On Écoute: Charles Aznavour

On Écoute: Charles Aznavour

Perhaps France’s greatest ever singer-songwriter

Charles Aznavour sang of love, but also of nostalgia and the tragedy of lost youth. Here we revisit a musical master.

Born to a French-Armenian family in Paris in 1924, Charles Aznavour enjoyed a career spanning 70 years, from being the warm-up act for Édith Piaf at the Moulin Rouge to his final concert in September 2018, just two weeks before he died, at the ripe old age of 94. Aznavour’s English-language version of ‘Les Plaisirs Demodés’ (‘the Old-Fashioned Way‘) was a hit in Britain in 1973, and he followed that up in 1974 with ‘She’, written in English but also recorded in French – and in German, Italian and Spanish, no less. ‘She’ was a UK No. 1 for four weeks and led to several television appearances on Saturday-night variety shows.

By the end of that year, everyone in Britain knew who Charles Aznavour was – even if they had never heard of Johnny Hallyday! During WWII, his family hid people in their flat to protect them from the Nazis, and throughout his life he was politically active. In the 1970s he was an early supporter of homosexual rights; in 1988 he set up a charity to help victims of the Armenian earthquake; and in the 2000s he was again vocal – literally – in his opposition to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front. A true pioneer.

If you like this, you might like…

ACHA DISTEL: Aznavour’s contemporary who also enjoyed success in the UK and US. The 25 Greatest Hits. Promo Sound Ltd

SERGE GAINSBOURG: A man of many talents, Serge is nothing shor t of a legend in his native France. Best of Gainsbourg. Universal France

YVES MONTAND: The Italian-French singer takes us deeper into the world of French crooners…The Very Best of Metro Select

Read more articles in the On Écoute series:
French Kiwi Juice
Erik Satie
Stuck in the Sound
Oliva Ruiz

From France Today Magazine

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  • William Hinshaw
    2020-06-18 00:18:09
    William Hinshaw
    How is it possible that a writer could mention Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, and Serge Gainesbrourg (all of them prodigies of my youth) without mentioning Georges Brassens? Tonton Georges was an entertainer, but he was also a philosopher. It was not just a matter of the staccato rhythms of Gainsborough or the ardent messages of Aznavour; Brassens spoke to the most basic issues in the human lexicon: love, loyalty, and la morte. Wake up people. If you do not know Brassens, you are just seeking entertainment.