Much-loved French singer Édith Piaf acquired worldwide fame in the 1940s and 1950s with her beautiful, moving and heartfelt French chanson classics including 'La Vie en rose' and 'Non, je ne regrette rien'. What else do we know about this French musical icon? And what are the best-known Édith Piaf songs?


Who was Édith Piaf?

One of the best-loved French musicians of the 20th century, Édith Piaf brought joy to a France exhausted by World War II with her passionate and eloquent songs. Mixing cabaret and chanson styles, Piaf's songs were little vignettes of life and love in contemporary Paris, and her rich, emotional voice was the perfect accompaniment to these perfect little tales.

When was Édith Piaf born?

Piaf was born on 19 December 1915, in Paris. Her father Louis Alphonse Gassion (1881–1944) was an acrobatic street performer from Normandy; her mother, Annetta Giovanna Maillard (1895–1945) was a singer and circus performer born in Italy who performed under the stage name Line Marsa.

What was Édith Piaf's nickname?

Piaf was nicknamed La Môme Piaf (meaning 'the little sparrow') by her first manager, Louis Leplee, owing to her small stature.

What were Édith Piaf's most famous songs?

Some of Piaf's best-loved songs include:

'Non, je ne regrette rien'

Containing one of the most uplifting messages in music, 1960's 'Non, je ne regrette rien' ('No, I regret nothing') is deservedly one of the most famous Édith Piaf songs.

The song describes how the singer has moved on for her past and harbours no regrets from it. 'Car ma vie, car mes joies / Aujourd'hui, ça commence avec toi' ('For my life, for my joys / Today, it starts with you'), Piaf sings upliftingly. The music was composed by Charles Dumont, with lyrics by Michel Vaucaire.

'Hymne à l'amour'

This beautiful song, with lyrics by Piaf and music by Marguerite Monnot, has a tragic genesis. The song was written to Piaf's lover, the French boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was killed in an aeroplane crash in 1949, while travelling from Paris to New York to see the singer. A grieving Piaf recorded six months later, in May 1950.


A great example of Piaf as storyteller, this traditional French chanson follows a working-class fille du port ('girl of the port') who forms a crush on a dapper, aristocratic Englishman (the title's 'milord'). The narrator plucks up the courage to speak to him - about love, which makes him cry. But she cheers him up with the song's rosing finale: 'Bravo Milord! Encore, Milord!'.

'La Vie en rose'

Perhaps Piaf's signature song, 'La Vie en rose' was written by the singer in 1945, and released as a single two years later. With its sighing melodies, jazz rhythms and moving lyrics ('Quand il me prend dans ses bras / Qu'il me parle tout bas /Je vois la vie en rose' - 'When he takes me in his arms / When he speaks softly to me / I see life in pink'), 'La Vie en rose' became a huge hit.

The song won admirers around the world including the US where, in 1950, no fewer than seven versions reached the Billboard charts. Artists covering the song included Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong - the latter one of our best jazz singers of all time.

More recently, 'La Vie en rose' has been covered by the likes of Grace Jones and Bette Midler (both 1977), Donna Summer (1993) and Lady Gaga (2018). In short, it may reign supreme among Édith Piaf songs.

'Padam Padam'

Written for Piaf by Henri Contet (lyrics) and Norbert Glanzberg, 1951's 'Padam Padam' is a catchy waltz with a very simple narrative. The protagonist hears a certain musical melody, which evokes memories of a former lover.

When did Édith Piaf die?

Édith Piaf died on 10 October 1963 near Grasse, southern France, at the age of just 47.


Where is Édith Piaf buried?

She is buried in Paris' Père Lachaise cemetery, alongside composers Georges Bizet and Francis Poulenc, and the legendary soprano Maria Callas.


Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.