LA VIE EN ROSE
The song that turned into an anthem of hope and the iconic woman who wrote it
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
16 May 2019
La Vie en Rose is one of the most beloved songs written by Édith Piaf in 1945 and composed by Marguerite Monnot and Louis Guglielmi (Louiguy). The French ballad became famous due to its meaning and release period. The title translates to English as 'Life in Pink' or 'Life Through Rose-coloured Glasses'. The lyrics tell a story about finding a new love after experiencing a very hard time. La Vie en Rose was released shortly after the end of World War II, which is why many people loved it instantly and adopted its meaning as an anthem of hope.
The song uses simple vocabulary but transmits a heartfelt experience of new love and the hope for a future that holds warmth and excitement. In the times of recovery from a dreadful war, the lyrics reached many people and reminded them how important it is to hold on to hope, to love and to that rose-coloured life lenses.
La vie en Rose remains an iconic song to this day - legacy of the outstanding woman, who wrote it. This is what you might not know about the French songwriter and globally known performer Édith Piaf.
Who was Édith Piaf?
Born as Édith Giovanna Gassion on 19th December 1915, the French vocalist adopted the pseudonym Édith Piaf. In French slang the word piaf means sparrow or a small bird. Yet, to the world 'Piaf' has turned into the name of one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century. Cabaret performer, vocalist, songwriter and a film actress, Édith Piaf became one of the most famous international French stars.
Many biographies were written about the singer and yet the majority of her life remains unknown. A legend states Édith Piaf was born on the pavement of Rue de Belleville 72. However, her birth certificate points at the Hôpital Tenon as the place she was born in. Her father Louis Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944) had experience in theatre and made his living as an acrobatics street performer. Édith's mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945), adopted the name Line Marsa and worked as a café singer. She was half French - from her father's side, while her mother was a descendant of a family from Italy and Morocco with Shilha Berber origins.
Piaf was abandoned at birth by her mother. In 1916 her father got enlisted to join the French Army and fight in World War I and sent Édith to his mother, who was running a brothel in Bernay, Normandy. When Piaf became 14 in 1929, she joined her father's acrobatic troupe and performed across all of France. This is when she first sang in public. The following year she met Simone "Mômone" Berteaut, who was supposedly her half-sister, and the two began earning their money by touring the Paris suburbs and the streets of France.
In 1932 Piaf fell in love with Louis Dupont, who quickly moved in with her and Mômone, despite the dislike the two had for each other. Louis was constantly finding jobs for Édith, trying to convince her to stop roaming the streets, but she didn't listen. At the age of 17, Édith gave birth to a baby girl, but alike her mother, she found it hard to take care of a child. The baby died two years later, and Piaf returned to street singing.
Louis Leplée - the owner of Le Gerny's nightclub, discovered Piaf in 1935 in the Pigalle area of Paris. Inspired by her height of only 142 centimetres, he gave her the nickname La Môme Piaf (The Little Sparrow) that would turn into the singer's worldwide known stage name. Leplée tutored her on stage presence and recommended her signature look of always wearing black, which she did until the rest of her life. Louis Leplée had major public presence and network connections. The gigs in his nightclub lead Piaf to her first two records, including a collaboration with Marguerite Monnot - one of Édith's favourite composers.
Leplée was murdered in 1936 by mobsters, previously tied to Édith. She was accused for accessory but released after questioning. To restore her career and public image, the singer recruited Raymond Asso, with whom she later developed a romantic relationship. He changed her stage name to "Édith Piaf" and commissioned Monnot to write songs that brought the attention to her previous life on the streets of France. During the German occupation of Paris, Piaf formed friendships with high-profile individuals, including Yves Montand, whom she also collaborated with. With time Montand became among the most popular singers in the country, almost as famous as Piaf herself. This was speculated as the reason she ended their relationship. Yet, Édith's success had grown after the war and she began touring internationally in South America, the United States and Europe.
In 1945 Piaf wrote La Vie en Rose, which became her signature song. In 1998 it was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Other famous songs of the notable French singer include "Hymne à l'amour" (1949), "Milord" (1959), "La Foule" (1957), "Non, je ne regrette rien" (1960) and more. What is typical for Piaf's music is the fact that it was often autobiographical revolving around dear to her heart themes such as loss, love and suffering.
Several films and biographies were made since Piaf's death in 1963, studying her life and legacy. Among those is the winner of the 2007's Academy Award film by the name of La Vie en Rose. Édith Piaf remains in history as the name of an icon and one of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century.