Relatives of French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour follow his coffin carried by French Republican Guards during a ceremony at the Invalides in Paris

France Bids Farewell to Aznavour, its Little ‘Giant’

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PARIS (AFP and Guardian) — France paid a moving national homage on October  5 to the late singer Charles Aznavour, the little man with the very big life.

With honors that are usually reserved for national heroes, one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century was lauded as a cultural giant by the leaders of his two homelands — France and Armenia — at a ceremony in Paris.

 

French and Armenian government leaders participated in the funeral.

Aznavour — who was still touring at 94 — died in his bath on Monday, October 1, just days after he declared that he would like to breathe his last on stage.

He had concerts planned in both Brussels and his hometown of Paris over the next month.

The ceremony at the Invalides began with Aznavour’s coffin, draped in the French tricolor flag, being carried into the cobbled courtyard to the haunting Armenian lament, Dle Yaman, played on a traditional duduk.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said Aznavour knew suffering and “carried the scar of the genocide of his people” which was why “for millions his songs were a balm, a comfort and a cure.”

He praised the singer’s “loyalty to his roots” by throwing himself into helping Armenia recover from a devastating earthquake in 1988 and becoming an ambassador for the country to the UN.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Emmanuel Macron

“Some heroes become French by spilling their blood. This son of Armenian immigrants, who never went to secondary school, knew instinctively that our most sacred sanctuary was the French language,” and used it like the poet he was, Macron added.

Earlier both the Armenian and French national anthems had echoed around the 17th-century Invalides complex which houses Napoleon’s tomb.

Fans lined the streets outside as his family, led by his widow, Swedish-born Ulla Thorsel, took their places at the ceremony, which was attended by France’s last two leaders, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian in Paris in 1924 to parents who had fled the massacres of Armenians in what is now Turkey, Aznavour sold more than 180 million records in a career spanning eight decades and as many languages.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who had called the singer a “national hero,” said “every Armenian thinks of him as a kind of parent who has carried our name to the world and given Armenians a new pride.”

“In France, poets never die,” Macron said, standing before the coffin draped in the French national flag.  “Armenians of all countries, today I am thinking of you,” he said. “He was supposed to be one of us next week in Yerevan, his absence will leave a giant void.”

Macron will travel to the Armenian capital for a state visit and a summit of Francophonie, a loose grouping of French-speaking nations. He revealed on Monday that he had asked Aznavour to join him on the trip.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also delivered a eulogy at the farewell ceremony attended by Aznavour’s family and dozens of dignitaries, including former French Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy and actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Pashinyan hailed the legendary signer as a “great Frenchman” who “breathed a new life into Armenian pride.”

President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects.

Pashinyan also spoke of Armenians’ “special respect” for France. “I want to express the gratitude of the Armenian people to the French state and the French people for giving shelter to Armenian survivors of the genocide [in Ottoman Turkey,]” he said.

In 2004, Aznavour received Armenia’s highest state award, the title of National Hero, in recognition of his support for his ancestral homeland. Then President Robert Kocharyan praised him for “presenting Armenia to the world.”

Kocharyan’s successor, Serzh Sargsyan, granted Aznavour Armenian citizenship in 2008. A year later Sarkisian appointed him Armenia’s ambassador to Switzerland and international organizations headquartered in Geneva. Aznavour played a largely symbolic role in that capacity.

The Armenian government has declared Saturday a day of national mourning.

In France Aznavour’s family are regarded as heroes of the Resistance for risking their lives to hide Jews and Communist partisans in their tiny Paris apartment during the Nazi occupation.

The star — the author of such songs as She and For Me Formidable — got his final standing ovation as his coffin was carried out of the Invalides, with the crowd breaking into spontaneous applause.

Fittingly for a man who was devoted to rhythm and had a genius for describing melancholy, one of the most poignant moments in the ceremony came when the silence of the vast military courtyard was broken by the steady sound of footsteps on cobbles as marchers carried his coffin draped in the French flag with a wreath in Armenian colors.

His coffin was lifted away at the end to the sound of his hit song, Emmenez-Moi (Take Me Along).

People attend the national homage to the French-Armenian singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour broadcast on a giant screen, on October 5, 2018 at the Esplanades des Invalidesin Paris.
Aznavour, 94, was found dead on October 1, 2018 at his home in the southeast, sparking nationwide mourning for an entertainer who sold 180 million records during his eight-decade-long career. / AFP PHOTO

The ceremony recognized Aznavour’s grit, fiendish hard work and determination to keep knocking on doors that were so often, at the start of his career, slammed in his face. French critics had initially dismissed him as repulsively ugly, too short, with a terrible cavernous voice and dubious song titles. His stellar success in the face of adversity was part of his great appeal in France: a national loser who became a winner – someone who was able to pinpoint emotion and magnify it.

The French poet and artist Jean Cocteau once said: “Charles’s true success comes from the fact that he sings more from his heart that from his vocal chords.”

Fans Mourning

Aznavour’s legions of fans have been left heartbroken by his death, while fellow entertainers line up to pay tribute to his influence as a taboo-breaking singer and highly original songwriter.

His songs have regularly been covered or sampled by everyone from Elvis Costello to the rappers Dr. Dre and Sean Paul.

Rock stars Sting and Lenny Kravitz lauded the “eternal” legacy of the “gentleman” of traditional French song, while Elton John wrote on Twitter that he was “honoured” at having sung with the man known as the “French Sinatra.”

Multilingual, Aznavour sang in several languages, and his fanbase spanned the world.

He began writing songs for the legendary Edith Piaf before being catapulted to fame by Francois Truffaut’s film “Shoot the Piano Player” in 1960.

He enjoyed huge commercial success in America, with Bob Dylan saying his Carnegie Hall show in New York in 1963 was the best concert he had ever seen.

Aznavour brought a rare intensity to the stage, turning every song into “a one-act play.” His dramatic style has since become commonplace.

On Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, well-wishers laid flowers on the pavement star bearing his name.

In Paris, the Eiffel tower was lit up in Armenian gold Monday night in his honor, while Mayor Anne Hidalgo called for the French capital to rename a street after him.

The Spendiaryan Opera and Ballet Theater will host two concerts on October 29 and 30 in honor of Aznavour.

The concerts had been planned long ago and Aznavour was expected to participate in the concerts, says Minister of Culture Lilit Makunts.

The idea came in 2017, when the first “For you, Aznavour” concert was organized in Yerevan with the singer present at the event.

“We decided that the concerts should be continuous to pay due tribute to the Great Maestro, says singer and actor Hayk Petrosyan, who performed Aznavour’s songs at the previous concert.

The program will include Aznavour’s most popular songs, including the Armenian translations. The legendary singer’s life and work will also be presented.

Vardan Petrosyan will also participate in the concert as a special guest.

 

 

 

 

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