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Édith Piaf

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Belleville, Paris, France (1915 – 1963)

Édith Piaf (born Édith Giovanna Gassion, 19 December, 1915 – 11 October, 1963), was a French singer and cultural icon who became universally regarded as France’s greatest popular singer. Her singing reflected her life, with her specialty being ballads. Among her songs are “La Vie en rose” (1946), “Non, je ne regrette rien” (1960), “Hymne à l’amour” (1949), “Milord” (1959), “La Foule” (1957), “l’Accordéoniste” (1955), and “Padam… Padam…” (1951).

Despite the numerous biographies, many facts and events of Édith’s life are shrouded in mystery. She was born Édith Giovanna Gassion in Belleville, Paris, France, the high-immigration district later described by Daniel Pennac. Legend has it that she was born on the pavement of Rue de Belleville 72 but according to her birth certificate that was at Hôpital Tenon, the Belleville arrondissement hospital. She was named Édith after the executed British nurse Edith Cavell (Piaf —Parisian jargon for “sparrow”— came from a nickname she would receive twenty years later).

Her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1898 – 1945), was a partly-Italian 17-year-old girl, native of Livorno, working as a café singer under the pseudonym Line Marsa; from her, Édith took the middle name of Giovanna. Her father, Louis-Alphonse Gassion (1881 – 1944), was a street acrobat with a theatrical past. The little Édith was soon abandoned and left for a short time to her maternal grandmother, Mena (probably a Kabyle). Shortly after, Édith’s father brought the child to his mother, who ran a brothel in Normandy, and then joined the French Army (1916).

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