Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Getting Personal: Édith Piaf

Édith Piaf (1915-1963)
Édith Piaf (1915-1963)

We mark the birth on December 19, 1915 – 107 years ago today – of the French singer and actress Édith Piaf in the Belleville district of Paris.  Born Édith Giovanna Gassion, she came to be considered France’s national chanteuse, one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century, a French combination of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Billie Holiday.  She died in Plascassier, near the French Riviera city of Nice, on October 10, 1963, all-too young at the age of 47.  

Way Too Personal

I will be forgiven for making today’s post personal. (It’s just going to happen sometimes.)

I was first married in August of 1981.  I was 27 and my betrothed was 23 at the time of our marriage.  We were . . . young.  Frankly, chronological years notwithstanding, I was far “younger” than my bride.  Together, we made two wonderful babies: our daughter Rachel, now 36 years old, and our son Samuel, now 32.   Our marriage lasted for seventeen years.  Based on the frankly terrifying statistics out there, our marriage lasted considerably longer than the seven-to-eight-year average of the 50% of marriages that fail in the United States.  

Three years after our breakup, I became involved with another woman, someone who was twenty years my junior.  Yes, the age difference was extreme (and it did not go over well with my ex).  But once again, chronological age meant nothing.  Diane was an old soul, with an emotional age many decades beyond mine.  She was smart, funny, and a brilliant, professional-grade flutist.  I was smitten, besotted, hopelessly and forever taken with her. 

We moved in together in 2000.

On September 11, 2001, our phone rang at a little after 6am Pacific Time; we were still asleep.  It was my daughter Rachel, 15 years old at the time and an early riser, telling us to turn on our television.  We did so and proceeded to watch – like every one of us, with our jaws hanging open – as that awful day’s events unfolded.  (My parents were among the many millions who watched everything live and in real time from their apartment terrace high on New Jersey’s Palisades, overlooking the Hudson River and Manhattan.)

Looking back, it’s difficult to believe – given our present national dysfunctionality – how united we were as a nation during that post-9/11 autumn of 2001.  I can only wish that we could recapture something of that spirit without first having to suffer a national trauma. …

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