World Famous French-Armenian Singer Charles Aznavour Dies at 94

Charles Aznavour died today at the age of 94. Aznavour’s father was an ethnic Armenian emigrant from Akhaltsikhe, Georgia who sang in French restaurants before establishing a Caucasian-themed restaurant in Paris called Le Caucase.

Aznavour began his musical career at an early age. By the time he was nine-years-old he was already performing on stage, but he got his big break in 1946, when the French musical icon Edith Piaf heard him sing and invited him to tour with her in France and the United States.

Aznavour was known for his unique tenor voice. He wrote his first original song in 1950, and over his long-lasting career he recorded more than 1,200 songs translated in eight languages. He wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs for himself and other singers. He recorded 91 studio albums and sold more than 180 million records. He sang in eight languages – French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian and Neapolitan.

He collaborated and worked with world famous stars including Edith Piaf, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo,  Andrea Bocelli, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Bing Crosby, Dusty SpringfieldLiza MinnelliMia MartiniElton JohnDalidaSerge GainsbourgJosh GrobanPetula ClarkTom JonesShirley BasseyJosé CarrerasLaura PausiniNana Mouskouri, and Julio Iglesias.

Aznavour had a long and varied parallel career as an actor, appearing in more than 80 films and TV movies. In 2017, Aznavour was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Until the end of his life, Aznavour continued performing worldwide and his dream was to perform on stage on his 100th birthday.

Aznavour gave several free, open air concerts in Yerevan. On August 16, 2006 he performed in his father’s birthplace of Akhaltsikhe, Georgia where part of the concert was broadcast by the Georgian Public Broadcaster.

Though Aznavour spent all his life in France, he was deeply connected with Armenia. In interviews, he would often call himself 100% Armenian and 100% French – a Frenchman who speaks Armenian and an Armenian who speaks French. Aznavour significantly contributed to the relief effort after the catastrophic earthquake in Spitak, Armenia in 1988. Aznavour began a charity campaign called “Aznavour for Armenia” to raise money for those effected by the tragedy. He consistently advocated for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide worldwide, while simultaneously calling for Armenian-Turkish reconciliation.

Aznavour was also involved in political and diplomatic spheres. In 1995 he was appointed as Ambassador and Permanent delegate of Armenia to UNESCO. In 1997 he received the highest state award of France, the “Légion d'honneur,” and in 2004 the highest civilian award in Armenia – “National Hero of Armenia.”

In December 2008, then-President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan signed a presidential decree granting Armenian citizenship to Aznavour and, in 2009, at the age of 85, appointed him as Armenia’s ambassador to Switzerland. There is a public square named after Aznavour in the center of Yerevan. In the town of Gyumri, which was devasted by the 1988 earthquake and where much of the aid from Aznavour for Armenia was directed, there is a public square with his name along with a statue.

Despite his official role as Ambassador of Armenia, Aznavour openly criticized the Sargsyan regime, saying that the country was under the rule of the mafia.

During this spring’s Velvet Revolution, Aznavour called for peaceful dialogue between the government and the revolutionaries. Two days before Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation, Aznavour addressed Armenian citizens, saying “Although I am far, my heart is in Armenia. I am very concerned with the situation in Armenia and I call on all sides to sit around the table of dialogue and find a solution to avoid violence.”

Just after the news of Aznavour’s death broke, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held a Facebook live session where he said, “It is a very sad day for our country, and our nation. A national hero of Armenia and great patriot of Armenia, Charles Aznavour, has died. I send my condolences to all of us, to all Armenians worldwide, to the people of France, and to the fans of Aznavour living worldwide. This is a great loss for Armenia and the Armenian people, and a great loss for France and the people of France, and this is a big loss for humanity, as Charles Aznavour was a man who created not only national but also super-national values which will lead humanity for many ages to love and reconciliation.”

A short time later, Emmanuel Macron wrote on his Facebook page, “Deeply French, viscerally attached to his Armenian roots, recognized throughout the world, Charles Aznavour will have accompanied the joys and sorrows of three generations. His masterpieces, his stamp, his unique radiance will survive him for a long time. I invited him on my trip to Yerevan for the summit of the French-speaking world, where he was to sing. We will share with the Armenian people the mourning of the French people.”


By Karen Tovmasyan

Photo: Reuters

01 October 2018 19:52