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My father Mischa Aznavourian, my mother Knar Baghdasaryan and my sister Aida, born in Greece during the journey from Armenia, were temporarily in France waiting for a visa to the US. In fact, my family did not realize at this time that they would settle here indefinitely. I was born on May 22nd, 1924 in Paris. The hospital was located in the 5th arrondissement rue Assas.
My father was a wonderful man, a hard worker but he was more gifted in music than in running a business. His restaurant, Le Caucase, would invite Hungarian orchestras and offer free lunches to the less fortunate and also certain friends. This of course did not last very long since the business made hardly any profit.
My mother, who had a degree in literature, had to take temporary jobs as a seamstress.
However, my parents’ real interest and passion were the shows they produced with their immigrant friends for the diaspora. I grew up surrounded by so much love but with little means. Mischa and Knar were always happy and positive.
I started my career in show business at a very young age, my sister and I making appearances in plays here and there.
Although we left school rather early I have always been proud of my first and only degree a “Certificat d’Etudes”.
It took me another 70 years to get a second one and receive the title of Doctor Honoris Causa in several universities around the world. It is one of my greatest achievements since I always felt a bit uncomfortable with my lack of a higher education.
My father enlisted as a volunteer in the French army in order to honor the country which had welcomed him.
It was a strange war. His only weapon was a mobile kitchen unit. His task was to cook for the troops of foreigners and volunteers. When returning home, he showed true courage by hiding several Armenian and Russian Jewish immigrants from the German Army. At this time I was a teenager and met Missak Manouchian, a leader of the French Resistance and other figures of the “Affiche Rouge”.
At the end of the war my career took off. At school I met a gangly young man, Pierre Roche, a very gifted pianist.
We composed music and wrote lyrics for ourselves and later on for others. Mr Raoul Breton and hiswife nicknamed "La Marquise" by Charles Trenet gave us some valuable assistance. It is thanks to them that we were introduced into French show business and especially to Edith Piaf. I wrote several songs for her and became her manager. From this collaboration grew a very strong friendship. She invited us to tour the USA between 1947 and 1948. Pierre and I settled down for some time in Quebec. During this period, Seda, my first daughter, was born on May 21st, 1947.
Our duet with Pierre worked well; we recorded our first six records (78s) in Québec. We had done over 40 weeks of concerts at the “Faisan Doré” at a rate of 11 shows a week and we slowly became local celebrities. I felt homesick but Pierre was happy to stay in Montreal. Back in France nobody knew who I was and I had to start all over again, but alone this time.
In 1950 I met Gilbert Bécaud. This helped me to become more recognized in France as a songwriter. It was a wonderful period even if the critics were very harsh. What were my faults? My voice, my size, my gestures, my lack of culture and education, my honesty, or my lack of personality. My voice? I cannot change it. The teachers I consulted all agreed I shouldn’t sing, but nevertheless I continued to sing until my throat was sore. My voice developed from a small tenth of an octave to a range of nearly three octaves. I have the capabilities of a classical singer but with a slight “veil” that obscures my voice. My tenacity paid off.
In 1952 I even applied, however in vain, to replace Marc Herrand who was leaving the “Compagnons de la Chanson”. Still, I remained on good terms with them and was asked a few years later to be the godfather of Fred Mella’s daughter, Laurence. To this day Fred remains my very good friend.
The year 1956 marked my first breakthrough as a singer. During a recital in Casablanca, the public’s reaction was such that I was immediately propelled into stardom. For my first show at Olympia, I wrote “Sur Ma Vie” (1956), which became my first popular song. I received more and more engagements and after another three months at Olympia my singing career was firmly established.
I remember one particular evening on December 2nd, 1960 after performing seven songs in front of a very “frosty” public, I sang my last song “Je m'voyais déjà”, which tells the story of a failed artist. At the end of the show the spotlight was on the audience. No applause. Behind the scenes, I was ready to give up. I came out for one last bow and heard all of a sudden the Alhambra alive with roars, applause and cries. It was at last a triumph, …
The following years saw the release of several successful compositions ; Tu t’laisses aller (1960), Il faut savoir (1961), Les comédiens (1962), La mamma (1963), Et pourtant (1963), Hier encore (1964), For Me Formidable (1964), Que c'est triste Venise (1964), La Bohème (1965), Emmenez-moi (1967) et Désormais (1969). Most of these songs refer to love and time passing by.
During this period I also perfomed in several films as an actor.
Mon beau-frère, Georges Garvarentz, un homme de grand talent qui composa beaucoup de belles musiques pour moi.
Following these successes, in 1968 I found love and stability with Ulla , my wife.
Thanks to her, I was able to draw a line and get rid of all the “parasites” surrounding me. We had three children and she still stands by my side to this day. In 1969 my daughter Katia was born, followed a year and a half later by Mischa, my son.
In 1972 I wrote the song “Comme ils disent”. It was the first of its kind dealing with homosexuality in all seriousness and without disrespect. My entourage at the time advised against it, since it could possibly damage my image. But I decided otherwise and took my chance because I felt strongly about this subject and I had to take a stand.
In 1976 I moved to Switzerland with my family and in 1977 my son Nicolas was born.
During this period I was always on the road performing concerts around the world. In 1982 my family and I moved again to live in America for two years, first in Los Angeles and thereafter in Greenwich, Connecticut. In 1984 we moved back to Switzerland in order to fulfill my daughter Katia’s wishes.
The terrible earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988 was a turning point in my life. Having always been very close to my family and adoring my parents, Armenia and Armenians are in my heart and in my blood. It was unthinkable that I would do nothing faced by so much misfortune and suffering. We moved heaven and earth, surrounded by a few followers to respond to immediate needs of the population. I donated all proceeds and rights of the song “Pour toi Arménie” (1989), recorded with the collaboration of more than eighty artists. Since the foundation of ONG “Aznavour pour l’Arménie” (APA) we have continued to support Armenia. In 2001, the authorities named a square in the center of Yerevan, the Armenian capital, after me. They even erected a statue of me in Gyumri, one of the cities most affected by the seism.
In 1995 Gérard Davoust and I acquired the music publishing company “Editions Raoul Breton”. Raoul Breton, the same person who had helped me almost 50 years earlier. It was now my turn to continue the legacy and support the work of talented French composers and songwriters. We have since published and worked with many artists including Lynda Lemay, Sensseverino, Alexis HK, Yves Never, Gerard Berliner, Agnes Bihl.... But most of all I was pleased to have become the publisher of my favorite poet, Charles Trenet.
It took me until the end of the century to devote myself to writing books, starting with a first collection of short stories, “Mon Père ce Géant”. I wrote about sensitive family issues, or comic situations. Then slowly, page after page, I began to write my autobiography and real-life stories. I wanted to share my experience and my innermost thoughts about the work that I am so passionate about. I had acquired a growing taste for writing books, which is quite different from writing songs since it is a slower and more reflective process.
December 26th 2008 the President of the Republic of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, gave me the Armenian citizenship and a year later in 2009 I accepted the position as Ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland. I also serve as a Permanent Representative of Armenia to UNESCO in Paris. I am not trying to boast but I have to admit that for an uneducated son of an immigrant I could have done far worse!
During my eighty year career, I've played in over sixty films; I have composed over 600 songs, sung in eight different languages. Above all I did it with love and dedication and for the pleasure for my audience.