The Paris of Edith Piaf
The black-clad figure of Edith Piaf touched the whole of Paris. Her songs and voice still move us deeply. Walk in the footsteps of the “Môme” (Kid).
The legend of Edith Giovanna Gassion began with her birth. At 72, Rue de Belleville (20th district), a plaque states “On 19 December 1915, Edith Piaf was born into great destitution. Her voice would one day touch the world.” Piaf was born at Tenon Hospital on Rue de la Chine (20th). A statue of the singer, placed on the square which bears her name in 2003, is a few metres from there. Before she was a bird, Piaf was a sparrow, a child of Belleville who started out singing ditties at her father’s side at the end of his contortionist act.
The voice of the “Môme” touches Paris
At the age of 15, Edith set out on her own on the streets of Paris, in Montmartre. Between Pigalle and Blanche, her life crossed that of P’tit Louis, her first great love, with whom she had Marcelle in 1933, her ephemeral child who was taken away by meningitis in 1935. Her fate was waiting for her at the corner of Rue Troyon and Rue Mac-Mahon (17th) on an October day in 1935. She was spotted by Louis Leplée, the owner of the Le Gerny cabaret on Rue Pierre-Charron (8th) and moved from the street to the stage. He named her “the little sparrow” (Piaf is slang for sparrow).
She sang at Le Gerny and was an immediate triumph. In 1937, at the age of 22, on the stage of the music hall temple the ABC (2nd), the Môme definitively became Edith Piaf. She moved into cinema and theatre, where Jean Cocteau made her his darling in Le Bel Indifférent (The Indifferent Lover). Then came the legendary music halls Pleyel, Olympia, Bobino .
Eternally in love
From the Porte de Bagnolet to the bourgeois comfort of the Porte d’Auteuil, Piaf was first and foremost a nomad, hardly furnishing her apartments. Piaf was intense and passionate when she sang and also had flair. Yves Montand, the group Les Compagnons de la Chanson, Charles Aznavour, Eddie Constantine… they were all grateful to her for believing in them, for loving some of them and above all for driving forward their careers.
La vie en rose, success, Cerdan, her great love...
At the end of 1945, settled on Avenue Marceau (16th district) with Montand, Piaf herself wrote one of the most popular songs of all time, La Vie en Rose. She separated from Montand in 1947 and left for New York to sing her Parisian songs, “la fille de joie au coin de la rue Labat” (the joyful girl on the corner of Rue Labat – lyrics from L’accordéoniste), or the girl “qui essuie les verres au fond du café” (who dries glasses at the back of the café – lyric from Les Amants d’Un Jour).
In the USA, Piaf fell in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was already married. The singer’s town house at 7, Rue Leconte-de-Lisle (16th), was witness to the passion of the two lovers. But the “Hymne à l’amour” (Hymn to Love) written for Cerdan in September 1949 ended one month later, on 28 October, when his plane crashed in the Azores.
In 1955, she sang at the Olympia and formed an unshakeable friendship with Bruno Coquatrix. Her recitals saved the legendary music hall several times.
Last resting place, Père Lachaise cemetery
On 11 October 1963, Piaf died in the south of France. Théo Sarapo, her last husband, brought her body back to the couple’s home at 67, Boulevard Lannes (16th) in secret. Going back to her origins for the last time, she was buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery (20th), on the edge of Ménilmontant and the streets of Belleville.
67, Boulevard Lannes - Photo: François Grunberg
The intimate Edith-Piaf museum
The museum is a small apartment in the 11th district (5 Rue Crespin du Gast, 75011) in which Piaf lived for a year in 1933. It became a private museum dedicated to the singer and allows visitors to discover Piaf in her private surroundings. Souvenirs are displayed in the apartment’s two rooms, including one of her famous little black dresses, cuddly toys she was given by her last husband, a pair of boxing gloves belonging to Marcel Cerdan, extracts from her correspondence, photos of the singer and her stage shoes, in size 34. These private moments of Piaf’s life are recounted by the owner of the apartment, Bernard Marchois, who met the singer when he was young.
Visits free of charge, on appointment only, phone 00 33 (1) 43 55 52 72
Map of the Piaf walk
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