strong,
filling the room and ringing out with conviction.
She shouted it out as if daring anyone
to challenge her on this or call her choices wrong.
It’s true, during her life she enjoyed great success,
but is it possible
that she had no regrets
or was her song meant to hide unhappiness?
Perhaps this was just her way of sticking her thumb
into the unblinking unthinking eye of life,
refusing to indulge in any soul-searching,
despite living in a tumultuous maelstrom.
Édith was born to a poor unwed teenaged girl;
raised by her grandmother—
madame of a brothel—
so young, and already her life was in turmoil.
As a child, she endured four years of sightlessness
caused by a severe inflammation of the eyes.
She must have believed she would never see again,
until the prostitutes’ prayers ended her blindness.
She married at seventeen and had a daughter;
the girl died at age two.
Then two more marriages,
the third husband, a man much younger than her.
Her love life became a hideous découpage—
so many lovers, some mobsters and married men.
These affairs all tended to end unhappily
falling victim to her acts of self-sabotage.
How did she survive the Nazi occupation—
or resistance fighter,
or were both used in strategic combination?
She took her solace in drink, a lifelong problem;
She suffered injuries in two car accidents.
So many problems, so many sad maladies,
and then morphine addiction was added to them.
Her life often spinning wildly out of control;
it was inner power
holding her together.
She could never let regret seep into her soul;
it would have felled her, as surely as a strong blow,
or breathing a poisonous gas into her lungs.
Just one whiff of regret, and this frail little bird
would become “Edith Piaf, The Broken Sparrow.”
Isn’t it clear what Piaf was trying to say?
Why waste time with regret?
Why waste time looking back?
Dwell on yesterday’s mistakes and you lose today.
The past is the past; not a thing can be undone!
You must accept yourself and respect past choices!
Forget “what ifs” and “if onlys,” just love your life,
and live it fully—this life is your only one.
There are many stops along our life’s journey,
and all your rued choices
are just so much litter—
leave it behind as you march on with joie de vie.
Remember, getting to the good takes many tries.
So like Candide, let us embrace the thought that frees:
We must repeat to ourselves, “All is for the best,
and this is the best of all my possible lives.”
People say I could sing the phone book and make it sound good.
— Edith Piaf
Édith Piaf sings "No Regrets" (with lyrics)
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A photo of Edit Piaf
Learn More about Edith Piaf's Life and Music
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This website provides a details about Edith Piaf's life in the context of the time in which she lived and provides information about her career as a singer.
© 2014 Catherine Giordano