Charles Aznavour: A Century of Performance

One year after his death, the “last of the giants,” is still on stage

By Rachel Melikian

He was short, plain and not conventionally attractive, yet against the odds, he climbed to the global heights and was named “France’s Frank Sinatra” and global “Entertainer of the Century,” surpassing Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan in popularity. He had the honor of having a military funeral, was decorated with the highest national honors and received a presidential eulogy, on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, at Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides, a historic military complex in Paris.

After his death, he was praised. “In France, poets never die,” President Emmanuel Macron said of Charles Aznavour. Therefore, the legendary Charles Aznavour will never die, he is an eternal flame. When Aznavour died, the Eiffel Tower was lit up gold instead of its usual colors as a tribute to him, and the flags of Armenia were kept at half-staff on the day of his funeral in Armenia. Aznavour was a global entertainer. He was known as the “French Pop Deity,” “France’s most beloved entertainer” and France’s  “most famous musical export.” He, Charles Aznavour, is an Armenian legend.

He did not have a higher education because he left school at the age of 9, yet Aznavour sang in over eight languages and became the longest standing ‘A list star.’ Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone Aznavour was “among the greatest live performers he’s ever seen.” Frank Sinatra and Aznavour also collaborated together on a duet, “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

“My shortcomings are my voice, my height, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my frankness and my lack of personality…” Aznavour said. Amazingly, he became a legendary icon, crooner, artist, singer, lyricist, composer, Oscar-winning actor, prolific songwriter, diplomat, Ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland, and to the United Nations’ Permanent Mission in Geneva. Incredibly, Aznavour achieved all of this after only receiving a minimal education.

Although Aznavour was a child actor he did not become famous overnight. He started singing in night clubs and received bitter criticism for 15-16 years. Finally, Aznavour triumphed over all his critics the night of December 2, 1960. As usual, he sang without any anticipation, and there was no response from the audience. His last song was about a failed artist. He thought he needed to give up, when suddenly the audience roared, applauded, and cried.

Because Aznavour felt that “the audience is part of my family,” he bewildered them with his amazing singing style, by drawing the audience into a story-telling about love and pain. They loved his amazing voice that rang the upper reaches clearly and the low notes profoundly, and passionately expressed both the happy and sad side of the love story.

He originally had a terrible cavernous, raspy hoarse voice as described by the critics, yet he worked hard to improve his voice and as a result, Aznavour got inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, sold over 180 million albums worldwide, and wrote over 1,400 songs for himself and for many other famous artists. Elvis Presley sang Aznavour’s hits; Aznavour wrote for Frank Sinatra; Sting and Liza Minelli had duets with Aznavour; Eminem and Dr. Dre sampled Aznavour’s songs.

Aznavour dedicated his song “Ils Sont Tombés” (“They Fell”) to the Armenian Genocide victims. He was born right after the Armenian Genocide ended when no mention of Armenia or the genocide was uttered. But when he died the global media mentioned that Aznavour was an Armenian and the media discussed the Armenian Genocide. Aznavour’s death broke the silence on the Armenian Genocide.

Despite being born into a dying culture when its star was dimming, Aznavour received a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 2017 and the symbolic key to Los Angeles in 2016.

Despite being born to Armenian Genocide survivors, during Aznavour’s funeral all three past and current French presidents were present with their respective wives; Emmanuel Macron, François Hollande, and Nicolas Sarkozy. Armenia’s President Armen Sarkissian, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s Pope His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II, and dozens of other dignitaries, famous people and stars were also present to give their final respects to an icon.

Looking over the period of Aznavour’s life, we see an amazing transformation. When Aznavour was born Armenia was not an independent country. He was born in France while his parents were trying to seek refuge in the United States. Yet despite Aznavour’s humble beginnings, over the course of his lifetime he effected large enough changes that by the time of his death, he was remembered by the world. Aznavour’s coffin was draped with France’s flag and carried by the French military, in front of Napoleon’s tomb, an incredible honor. While they were marching with his coffin another group of soldiers carried wreaths in the shape of a coffin made of red, blue, and orange roses to symbolize the Armenian flag. Despite Armenia’s voice being silenced over the past century, the French military band played both the Armenian and French national anthems with Armenia’s flag standing proudly next to the French flag.

Aznavour mesmerized the world for eight decades. He was still filling major venues all over the world and amazingly was still touring around the globe very successfully when he died at the age of 94 of natural causes. The world saluted the great maestro, Charles Aznavour, whom France named the “last of the giants,” and who raised Armenia from the ashes to global heights.

Rest in peace, Monsieur… Your music and efforts for humanity will be remembered for generations to come. Former president of France, François Hollande tweeted, “Charles Aznavour has just said adieu, but for us, he will always be on stage.”

For those who’d like to experience Aznavour’s artistry first-hand, you can see and hear some of his taped performances on YouTube here and here. Further, to underscore the respect and affection in which this famous artist was held, watch the following two video clips on YouTube: here and here.

Rachel Melikian is former GCC Woman of the Year.

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