American Debut

Edith Piaf, 1915–1963, France’s little sparrow, legendary, iconic singer.

A street performer from the age of fourteen, Edith Piaf burst onto the Paris nightclub scene in 1935. The petite singer captivated French audiences with her unique renditions of chansons réalistes, songs of love, struggle and loss. International renown preceded her American debut at the Playhouse Theater on West 48th Street in Manhattan in 1947, where Piaf headlined a variety show that began its run on October 30. The opening act, Les Compangnons de la Chanson, whom Piaf herself had discovered, were “nine young Frenchmen in white shirs and blue slacks” who showed “how ‘Au Claire de la Lune’ sounds, 1, as played by and American hot band, 2, as sung by a Cossack chorus and, 3, as played by a symphony orchestra.”1Atkinson, Brooks, At the Theatre, Edith Piaf, Minstrel from Paris, and Les Companons de las Chanson in a Variety Show of Continental Entertainers. New York Times, October 31, 1947, p.26. The show was extended through Decemer 6th.2Calta, Louis, Edith Piaf’s Show Will Extend Run, French Variety Program Held Over at Playhouse a Week by Clifford C. Fischer. New York Times, November 25, 1947, p. 38.

Ismar David attended in November, well before the Weizmann Dinner on the twenty-fifth: “I went to the theater yesterday and it was unusually beautiful. Madame Piaf, a French singer, was the main part of the evening. She sang simple songs ravishingly beautifully and accompanied by fantastic facial expressions. In addition, an unbelievably funny French group of nine men appeared. They presented musical parodies for the most part, with a lot of humor and spirit. An athletic group, a dancing couple and an emcee also appeared. All were especially good.”3David, Ismar, Undated letter to Aliza Wirz, 1947. Translated from German. “Gestern war ich in einem Theater wo es ungewöhnlich schön war. Madame Piaff eine Französische Chancon [sic] Sängerin war der Hauptteil des Abends. Sie sang einfache Lieder hinreißend schön u. begleited [sic] von fantastischer Mimic. Außerdem trat eine unglaublich komische französische Gruppe von 9 Man auf die mit viel Humor u. Esprie [sic] hauptsächlich musikalische Parodien vortrugen. Ferner traten eine Athleten gruppe ein Tanzpaar & ein Conferancier [sic] auf. Alle besonders gut.”

Posted in P