This month, we take a look back at the life and career of one of France’s greatest performers.
He was a rather unlikely heart-throb to those who remember him from his early career, one which lasted some 80 years. At just 5ft 3in tall, Charles Aznavour was almost 50 before he had his first hit in the UK.
Charles wrote more than 1,200 songs, including the classic tearjerker ‘She’ and was a star in him home country where he was France’s Frank Sinatra.
Last month (September 2018), Charles Aznavour died aged 94.
Born Varenagh Aznavourian, he was born in Paris in May 1924, the son of Armenian immigrants who had fled from persecution in Turkey and were staying in the French capital temporarily while waiting for a US visa.
Forced by lack of money to give up school at the age of nine, he was determined to be an entertainer and by 11, he was playing child roles at the Theatre Marigny.
He had a long career as a film actor and in 1941 he teamed up with actor Pierre Roche to write songs. In a nine-year partnership they wrote for French stars Maurice Chevalier, Gilbert Bécaud and Edith Piaf.
Charles’ big break came when Piaf, who admired his voice, invited him to accompany her on a tour of France and the United States. With her encouragement, Aznavour launched himself on a solo career in 1950, singing his own songs.
With stage performances mainly described as the epitome of French romance, one critic wrote: “To put one’s self before the public with such a voice and such a physique is pure folly.”
But Aznavour’s mournful love songs, delivered by his throaty tenor voice, did catch on and in 1955 success came with the song ‘Sur Ma Vie’.
In 1965 he opened the first of his long-running one-man shows at the Olympia Music Hall in Paris, singing 30 of his own songs.
His first hit in Britain was ‘The Old-Fashioned Way’ in 1973, followed by ‘She’ in 1975.
Charles could sing in more than six languages and this made him popular around the world. His success, including worldwide sales of more than 180 million records, brought much wealth, and he lived in Switzerland for many years. However, in 1977 a French court fined him about £1m with a suspended one-year jail sentence, for tax evasion and currency offences. The following year he was ordered to pay £1m in tax arrears.
Aznavour combined singing with his acting career and appeared in more than 60 films. In 1982 he played himself as a struggling composer in the film ‘Edith et Marcel’, based on Piaf’s romance with a boxer. He was still performing in his nineties
In 1988, in response to the earthquake in Armenia, he formed his own charity to help the victims, including composing a song that featured a string of top French performers and topped the charts for more than four months.
Charles also took a deep interest in politics. During the 1992 French presidential elections he encouraged people to sing La Marseillaise in public to protest against the right-wing candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who had made it to the run-offs. He also campaigned vigorously for an extension of copyright law to protect the work of artists, authors and composers.
Aznavour had neither a great voice nor film-star looks but he did have immense song-writing talent and a mesmerising stage presence.
Along with Piaf and Chevalier he was one of France’s greatest singing stars.
Listen to Charles Aznavour in French to grasp the nuances of the lyrics
Why not practise your French and listen to one of Charles Aznavour’s greatest songs here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-45709541
With thanks to www.bbc.co.uk/news from which this obituary was sourced.