Charles Aznavour (born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian) died October 1st 2018 in Mouries (France) at the age of 94.
Just 5’3’’ Aznavour was a small giant. He towered over the French chanson for decades and performed well into his nineties.
Charles Aznavour and Gilbert Bécaud were the undisputed icons on my generation. They were about the same age with Bécaud being slightly younger. Aznavour was born in Paris on May 22, 1924 and Gilbert Bécaud on October 24 1927.
Both were talented singer-songwriters who competed fiercely for the limelight.
In the beginning, Bécaud (surnamed Monsieur 100,000 volts) was the undisputed titleholder and when Aznavour started to sing, a lot of people made fun of him because of his unorthodox voice.
Both performers were totally different entities. Bécaud was an exuberant extrovert who roamed the stage and accompanied himself on the piano; he was a consummate showman, “une bête de scène” and always established an easy rapport with his audience.
Aznavour, on the other hand, was not a showman or an extrovert. He was an extremely talented composer but definitely not an “entertainer.” While on stage he seldom moved and uttered very few words between songs.
I personally interviewed him in San Francisco after his show (I think that I still have the cassette somewhere) and he struck me as a little bit arrogant. I asked him why so very few French performers came to San Francisco and his answer was “besides me and 2 or 3 other performers, nobody in France is famous enough to attract a sizable audience.”
Maybe true, but it still struck me as a little bit conceited.
But Aznavour output was prodigious. He wrote an estimated 1000 songs that he performed in different languages in many different countries. When he came to San Francisco in the Sixties, he sang mainly in English and I thought that this was a little odd. I thought that people would come to hear a French singer sing in French, even if they did not understand the lyrics.
I asked him and he said “when I go to Spain, I sing in Spanish; when I go to Germany I sing in German, when I go to America I sing in English. That’s what people want.”
I politely disagree with this. I never wished to listen to Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra in French.
But Aznavour outlived Bécaud by almost 20 years. After Bécaud’s death from lung cancer in 2001, Charles Aznavour became and remained a revered French icon until his death.
An unexceptional singer, but a talented composer and an inspired lyricist. He will be enshrined in the French Artistic Pantheon with the likes of La Môme (Edith Piaf) and Jacques Brel.
A great loss for the artistic world.