Charles Aznavour


Beloved French musician Charles Aznavour initiated at the age of 82 his farewell worldtour at the Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2006, performing in the US Latin America and Canada, earning very positive reviews. Aznavour had concerts scheduled all over the world and for the second half of 2007 he returned to Paris to perform in 20 shows at the Palais des Congrès. He has repeatedly stated that this farewell tour, health permitting, will likely last beyond 2010.

Profile by Victor Alling
Photography by Mart Engelen

Charles Aznavour was born in Paris, his official birth name was Shahnour Varenagh Aznavour i an.Hi s parents, Misha and Knar Aznavourian, were Armenian migrants fleeing Turkish oppression to Paris where they ran a small restaurant in Rue de la Huchette to support the family. But their real love was their art, he being a baritone singer, she an actress, and the Aznavourian family lived in an atmosphere of music, of theatre and poetry.
“They abandoned their dreams in order to raise us. They came to France not knowing the language, and with no money”. You could say that this background has politicised Aznavour, but he rejects the word. “Not political, no. I hate politics. But social.” Yet on the evidence of what he says about (parts of) Turkey’s denial of the so-called Armenian holocaust in 1915, in which more than a million are thought to have died, he is thoroughly engagé. “They don’t want to recognise it,” he says. “But they will need to do so one day, not only for us, but for themselves.”
When Armenia was terrible hit by an earthquake in 1988 , Aznavour and Levon Sayan found the charity “Aznavour pour l’Armenie”.
Aznavour acting career took of at the age of nine in the play called “Emil and the Detectives”. For a few years he was working as a movie extra but eventually he quit school and toured France and Belgium as a boy singer / dancer with a traveling theatrical troupe. In 1941 he met the songwriter Pierre Roche and they started working together as a cabaret and concept duo “Roche and Aznamour”. A Parisian favorite, this is when he met Edith Piaf who took them on to perform in Canada where they developed successful tours outside of France.
Eventually Aznavour earned a sturdy reputation composing street-styled songs for other established musicians and singers, notably Édith Piaf. Encouraged by her, he toured with her as both an opening act and lighting man.
“It is not that Piaf helped me, but I helped myself by learning things from her. Many things. Watching people, you know, that’s much more instructive than asking something. That way you know what is better for you and what is not. I used to do everything with her – driving her car, taking care of the [stage] lighting, writing songs”.
“So yes, she was one part of the influence. It was Chevalier for the career, how to be professional, Trenet for the writing, just because he was so good at it, and Piaf for the pathos. Her personality, the singing and the dancing. The living, the drinking, the having fun, you know. She was a very funny woman. It doesn’t show that in the movie (La Vie en Rose in 2007), but she had a great sense of humour and we were laughing always. She was funny and joyful and we had a great time and we never went to sleep before three or four in the morning.”
The following years to come he brought a string of hits including “She,” which stayed at Number 1 in the British charts for many weeks, the recording received gold and platinum status, which was a first for a French artist.
Charles Aznavour has written more than 800 songs, he has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, and his career as an actor includes more than 60 films, including “The Tin Drum,” winner of the Palme d’Or at the Festival de Cannes back in 1979.
He recently released a new album “Duos”, a fine collection of some of his greatest songs recorded as duets with an international gallery of singers including Celine Dion, Bryan Ferry, Sting and many others. On his tour to Brazil Aznavour found himself traveling on the same aircraft as President Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni. Sarkozy was going to a trade conference; Aznavour was going to perform. “I don’t know Bruni’s music,” he says, “but I thought she was very nice with him [Sarkozy]. He needs that. She calms him.” “Live now. Tomorrow, who knows? The public and the critics sensed my passionate devotion to my profession. My love of the chanson towered above my other loves. My shortcomings are my voice, my height, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my frankness and my lack of personality”.
When Haiti got struck in January 2010 by a powerful earthquake, which was the largest quake to hit the Caribbean Country in 200 years, it was Aznavour and Youssou N’Dour who gathered dozens of French pop stars and rappers to record a music video to raise funds for Haiti.
He denies that he has retired from performing. “A newspaperman said that, but it’s wrong. I said I was stopping the tours. I used to do 220 or 230 galas a year, but not any more. Now I do one day here, one day there.”