A century of Charles Aznavour, storytelling crooner who rewrote the French songbook

Singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour would have turned 100 on Wednesday. A giant of chanson française, the French-Armenian artist behind “La Bohème” and “She” left a lasting mark on music in France.

Aznavour had big plans for his hundredth birthday.

“I stopped celebrating my birthdays at 50. I said to my friends: the next time will be when I’m 100, there’s plenty of time,” he told French radio station RTL as he turned 90 in May 2014.

The singer was even planning a spectacular farewell concert, he said the same month.

“I’ve fixed the date. It will be 22 May 2024,” he announced at a special performance for the presidents of France and Armenia in Yerevan.

“You will be there, I hope.”

They wouldn’t: Aznavour died of sudden cardiac arrest four years later, on 1 October 2018.

He received a state funeral watched by nearly one in two French TV viewers, where President Emmanuel Macron declared him “one of the faces of France”.

From clown to crooner

Aznavour’s route to national stardom was far from obvious.

Born in Paris to Armenian parents on 22 May 1924, he grew up fooling around on the piano and writing songs with his sister.

He began performing as an actor aged nine and later turned his hand to dancing, vaudeville and acrobatics in music halls and cabarets.

He struck out on his own in the 1950s, by then writing songs that were as unconventional as his looks.

Read more on RFI English

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