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Meet the Icons of France - Entertainers

Four of France's greatest entertainers

France has always been a leader in popular entertainment. Its biggest stars have always been ‘of the people’ and very, very French.

Meet the entertainers

  1. Édith Piaf
  2. Charles Aznavour
  3. Marcel Marceau
  4. Brigitte Bardot

Édith Piaf

1915 - 1963

Perhaps France’s greatest chanteuse.

“Every damn thing you do in this life, you have to pay for”

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

Born Édith Gassion, the name Piaf was a moniker she adopted later in life – slang for ‘sparrow’. Her father was a street acrobat and her mother left her at birth, to be looked after by grandmother at her brothel in Normandy.

By her mid-teens she was herself singing in the streets, before her talents were spotted by a nightclub owner in the Pigalle area of Paris. She quickly became a draw and after World War Two was in demand, quickly building an international audience. Her big hits included the classics ‘La Vie en Rose’ and ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.

Why an icon?

As a specialist in chanson-style torch ballads about love and loss, Piaf had no equal. Her back story was painful and excoriating and undoubtedly contributed to the authenticity of her songs and writing.

Charles Aznavour

1924 - 2018

One of France’s most enduring and iconic singers – often considered to be ‘France’s Frank Sinatra’.

“My shortcomings are my voice, my height, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my frankness and my lack of personality”

Charles Aznavour (1924-2018)
Charles Aznavour (1924-2018)

An artist of true longevity his career spanned over 70 years with impressive commercial success. He sold 180 million records, with writing credits on over 1,000 songs and performances sung in up to nine languages.

He collaborated extensively with everyone from Sinatra to Elton John, Sting to Placido Domingo and Celine Dion to Fred Astaire. He had started opening for Edith Piaf at Le Moulin Rouge and Bob Dylan even remarked he was blown away by Aznavour’s live performance in later years..

His hits included ‘What Makes A Man A Man?’, ‘The Old Fashioned Way’ and the magisterial ‘She’, released in 1974 and topping the UK charts for four weeks.

Why an icon?

Aznavour was a globe-spanning great performer who sang for presidents, popes and royalty, as well as many humanitarian causes. CNN even nominated him Entertainer of the Century in 1998, nudging out Elvis Presley and Dylan. Iconic indeed.

Marcel Marceau

1923 - 2007

Mime artist and the Master of Silence.


Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)
Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

He played other characters – an innocent child, a stroppy waiter, lion tamer and an old woman. Marceau appeared in several film roles, mute, and only ever had one speaking part, uttering the single word “Non” in the Mel Brooks film ‘Silent Movie’.

Why an icon?

A groundbreaking artist who brought poetry to silence.

Brigitte Bardot

1934 - present

A model and actress who rose to stratospheric fame in the 1950s as an international icon.

“It is sad to grow old but nice to ripen.”

Brigitte Bardot (1934 - present)
Brigitte Bardot (1934 - present)

A cover star from her teens she starred in several films before ‘And God Created Woman’ unleashed the genie from the bottle. The film broke new ground with its daring nudity and sensuality and Bardot forever after was a paparazzi target.

Bardot did not take naturally to international starlet status and she attempted suicide in 1967 on her 26th birthday. Her career was chequered – films with Jean-Luc Goddard, Jeanne Moreau and James Stewart – and she recorded with Serge Gainsbourg.

Other movies included ‘Contempt’ and ‘Viva Maria!’ before she retired in 1973 and turned her attention to animal activism and establishing related charities.

Why an icon?

A groundbreaking starlet in the traditional mould but who went on to redefine the genre.

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