I have been a fan of Edith Piaf’s for many years. Among her esoteric US following was the basketball team at my college, which used to warm up to her song, “Milord.” I was also a student of French, and learned to sing along with many of her songs. Even though I knew nothing of her life, and no one off my college campus had ever heard of her, her singing was inspirational to me at the gut level. It is something in the voice itself.
The story of Edith Piaf’s life, told in the movie “La Vie en Rose,” is so turbulent and full of tragedy and success that it lends itself to mythologizing, though that isn’t necessary. The verifiable facts are enough. With parents who were a street singer (mother) and a circus performer and/or street-performing contortionist (father), both likely alcoholics, Edith was born in the streets of Paris (or thereabouts). She was then tossed from parent to grandparent and back again throughout her childhood. She was blind for several years as a child and possibly deaf for a period of time later on, she spent several years living in the brothel her grandmother ran, and her only child, born to her when was but a teenager, died before the age of 2.
How did Edith Piaf survive this life which always seemed to be now-you-can-see, now-you can’t, much less become an international superstar, icon for France, and personification to many of the sheer will to survive?
Among the many scenes that captured me in the movie, were the scenes with her coach, perhaps because I’m a personal life coach. Raymond Asso basically turned her from a street singer into an international super star in the way that coaches work – recognizing the raw talent, seeing what needed to be done, giving feedback and motivation, and most of all sticking with the client as they do the work which quite often includes the phrase “I can’t.”
First he realized she needed a name change. Edith Gassion was not going to work. He suggested “Piaf” which meant little sparrow, fitting because Edith Piaf was only 4’8” tall.
Next he told her she needed to articulate and taught her how to spit the words out in a way that one critic describes as “an any note could be the last sort of conviction”. When she turns to the orchestra (in the movie) and tells them to play “Padam” you hear this. Padam … Padam … Padam… ( ) When he told her to articulate, she said she could not sing that way, at which he gave her motivation. “Do what I say,” he told her, “or go back to the gutter.”
Motivation, however, we coaches know, is only temporary. What it boils down to is determination, and having someone join you in the difficult journey is often the key to success. In the movie, we watch them working together for hours and hours and he encourages her when she becomes negative, tired, or both. What a coach!
Raymond Asso also noticed the natural beauty of her hands, and taught her how to use them when she sang. If you watch the video of “Hymne a L’Amour” ( ) you will see the incredible quality this brings to her performances. Her coach also wrote “Mon Legionnaire,” asphalt8airbornehackcheats the song said to have made her a star.
Essentially what her coach did was develop the raw talent, so the lump of coal could become a diamond, true to its nature, but refined and polished. Edith Piaf said she learned everything from her coach about how to sing and perform.
Other life events intruded, one more painful than the next. The movie makes it clear that what kept Edith Piaf going was being able to sing on stage, before an audience. “Life without singing did not interest me,” she said. The voice and natural talent were given to her, but it is entirely likely that without the expert guidance and support of her coach, she would have remained singing “in the gutter,” without the audience she desired, and none of us would have had the opportunity to hear this truly unique singer.
Hymne a L’Amour, by the way, was voted the No. 4 most beautiful French song ever written. It is about Marcel Cerdon, the boxer, who was the great love of Edith Piaf’s life. She more information recorded it early in 1949, and Marcel Cerdon died Check our website in a plane crash in October of that year. While the song defies literal translation, the cover in the US is called “If You Love Me (Really Love Me), and the last line is “God reunites those who love each other.”