Legendary French singer, songwriter and activist Charles Aznavour has passed away. He died on 1 October 2018, at the age of 94, at his home in Alpilles, France. He is survived by 6 children and his third wife, Ulla Thorsell.
Often called France’s answer to Frank Sinatra, he led a very rich life. Tributes from artists around the world have been pouring in, and his humanitarian work is also being remembered. Perhaps the greatest compliments are the many covers of his songs. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Aznavour should be very flattered indeed.
Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian, as he was originally named, was born in Paris on 22 May 1924. The son of Armenian immigrants who were also performers, he acquired a taste for the stage when he was very young.
Although his parents planned to eventually settle in the United States, they ended up remaining in France. He was proudly French, although he never forgot the country that his parents came from. In his later life, he worked tirelessly for the welfare and benefit of Armenian citizens.
Young Shahnour left school at the age of 9, long before online casino games and the other technological benefits we now take for granted were around. He planned to earn a living by performing, and adopted his stage name. He also began to write songs at this time.
One of the artists he wrote for was the legendary Edith Piaf. After hearing him sing, she took him under her wing and acted as a mentor. She encouraged him to sing his own material and they toured in New York after World War II. While much of his famous stage magnetism was down to his natural talent, there is no doubt that Piaf also taught him a few things.
A True Humanitarian
From working with his family to hide Jews during the Second World War to establishing a fund to help with earthquake relief in Armenia, this man was as committed to helping people as he was to entertaining them.
In this capacity he played many roles and received many honours. These included Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Armenia in 1995, Officer of the Legion of Honour of France in 1997, and several others.
Celebrities around the world have expressed sadness at Aznavour’s passing, and gratitude for his work. Among those who posted their feelings online were Piers Morgan, Harry Leslie Smith, Céline Dion, Lenny Kravitz, Quincy Jones and French President Emmanuel Macron. The Eiffel Tower was lit up in his honour, and crowds gathered in Yerevan for a candlelight vigil.
The Songs Live On
Recordings of his own incredible performances, with his distinct and versatile voice, will keep Aznavour’s music alive. The covers that other artists keep producing will do the same. The best of these are arguably She by Elvis Costello, Parce Que tu Crois by Serge Gainsborough, For Mamma by Ray Charles and Meisje van 16 by Boudewijn De Groot.
She, or Elle in the original French, was the greatest international hit in Aznavour’s portfolio of over 1000 songs. Costello recorded it for the 1999 movie Notting Hill. Gainsborough covered Parce Que tu Crois in 1969.
The incredible versatility of his work is clearly seen by the fact that the same song is sampled in What’s the Difference. A hip hop release by Dr Dre and Eminem, it bears little resemblance to the original. Charles recreated La Mamma beautifully in the English For Mamma, in 1973. And in 1965 De Groot’s Meisje van 16, a cover of Une Enfent, was his first hit single.
Aznavour never wanted to stop performing, and often said he would happily die on stage. He was due to begin another tour in November 2018, so he really was able to make music right to the end of his life. Now, fellow artists will ensure that his legacy continues.