Charles Aznavour born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian, on 22 May 1924, he was a French-Armenian singer, lyricist, actor and diplomat. Aznavour was known for his distinctive tenor voice:, clear and ringing in its upper reaches, with gravelly and profound low notes. In a career as a composer, singer and songwriter, spanning over 70 years, he recorded more than 1,200 songs interpreted in 9 languages. Moreover, he wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs for himself and others. If that wasn’t enough there is a lot more to the man.
Aznavour was born at the clinic Tarnier at 89, rue d’Assas in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 6th arrondissement of Paris, into a family of artists living on rue Monsieur-le-Prince. His parents were Armenian immigrants Michael (Misha) Aznavourian was born in present-day Akhaltsikhe, Georgia,and his mother Knar Baghdasarian, was an Armenian Genocide survivor from Adapazarı (in present-day Sakarya, Turkey).His grandfather was a cook of Tsar Nicholas II. Charles’s father sang in restaurants in France before establishing a restaurant specialising in food from the Caucasus called Le Caucase. Charles’s parents introduced him to performing at an early age, and he dropped out of school at an early age , and took the stage name “Aznavour”.
His parents fled to France to escape the massacres that more than 20 countries have recognized as a genocide, a charge strongly denied by Turkey.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Aznavour and his family hid a number of people who were persecuted by the Nazis, while Charles and his sister Aida were involved in rescue activities.
When the Resistance gained momentum in Nazi occupied Paris, the Germans got even more enraged and ruthless. Gestapo tightened its grip on searches and tortures day by day. It was under these conditions that Misha Aznavour, Charles Aznavour’s father, volunteered with the Armenian resistance with great risk to his own life and that of his family.
During an interview Charles once said : “Armenian peddlers, including my father, looked after the stalls of the Jews after they were arrested in the mass deportation of Parisian Jews [“the roundup”] in July 1942. So taking in and hiding Jews in our home during the war was a very natural thing for us to do: they were our neighbors and friends,” he adds. “We had a life together. We were there for them and they were there for us. We had to try to help them, just as it was natural for us to try and help the Armenians who were drafted into the German army and deserted.”
The two Aznavour children, Charles and Aida , who were 16 and 17 at the start of the German occupation in 1940, pitched in to help, not knowing then that they would go on offering shelter to strangers. But then a woman came to the family, asking them to hide her Jewish husband, whose name was Simon. He had escaped from the Drancy internment camp, where the Jews of Paris were sent before being sent to the concentration camps outside of France. For a while, the family also sheltered another Jew, and later on their apartment also served as a hideout for Armenians who’d deserted after being forcibly drafted into the Germany army. Charles and his sister Aida recall that at one stage there were 11 refugees who were all hiding in the family’s apartment simultaneously. They hid in different corners of the house, and at night had to sleep on the floor.
The family prepared false papers for them, and one of the tasks assigned to the two children was to burn the deserters’ German uniforms and dispose of them far from the house.
On October 26,2017 Charles and Aida were given the Raoul Wallenberg Medal , for their family’s efforts to protect Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. They received the honor from President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke of his love of Aznavour’s music, saying “La Boheme” was his favorite song.
In 2011 Aznavour released a song with the title “J’ai connu”
“I knew the chains/I knew the wound/I knew the hate/I knew the hurt/ the thirst and hunger/I knew the fear/from one day to the next.”
The song is told from a perspective of a Jewish victim in the concentration camps.
Charles Aznavour died on 1 October 2018, aged 94. I think it is safe to say that he lived a full life.
While doing the research for this blog I was struggling to find a song to finish up with. I was torn between “She” and “Dance in the old fashioned way” I chose the latter.
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