Searching for "La Vie en Rose" - the 50th anniversary of Edith Piaf's death

Je vois ... "La Vie en Rose" (I see ... "La Vie en Rose") 

As a preface to this post, I should explain that most of my formative years were spent in Memphis, Tennessee. Aside from being the "Home of the Blues", this southern city is also known as the "Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll". Elvis Presley used to live there in a white-columned mansion called Graceland. After his death on August 16, 1977, Elvis fans and impersonators from around the world started making annual pilgrimages to Memphis. Every August, Beale Street overflowed with men wearing sequined costumes singing "All Shook Up" and "Love Me Tender". Whether you were an Elvis fan or not, it was always a rockin' fun time to be in Memphis.


Knowing that Edith Piaf is as beloved as the "King of Rock 'n' Roll", I anticipated that fans would be singing "La Vie en Rose" and "Je ne Regrette Rien" on the streets of Paris for the 50th anniversary of Edith Piaf's death. I just had to find them.

As the exact date of Piaf's demise is disputed, I started my quest on Thursday, October 10 with a gathering of "The Friends of Piaf" next to her tomb in Père Lachaise cemetery. While we didn't sing any of Piaf's famous melodies, a priest was on hand to say The Lord's Prayer and to invite everyone to a memorial mass at Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, the same church where Piaf was baptized Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1917. How different, I thought, from when Piaf was denied a funeral mass by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris and the Vatican declared that she had lived her life in a "state of public sin" and condemned her as an "idol of prefabricated happiness."

Thanks to a chance encounter with my friend Nancy's "Paris Greeter" in Père Lachaise cemetery, my next destination was "50 Years Already: The Paris of Piaf", an exhibition devoted to Edith Piaf in the town hall of the 20th arrondissement. Perusing photos of Edith from the time she was an innocent young girl with an over-sized white bow in her hair to when she was a middle-aged woman ravaged by drugs and disease, I was awed by the trajectory of her life. How had a waif born in the gritty district of Belleville created such a long lasting impression on the world? It was her remarkable voice. The one that sends shivers up your spine as soon as you hear the opening notes of "Je ne Regrette Rien".

While it's no longer possible to see the "Little Sparrow" in concert, I decided to do the next best thing. On October 11, the date on which the official announcement of Edith Piaf's death stunned the world, I went to Caroline Nin's "Hymne à Piaf". As Nin recounted the stories behind some of Piaf's most famous songs, I felt myself magically transported back to another time. Through her talented performance, the passion and anguish of Piaf's life was palpable in the intimate setting of the Essaion Theatre. If you're searching for "La Vie en Rose", don't miss Caroline Nin's show!

Reviews of "Hymne à Piaf" on Trip Advisor
My interview with Caroline Nin
Additional photos from the 50th anniversary of Edith Piaf's death

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Edith Piaf's death, Caroline Nin organized two very special evenings at L'Excelsior after her show, "Hymne à Piaf" on October 10 and 11. Here's a video taken during one of my most memorable evenings in Paris. Click on the arrow and sing along:


Comments

  1. I still prefer the disco version from Grace Jones. Is that sacrilege?

    Very good writing here though MK, very good.

    jxg

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    1. Nope, that's not sacrilege at all! In its own way, Grace Jones' version is as iconic as Edith Piaf's original version. I would, however, venture to say that you would have really enjoyed being at the Excelsior for Caroline Nin's special evening. I can't tell you how hard it was not to sing along with "La Vie en Rose" while I was filming!

      Thanks for your comment about the writing. I really struggled with this post. As soon as I started thinking about the good old days in Memphis, my mind went to bbq and I had to restrain myself from going completely off tangent! Guess what I wish I was eating for lunch?

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  2. I've loved Edith Piaf, ever since my husband brought home an English version of her singing in 1972. Most other English people of my age had never heard of her at that time.

    I was bemused at the musicians name "Djazzelles"......I wonder if they understand the context in England!!!

    (Think "Brazillan" if you don't know what I am talking about!)

    LOL!
    Love Denise

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    1. Thanks for telling me the meaning of Djazzelles, Denise. I would have never guessed! The question remains, how do you know?! ;)

      There's a segment in Caroline Nin's show where she tells an anecdote about an Edith Piaf tape (not a cd!). Her father gave it to Caroline to take with her to England so that she could play it when she missed France. When she played one of the songs in the pub where she was working, the customers liked it so much that they asked her to play it over and over again until the tape broke. It took her years to find the song, which was a rather obscure one, again.

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  3. ah! l,église catholique .Quand on pense quelle a écrit la chanson "mon Dieu " C,est la seul prière qui me donne des frissons.Pourtant je ne suis pas croyant.

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  4. Awesome post, Mary Kay. So happy to have shared this occasion with you. (sad as it may be) The events of those two days are something which I will never forget. Thank you for this post and for sharing the fabulous memories with me.

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    1. Thanks for going to Père Lachaise and Caroline Nin's show with me, Nancy. Sharing the memories with you made them even more special! It's one of those things that I think we'll talk about for years to come. "Remember when ... " and then we'll break into "La Vie en Rose"!

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    2. I'm still humming it my head!

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    3. I had to stop myself from whistling it while walking down the street yesterday when I realized that other people could hear me. Talk about feeling like a cliché!

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  5. THANKS! Excellent information
    I wonder if the exhibit is still going on at the hotel de ville 75020?
    I can't find an address..

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    1. I don't know if the Piaf exhibition is still going on in the 20th but there is a free one at the Minister of Culture that looks even better!

      More info: Le ministère de la Culture et de la Communication présente : « Edith Piaf, petite robe noire et autres souvenirs issus des collections de la Bibliothèque nationale de France » du 11 octobre au 9 novembre 2013.

      Exposition au ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, 182, rue Saint-Honoré, 75001 PARIS, de 11 octobre au 9 novembre 2013.

      Dans le cadre de cette exposition est projeté le film Piaf intime réalisé par Valérie Esposito Coproduction Imagine INA 2013

      More info here: http://www.culturecommunication.gouv.fr/Espace-Presse/Communiques/Le-ministere-de-la-Culture-et-de-la-Communication-presente-Edith-Piaf-petite-robe-noire-et-autres-souvenirs-issus-des-collections-de-la-Bibliotheque-nationale-de-France-du-11-octobre-au-9-novembre-2013

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    2. Big Merci MK
      I will follow up toute a suite

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    3. So odd they do not give the horaires or its my bad French...maybe both
      Cest la vie

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    4. You're welcome! I couldn't find the hours either but assume that it's probably regular working hours since it's at the Ministry.

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