French is Myriam Phiro’s first language, and Edith Piaf her first love. But it wasn’t until she moved to New York from her hometown in a rural area of Quebec a decade ago that Phiro started singing The Little Sparrow’s songs professionally. Phiro put together a cabaret act for the centennial of Piaf, who was born December 19, 1915, and is bringing her cabaret act to Birdland on December 12, to celebrate the release of her new album that pays tribute to Piaf, “Phiro Chante Piaf”
Piaf, who died 56 years ago, is often compared to Judy Garland. Known as a singer and a songwriter, she was also an actress. Playwright Jean Cocteau wrote Le Bel Indifférent (The Cold Handsome) for her. She performed in the Moulin Rouge nightclub in 1944, accompanied by a young artist named Yves Montand, which launched his career.
What’s your favorite story about Edith Piaf?
So many stories! I like that she might have literally been born on the street pavement, as her mother was on her way to the hospital. Although this story might just be a myth (given that her birth certificate states she was delivered at the hospital), it’s a sort of premonition of how hard her life was going to be and in a way, it expresses her eagerness to live. I also like how generous she was to many artists who she helped shape their career and how intuitive she was artistically.
Is it fair to see her as the French Judy Garland? They have many similarities, at least on the surface, including both a celebrated and a tragic life, which ended for both of them at the age of 47.
Yes indeed, there are some similarities, especially when it comes to their artistry. Both were incomparable forces of nature: they each had huge voices which translated emotions so richly and effortlessly. I believe Edith Piaf’s life started in a much less ‘glamorous’ way (although I wouldn’t necessarily choose that word to describe Judy’s life either). Edith was abandoned by her parents, ”raised” in a brothel with poor hygiene which lead her to momentary blindness. Eventually, she did follow in her family’s footsteps (her father, who she later reconnected with, was a street-circus artist. That’s actually how she began performing: in a duo act with him). Like Judy Garland, Edith also had a sister-act, with her sister Simone, but that didn’t last very long and Edith was the only one singing. They both changed their name (Piaf was born ‘Edith Giovanna Gassion’) and I think Edith Piaf didn’t have the same struggle as Judy Garland about her appearance. She knew she was not ‘pretty’ or ‘glamorous’ but I don’t think it affected her as much. Perhaps because she was not as involved in movies as Judy was or that her career was not peaking when she was a child? Edith Piaf became a public figure much later in her life. They both struggled with addiction, which was also encouraged very early on from Piaf’s entourage (I read stories the ladies of the brothel used to fill her milk bottle with red wine to get her to sleep). They also both had numerous affairs. Edith Piaf had one daughter, who died at age 2. Although they both died of addiction-related causes, Edith Piaf never attempted suicide.