Written in a sidewalk cafe on the Champs-Élysées in 1945, “La Vie en rose” was a song whose idyllic romance vindicated the French national spirit from the ashes of World War II. And as you probably already know, the author of this song was the “little sparrow” of France: Edith Piaf.
Born Edith Gassion in 1915 and discovered singing on the streets of the Paris red-light district in 1935, Piaf was a singer whose career had taken off during World War II. Though she was no conventional beauty, the 5-foot-1 diva was a volcano of drama, whose murky tales of murder, abandonment and prostitution have spanned the globe. Although it is often assumed that most of her songs were written for her by men, she wrote over 100 of them herself and (unusually for the time) wrote many with other women.
Piaf sang through both the war and the tragedies of her personal life, which included the death of her 2-year-old daughter from meningitis in 1935 and that of her great love, the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who died in an accident. air in 1949.
Performing for the occupying Germans and their compatriots, Piaf was briefly branded as a collaborator. But Nazi-pleasing rumors were firmly squashed in 1945 when resistance leaders revealed that Piaf had smuggled maps and compasses to French POWs during their tours of prison camps. She also posed for pictures with the prisoners; the photographs were used to create false identity documents and allowed many prisoners to escape.
After the war, as France soaked up Marshall Plan money and morale-boosting American jazz records, Piaf went for a drink with her friend Marianne Michel. The younger singer complained that no one was writing new songs for her, so Piaf took a paper from her and wrote “La Vie en rose” for her.The central metaphor of the song, of seeing the world anew, through rose-tinted glasses, was something Piaf knew all too well, having been blind for several years in her childhood and claiming to have been cured, at age 7. , after the prostitutes who worked in her grandmother’s house pooled their earnings to send her on a Catholic pilgrimage.
Michel recorded the song first, a sweet, frosted xylophone version, and Piaf delivered her own definitive version 2 years later. Today, it is both a love anthem and a story that everyone can relate to. But Edith’s only love ended in tragedy. Do you already know her story?
Edith Piaf and Marcel Cerdan
Marcel Cerdan was a French hero, the best boxer France has ever produced, and a source of great national pride. He rose from nowhere as a poor kid from Algeria who won by knockout in more than 60 fights before facing La Motta in the ring in Detroit. As fate would have it, Cerdan dislocated his shoulder during the first round, leaving him only to defend himself with one arm. According to many, Cerdan was the better fighter of the two and would have won but for his early injury that night.
The French adored Cerdan for more than just his stardom. In addition to her many undisputed victories, Cerdan had also won the heart of the country’s most beloved singer, Édith Piaf. He was the love of her life and the only man she truly loved. They were the most popular celebrity couple in France in the late 1940s.Piaf met Cerdan in 1947. Their love became an overnight sensation in France, a celebrity romance that captivated everyone. The two lovebirds bought a small hotel in Paris, presumably to start a life together. (The uncomfortable truth was that Cerdan was already married and the father of three children.) At the height of their love, Piaf wrote the song, “Hymne à l’Amour,” in September 1949. After her hard, often desperate life, the love she describes for Cerdan is all-encompassing, and her devotion to protecting him and preserving it is fierce to the point of obsession.
The following month, Piaf was in New York City for a performance, anxiously awaiting Cerdan’s arrival before his return match with LaMotta, when the Air France Lockheed Constellation he was in crashed into a mountain on approach to the Azores to refuel, leaving no survivors. Piaf was devastated. The couple could only enjoy a year together. All of France mourned its hero on that tragic day of October 27, 1949.
Did you already know his story?