Legendary French-Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour dies at 94

By Asbarez | Monday, 01 October 2018

Charles Aznavour, who died on Oct 1, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in August 2017 (Photo by Ara Khachatourian-Asbarez)

Charles Aznavour, who died on Oct 1, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in August 2017 (Photo by Ara Khachatourian-Asbarez)

The world is mourning the passing of legendary musician Charles Aznavour who died on Monday in Paris at 94.

The news of his passing spread like wildfire in Armenia, where hundreds gathered at the Charles Aznavour square in the Moscow Cinema Plaza in Yerevan and laid flowers in memory of the iconic singer, who became a champion of the Armenian Cause and Armenia shining an international light on all things Armenian wherever he went.

In a condolence statement issued on Monday, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared that a “National Hero of Armenia has died.”

“It is difficult to believe that the man who shaped an entire era and history, created love and served his people (because Aznavour used to say that he is 100 percent French and 100 percent Armenian) has died. For 80 years his artistic activities were a source of admiration and inspiration for dozens, hundreds of millions of people on all continents,” said Pashinyan in his message.

“This is truly a painful day for the history of our people and our country. Armenia’s National Hero has died. Charles Aznavour’s contribution to the accomplishment and strengthening of independent Armenia is unforgettable,” added Pashinyan.

In extending condolences on behalf of the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian people, Pashinyan said: “This is a great universal loss, because Aznavour was a man who shaped not only national, but universal values, which for many years will shepherd mankind toward love and solidarity, and will guide people to be righteous.”

Aznavour’s passing also impacted French President Emanuel Macron, who reportedly was a fan.

Throngs of Armenians mourned the death of the singer at the Charles Aznavour Square

Throngs of Armenians mourned the death of the singer at the Charles Aznavour Square

“Profoundly French, but connected with his Armenian roots, recognized all over the world, Charles Aznavour convoyed with his works the joy and sadness of three generations. His masterpieces, his image and light will survive him for a long time,” Macron said on Twitter. He also added that he had invited Aznavour to accompany him to Armenia for the Francophone Summit later this month where a performance was planned.

Immediately following the devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1988, Aznavour gathered his colleagues in the music industry to record “For You Armenia,” to benefit relief efforts for the earthquake. Horizon Armenian Television had exclusive rights to air the music video.

Born Chahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian on May 22, 1924, in Paris, Aznavour was the younger of two children born to Armenian immigrants who fled the Armenian Genocide to France.

He took his first theatrical bow in the play “Emil and the Detectives” at age 9 and within a few years was working as a movie extra. He eventually quit school and toured France and Belgium as a boy singer/dancer with a traveling theatrical troupe while living the bohemian lifestyle.

A popular performer at the Paris’ Club de la Chanson, it was there that he was introduced in 1941 to the songwriter Pierre Roche. Together they developed names for themselves as a singing/writing cabaret and concert duo (“Roche and Aznamour”).

A Parisian favorite, they became developed successful tours outside of France, including Canada. In the post WWII years Charles began appearing in films again, one of them as a singing croupier in Goodbye Darling (1946).

Eventually Aznavour earned a sturdy reputation composing street-styled songs for other established musicians and singers, notably Édith Piaf, for whom he wrote the French version of the American hit “Jezebel”. Heavily encouraged by her, he toured with her as both an opening act and lighting man. He lived with Piaf out of need for a time not as one of her many paramours.

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

In the late 50s, Aznavour began to infiltrate films with more relish. Short and stubby in stature and excessively brash and brooding in nature, he was hardly leading man material but embraced his shortcomings nevertheless. Unwilling to let these faults deter him, he made a strong impressions with the comedy Une gosse sensass’ (1957) and with Paris Music Hall (1957). He was also deeply affecting as the benevolent but despondent and ill-fated mental patient Heurtevent in Head Against the Wall (1959).

Dubbed the “Frank Sinatra of France” and singing in many languages (French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, Portuguese), his touring would include sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall (1964) and London’s Albert Hall (1967).

Aznavour’s chart-busting single “She” (1972-1974) went platinum in Britain. He also received thirty-seven gold albums in all. His most popular song in America, “Yesterday When I Was Young” has had renditions covered by everyone from Shirley Bassey to Julio Iglesias. In 1997, Aznavour received an honorary César Award. He has written three books, the memoirs “Aznavour By Aznavour” (1972), the song lyrics collection “Des mots à l’affiche” (1991) and a second memoir “Le temps des avants” (2003). A “Farewell Tour” was instigated in 2006 at age 82 and, health permitting, could last to 2010.

Aznavour sang for presidents, popes and royalty, as well as at humanitarian events. In response to the 1988 Armenian earthquake, he founded the charitable organization Aznavour for Armenia along with his long-time friend impresario Levon Sayan.

In 1989 song Charles Aznavour composed a song “Pour toi Arménie,” which was recorded by a group of French singers popular at the time. This charity single was intended to raise funds to help the Armenians who experienced the 1988 Spitak earthquake. It sold more than 1 million copies.

In 2009 Aznavour was appointed Armenia’s Ambassador to Switzerland.

“First I hesitated, as it is not an easy task. Then I thought that what is important for Armenia is important for us. I have accepted the proposal with love, happiness and feeling of deep dignity,” Aznavour said.

On 24 August 2017, Aznavour was awarded the 2,618th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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