I was hoping that this exhibition would elucidate what made Édith Piaf become such an iconic French star – the sound of an accordion usually makes me want to bolt. Unexpectedly, I fell in love. She sang of everyday passions, loss and sorrow, channelling a raw emotion that felt as if she carried the collective human experience on her shoulders. No wonder her fans connected and wrote to her as you would to a sister, mother or confidant.
Her personal story saw wealth and success violently clashing with personal tragedy. “Piaf’s fearless and controversial lifestyle often brought her under scrutiny,” says curator Joël Huthwohl, “because she performed during the Occupation she was accused of collaboration, but then acquitted. While she may have been used as a symbol, she was not into politics, she ached to stay close to her copains, and to keep singing.”
Although she was propelled to planetary fame, Piaf’s authenticity and zest remained firmly rooted in the streets, under the Paris sky.
Visit the BNF and fall in love with the ‘La Môme Piaf’ (The Little Sparrow), you won’t regret it.
Tip: Do pick up the free audio guide, the exhibition won’t make sense without it.
Piaf. Until August 23. François-Mitterrand Library, Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Quai François Mauriac, Paris 13th. Métro: Quai de la Gare/ Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand. Open daily 10am-7pm. Sundays 1pm-7pm. Closed Mondays. Price €9. Tel: +33 1 53 79 49 49
From France Today magazine