Édith Piaf was a famous French singer and actress during World War II. Born in Paris in 1915, she obtained iconic status, and is still considered France's greatest popular singer. Some of her most classic recordings include: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, which became a huge international hit in 1960; Mon Légionnaire; her signature tune La Vie en Rose; L'Hymne à l'Amour and Milord, to name a few.
As a child she accompanied her father's acrobat street act, passing the hat round for money while her father backflipped and somersaulted for the crowd. In 1930, at 15 years old, Edith discovered her own talent for singing. She joined forces with her friend Simone Berteaut and together they worked the streets.
However, Piaf's path to star status really began in 1935 when she was discovered by Louis Leplée, the owner of Le Gerny cabaret nightclub on the Champs Elysées. He offered her a contract, and the success of her performances led to her first recordings in 1936: Les Mômes de la cloche, Mon apÉro and La java de Cézigue. Piaf had a penchant for melancholic ballads that told of heartache, poverty and homelessness, inspired by her own impoverished experiences on the streets of Paris. She wrote her own lyrics, but collaborated with a range of composers on the melodies for her songs. She worked with French songwriter and composer Marguerite Monnot on her classic L'hymne à l'amour, a heartfelt tribute to her lover at the time, Marcel Cedan. In 1937 Piaf was signed by ABC as a supporting artist, one of the most prestigious Paris venues of the time. In the same year Piaf launched her film career, starring in Jean Limur's La garçonne. A few months later Piaf performed at the top of the bill at Bobino, another famous club in Paris. By 1940, Piaf had become a favourite amongst Paris' intellectual elite.
In 1940, Piaf co-starred in the triumphant play Le Bel Indifférent, written by the notorious playwright and film maker Jean Coctreu. She sang in benefits for the French army, and toured unoccupied areas of France. By the end of the war in 1944, Piaf was at the height of her fame in France, and began to use her eminence to launch the careers of various young up-and-coming artists. In 1945 she starred in Marcel Blistène's film Étoile sans lumière alongside French singer Yves Montand. Piaf composed La Vie en Rose herself that same year, and, enthused by the phenomenal success of the song, went on to record 80 more of her own compositions throughout the rest of her career.
In 1946 Piaf was introduced to a group of young singers known as Les Compagnons de la Chanson. She recorded a single with the group, entitled Les trois cloches. It was an instant hit, selling over 1 million copies, and Piaf invited Les Compagnons de la Chanson to join her on her first tour of America the following year. Initially the American public were not receptive to Piaf's melodramatic style of song, but she eventually gained a legion of fans after a successful string of shows in New York, and her week-long stint at the Versailles was extended to four months.
The death of Marcel Cerdan in 1949 drove Edith into a deep depression which was echoed in her music, as her songs became increasingly dark and melodramatic. Although her health gradually deteriorated, Piaf's voice kept its resonance throughout her last years, and in 1962 she performed her final series of concerts at the legendary L'Olympia. In April 1963 Piaf fell into a coma, and eventually died of liver cancer in October that year, at the age of 47. Decades on, Piaf's songs continue to inspire the French music scene.