Taken from: ‘The Writer’s Almanac’
It’s the birthday of French singer Édith Piaf, born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Paris (1915). Her mother was a café singer and a drug addict, and her father was a street performer – an acrobat and contortionist. As a young girl, she was sent to her grandmother’s brothel, where she was raised by prostitutes. When she was a teenager, her father took her along with him to sing on street corners as part of his act. In 1935, she was discovered by a nightclub owner, Louis Leplée, who nicknamed her La Môme Piaf, or “the little sparrow” – she was not even 4′ 10″.
With the help of Leplée’s publicity, Piaf made her first record within the year; but in 1936, Leplée was murdered, and the police held Piaf for questioning. She was let go, but her reputation was damaged. The lyricist Raymond Asso, her lover, helped rebuild her image – he taught her how to dress and act on stage, and he wrote her songs about the tough life of the working class.
Piaf went on to become an international star, with songs like “La vie en rose” and “Non, je ne regrette rien.” She died at the age of 47, and 40,000 mourners joined her funeral procession in Paris. She is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.