“The Little Sparrow whose Singing Enchanted the World.”
In most respects Edith was a waif. Her father was a circus performer, her mother an alcoholic street singer who cared nothing for her. The chanteuse was, so she claimed, born on a gendarme’s cape under a street lamp. The teenage Edith Gassion was to follow both her parents’ careers into entertainment.
As a street singer Gassion was partnered by her life-long friend Simone Berteaut, who worked for a pimp. There is no suggestion that she herself was ever a prostitute. When the couple's relationship ended he tried to shoot the melodic singer; fortunately the attempt failed. Not so fortunate, Edith Gassion’s tiny daughter, Marcelle, who died from meningitis when just two-years old.
This was at a pivotal point in Edith's life. Whilst she was trying her luck as a club singer, calling at restaurants along the Champs-Elysées, the young chanteuse was approached by Louis Leplée. Handing her a scrap of paper upon which was scrawled his name, address and also ten francs, he invited her to meet him that she might audition at his club, Le Gerny's which was situated on Rue Pierre Charron.
Louis loved her voice but he was not so enamoured of the young singer's family name, Gassion. After giving it much thought he changed the singer's name to Piaf, which is Parisian slang for sparrow. Edith from there on became known as the Little Sparrow.
The salon singer's opening night at this watering hole for the well-heeled was for her a terrifying affair. Picture her in her black knitted dress with a casually flung scarf to hide its missing sleeve. Edith that magical night sang her Parisian love melodies from the heart. The chanteuse sang with passion as she breathed raw emotion from each of the unknown song’s sentimental words.
At first the audience was indifferent. Then, gradually the diners chatter died and heads began to turn. Soon one could have heard a pin drop. During her performance that night the sparrow turned into a nightingale. The audience, instinctively mesmerized by her distinctive passion, was entranced. That night the Little Sparrow left the stage to riotous applause. Her growing popularity was to bring her international fame.
Paris being Paris, Piaf was often in the company of France’s most illustrious stars of cinema and theatre whilst also rubbing shoulders with its most notorious gangsters. All came crashing down when Louis, her mentor, was murdered. Although Edith was not involved in his violent death it was thought she was in some way implicated. The club closed, her performing contracts dried up and her friends deserted her. The Little Sparrow was now back to where it all began. It was to be 1939 before she recovered her fame.
During the 1940 – 1945 years of German occupation she entertained her country’s occupiers who adored her. It has been claimed she had more lovers than songs but it was her voice that made her fortune and fame, which is just as it should be.
Edith died in 1963 as a consequence of high-living with the low life. Over 100,000 mourners attended her funeral. The solemn occasion brought Paris to a standstill. The Parisian street singer had once been the most highly paid star in the world yet she died in debt. Regrets? Yes, there are a few. Country:Spain