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French Singer Charles Aznavour Dies at 94; Family Saved Jews from Nazis



French singer Charles Aznavour, who stole the hearts of millions with decades of haunting love songs, has died aged 94, his spokeswoman said on Monday.

Aznavour passed away overnight at one of his homes, in the village of Mouries north of the French port city of Marseille.

The singer, who sold more than 100 million records in 80 countries, began his career peddling his words and music to the Paris boulevardiers of the 40s and 50s: Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trenet.

The singer had planned to go back on tour later this month, starting with a concert in Brussels on October 26, according to a Times of Israel report.

He was scheduled to play in Tel Aviv next July, having played a hugely successful concert there last year. On that visit, he was honored in Israel for his family’s efforts to protect Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. He received the honor from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke of his love of Aznavour’s music, saying “La Boheme” was his favorite song.

Rivlin presented him with The Raoul Wallenberg Award, named for the Swedish diplomat who helped thousands of Jews flee Nazi-controlled Hungary during World War II, according to the Times of Israel report. Aznavour’s family “hid a number of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, while Charles and his sister Aida were involved in rescue activities,” Rivlin’s office said.

“We have so many things in common, the Jews and the Armenians, in misfortune, in happiness, in work, in music, in the arts and in the ease of learning different languages and becoming important people in the countries where they have been received,” Aznavour said at the time.

Sometimes described as France’s Frank Sinatra, Aznavour was born in Paris on May 22, 1924, to Armenian parents — his birth name Shahnour Aznavourian.

He grew up on Paris’ Left Bank and began performing at the age of nine. His father was a singer, cook and sometime restaurant manager, and his mother an actress. His first public performances were at Armenian gatherings where his father and older sister Aida sang and Charles danced.

Short in stature at 160 cm (five foot three inches), Aznavour possessed a magnetic stage presence that brought rapt audiences to their feet at venues such as the Olympia in Paris and New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Fans admired his mature storytelling ability and quavering vibrato voice, rich in sensitivity and range.

“I have the kind of voice that gels with the type of songs I write,” wrote Aznavour in his biography.

His ability to perform in French, Spanish, English, Italian and German helped.

As a student, French President Emmanuel Macron was a big fan of Aznavour and sang his songs at karaoke nights, according to former classmates.

But it became evident that Aznavour himself best interpreted the bittersweet emotions of such songs as “Hier Encore” (Yesterday When I Was Young), “Apres l’Amour” (After Love) and “La Boheme”. Others were “She” and “Formidable”.

In his autobiography, “Aznavour by Aznavour”, he recalls that after a period trying to play the role of a tough guy, he was goaded one evening into climbing on the bandstand to sing.

“There, I had a revelation. I saw that the girls looked at me much more, their eyes moist and their lips apart, than when I played a terror… I was only 15 or 16, but I understood,” he wrote.

By: Edmond Taylor

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