After having already shared a few stories of Edith Piaf’s life we felt that it would be a shame to stop now, after having got off to such a good start – so, come with us for a journey back through time to the places where the singer of “La vie en rose” lived, loved and performed…
A tough childhood in Ménilmontant
Our journey begins at 72 rue de Belleville. A plaque on the building marks it as the birthplace of Edith Piaf. Legend even has it that she came into this world on the front steps of the entrance to the apartment block, right onto a policeman’s cape…but that’s actually a lot of nonsense! We’ll come back to this later…
Our next stop is 91 rue Rebeval, where Edith lived with her maternal grand-mother, Emma Saïd, from the age of three months, after having been abandoned by her mother, Line Marsa, herself a cabaret singer who moved around frequently and who was an alcoholic. The French singer and actress Arletty said of her: “It wasn’t the mother who had her daughter’s voice, it was the daughter who had her mother’s voice”.
During this period, little Edith grew up in this apartment, largely left to her own devices – her father returned at the end of the First World War to find her covered in nits and half-starved. As a result, he sent her to stay with his own mother, who ran a brothel in Normandy.
Go a little further and you’ll pass in front of the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville at 139 rue de Belleville. Little Edith was baptized here on December 15th 1917.
Next stop is 105 rue Orfila. In 1930, at the tender age of fifteen, Edith rented a room with Simone Berteaut at the Hôtel Avenir. Both girls wandered the streets, singing in order to have enough to live off.
We finish the first part of this ride outside the hôpital Tenon hospital at 4 rue de la Chine – where Edith Piaf was born on December 19th 1915…
Vélib’ stations: station n°19041 – Belleville – Pyrénées
& station n°20023 – Pelleport – Belgrand
©Aleksandr Zykov 72 Rue de Belleville, Paris June 2010, photo retouchée.
Adventures galore in Montmartre
Next we head to 39 avenue Junot, where Edith lived for some years in what used to be the Hôtel Alsina…From 1936 to 1939, she moved in with Raymond Asso, an exceptionally gifted song-writer who wrote her first hits, songs that she was later to describe as “talismanic” such was the impact they had on her life (Mon légionnaire, Browning, Le contrebandier…). In 1944 she returned to live in the hotel with Ivo Livi, a talented young man she had met during an audition at the Moulin Rouge. She helped make him into a star – he’s now much better known by his stage name: Yves Montand.
We continue to the Grand Hôtel de Clermont, located on 18 rue Véron. Edith stayed here twice, firstly in 1929, aged just 14, when she was starting off her career as a street singer in Ménilmontant and Pigalle and she took a room for herself and her friend “Momone”. The second time was in 1948. A certain Marcel Cerdan, who trained in a nearby boxing club, was also a resident of the hotel. She regularly brought him to the Cloche d’Or restaurant (3 rue Mansart) during her time at the hotel between 1948 and 1949. The Cloche d’Or attracted numerous artists at the time, including Boris Vian, actors Jean Gabin and Lino Ventura and many others.
Our next stop is the Casino de Paris (16 rue de Clichy), where she sang numbers such as “C’était la première fois” and “Moi je sais qu’on se reverra” from 1941 to 1943.
It would be impossible to talk of Piaf without also mentioning the Olympia (28 boulevard des Capucines): she performed here innumerable times, so much so that it was probably her favourite venue. She had a very close friendship with the owner of the Olympia, Bruno Coquatrix and she had sole billing here for two months in 1958 and three months in 1961…She sang here for the last time on September 27th 1962, performing “A quoi ça sert l’amour”.
Vélib’ stations: station n°18017 – Caulaincourt – Place Constantin Pecqueur
& station n°9034 – Godot de Mauroy – Madeleine
La vie en rose (life through rose-tinted spectacles) in the west of Paris
Head for the corner of rue Troyon and avenue Mac-Mahon where you’ll find the famous spot where the ‘little sparrow’s fate changed, one autumn day in 1935. Coincidentally or not, she was singing a mournful melody of Fréhel’s when she was talent-spotted: “J’aurai préféré malgré tout, / Au lieu d’une poisse, / Un homme qui m’eût aimée d’amour / Pour avec lui finir mes jours / Dans un nid chaud, / Comme un moineau !”. (I’d rather have had / Instead of a jinx / A man who would have really loved me / And lived the rest of my days with him / In a warm nest / Like a sparrow!’)
Our next stop is 252 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in front of the iconic Salle Pleyel. This is where Edith went back on stage in mid-March 1950, following the death of her great love, Marcel Cerdan in December 1949.
So, it was goodbye to her miserable early life on the streets! The ‘little sparrow’ could enjoy a life of luxury and especially liked spending time at Fouquet’s (99 avenue des Champs-Elysées), where she even had a table specially reserved for her!
But let’s go back to before she was enjoying all these dinners in fancy hotels – let’s head to the place where her new life really began: 54 rue Pierre Charron. After having been spotted by Louis Leplée on rue Troyon, he brought her to sing at his very fashionable cabaret, Gerny’s. Louis also gave her the stage name Piaf (the sparrow)
The last stage in this overview of the life of a French icon is the famous Boeuf sur le Toit, 34 rue du Colisée, a restaurant which was one of her favourite places to go.
Vélib’ stations: station n°17046 – Mac-Mahon – Brey
& station n°8050 – Boétie – Ponthieu
©Sophiecharra1 Bar de l’Escadrille – Fouquet’s Paris, photo retouchée.