Fifty years after Edith Piaf’s death, her signature song “La Vie en Rose” is as famous as it ever was …
When Edith Piaf first wrote “La Vie en Rose,” nobody thought much of it. The delicate ode to a lifelong love was dismissed by Piaf’s friends and songwriting team, who considered it slight in comparison to the rest of her repertoire and unlikely to pique audiences’ interest. How wrong they were. The song would become Piaf’s signature and best-known song, dear to the hearts of postwar Europeans and beloved by generations to come.
For Piaf, “Le Vie en Rose” was a welcome boost to a career that was already successful. Born Edith Gassion in 1916, she was performing by the time she was 14, singing in the streets and working as an acrobat. In 1935, she was discovered and persuaded to sing in the nightclub Le Gerry despite her nervousness about being on an actual stage. The club’s owner nicknamed his newest chanteuse La Môme Piaf, or Little Sparrow. The nickname stuck, and “Sparrow” became part of Piaf’s stage name from then on.
By 1945 Piaf was becoming quite successful, writing much of her own music, performing all over, and even delving into acting. Then, inspired by a conversation with a handsome American man, Piaf wrote her greatest composition. Piaf, perhaps sensing the power the song would come to hold, fought for the song after her peers gave it the thumbs-down. Initially she listened to her critics and put the song away. But a year later, she pulled it out and performed it during a 1946 concert. It struck a chord with the audience, and she continued to perform it until it became a concert favorite and brought her international fame.
Today, 50 years after Piaf’s death, “La Vie en Rose” is as famous as it ever was, thanks to Piaf’s unforgettable original version, as well as dozens of covers and reinterpretations by a wide variety of artists. Today, we pay tribute to Piaf by noting a few of the most notable renditions of her most famous composition.
Josephine Baker played it fairly straight, omitting the introductory verse but retaining the French language and Piaf’s chanteuse style.
Bing Crosby sometimes performed the song in English, but his French-language version is unexpected and lovely.
Louis Armstrong‘s cover includes just a big of singing (in English), while his unmatchable trumpet takes the melody for much of the song.
In the 1970s and ’80s, cover versions began straying a bit further from the original, as in Donna Summer‘s dance-pop interpretation.
As the decades go on, singers will continue to offer their own takes on Piaf’s greatest song. Iggy Pop‘s 2012 version is, perhaps, a sign of what’s to come…
We’ll keep listening as artists of the future reinterpret the classic. But our favorite version of “La Vie en Rose” will always be Piaf’s own.
Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.