Charles Aznavour (Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian), the Paris-born Armenian singer-songwriter, actor, and diplomat, who was known as “France’s Frank Sinatra”, died this month, on October 1st, 2018.
Born in 1924 to Armenian immigrants who’d fled to France amid Turkey’s perpetration of ethnic cleansing and genocide against Armenians in the early 20thcentury, Aznavour was raised by a family of artists. His father was a singer, performing in French restaurants prior to opening his own.
Aznavour dropped out of school at a young age of nine to pursue his career as an entertainer — before his 10th birthday, he’d already starred in a movie and a theater production. Despite his young age, Aznavour insisted that he was never pressured or forced to become a performer. To him, it was a natural calling. “People say that they put me on the stage, but I put myself there. It was natural. It was what I wanted to do.”
Aznavour later shifted his focus to professional dancing. He didn’t write his first song until the age of 24 in 1950.
He got his big break when he began opening for the legendary French singer, Edith Piaf. After his distinctive rich, mellow voice caught her attention, Piaf took Aznavour under her wing, mentoring the young virtuoso. Piaf advised Aznavour to pursue a singing career.
Aznavour went on to command a career lasting 80 years. He wrote a whopping 1000 songs, sold 180 million albums, and dazzled audiences in sold-out auditoriums well into his 90’s. He sang in an astounding 8 different languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, and Neapolitan.
Aznavour’s music knew no boundaries, touching upon an eclectic range of themes.
He wrote songs that by any standard were ahead of their time. In “What Makes a Man” (1972), Aznavour sang about a gay transvestite. The lyrics are overall great but especially outstanding are the lines, “Nobody has the right to be; the judge of what is right for me; tell me if you can; what make a man a man.”