Édith Piaf at Carnegie Hall
Édith Piaf was already a global superstar by time she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 1956. She first toured the US in 1947, and her frequent performances on The Ed Sullivan Show made her a familiar face to American audiences. Piaf returned to Carnegie Hall a year after her debut for a second concert, but while both were recorded, only the 1957 performance was released—and not until nearly a decade and a half after her death at the age of 47 in 1963.
At her 1957 concert, Piaf performed many of her best-known songs, such as “L’accordéoniste” and “Padam, padam,” which she prefaced with charismatic descriptions in English for her American audience—although the hit “La vie en rose” required no introduction. (Piaf was perhaps even better known for her rendition of “Non, je ne regrette rien,” which was not recorded until after this performance in 1960.)
Piaf’s signature black dress, sordid past, and cabaret songs of Paris’s underbelly colored the American public’s image of her as a dramatic French chanteuse. The New York Times review of her debut in 1956 called her the “High Priestess of Agony” in a headline reporting “Carnegie Hall Soaked in Tears”; the 1957 concert, too, was noted for its “doleful repertoire.” But despite Piaf’s air of tragedy and penchant for ballads, the effortlessness with which she imparts the songs in the recording of her 1957 performance is practically joyful.
Piaf was due to perform again at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 1959, but ever-intensifying illness forced her to postpone and then cancel the concert. Although she continued to perform around Paris through 1962, she would not be able return to the Hall.
The apocryphal nature of much of Piaf’s story leaves her a mysterious figure in spite of the many biographies and films that claim to document her life. In the midst of the varied canonizations and speculations about the tiny singer from the streets of Pigalle, live recordings become all the more suggestive of something of the woman herself.
Listen to Recordings from Édith Piaf’s 1957 Carnegie Hall Concert
Image courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Rose Archives.