Edith Piaf

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Edith Piaf (born Edith Giovanna Gassion) (1915-1963) was a French singer who possessed one of the finest and most distinctive voices of the twentieth century. Born in Paris, the daughter of a street entertainer, she was named after the British nurse Edith Cavell who had been shot by the German army in Brussels for aiding escaped British soldiers. As a child she sang in the streets for money, and in 1925 was "discovered" by Parisian night-club owner Louis Leplee, who renamed her La Môme Piaf, the "kid sparrow". Leplee was murdered the following year in a gangland killing; Piaf was investigated but never charged with involvement. She shed her mob connections and changed her stage name to Edith Piaf. During the Second World War she assisted the French Resistance by visiting French POWs as an entertainer, requesting the German authorities to allow "souvenir" photographs of the occasion to be taken, and passing the photos on to the resistance to enable their use in producing false ID cards. Following the war her popularity skyrocketed. She made successful tours abroad, including in the United States, but is principally associated with the Olympia music hall in Paris. Although ill with cancer, exacerbated by overindulgence in alcohol and drugs, she carried out punishing engagements there. At her last performance, in 1963, she collapsed on stage, and died some months later, on 10 October 1963. She was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, in one of the largest funerals ever seen in France.

Piaf's "theme song" was "La Vie en Rose", but she is probably even better known for "Non, Je ne Regrette Rien". Other major hits include "Milord", "Hymne a l'Amour" (a tribute to her lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan, killed in an air crash), "La Goualante du Pauvre Jean", and "L'Accordeoniste".