|Emmanuel Macron stands behind the coffin of Charles Aznavour. Photograph: Yoan Valat|
'In France, poets never die': Macron pays tribute to Aznavour
‘Son of immigrants’ likened to Apollinaire and praised for his cultural contribution to France
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Friday 5 October 2018
France has given a full state farewell to Charles Aznavour, the singer-songwriter hailed as one of the greatest variety performers of the 20th century, as president Emmanuel Macron lauded the son of Armenian refugees as one of the most important “faces of France”.
Aznavour, who died this week, aged 94, was a lyricist who shaped and defined French popular culture for decades and became one of the best-known French singers in the world, often using catchy melodies to explore despair and challenge taboos, from prejudice against gay people to the problems of masculinity and depression.
In a career that lasted more than 70 years, he recorded more than 1,200 songs, sold in excess of 180m records and appeared in more than 60 films. He was still touring and performing on stage until his death and had often said he wanted to live to 100 or die on stage.
|Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron follow the coffin of Charles Aznavour, alongside his family, in Paris, Photograph: EPA|
At a pomp-filled state ceremony at Les Invalides military complex in Paris, where Napoleon is buried, Macron praised Aznavour’s lyrics, which he said appealed to “our secret fragility”. He said the singer’s words were “for millions of people a balm, a remedy, a comfort ... For so many decades, he has made our life sweeter, our tears less bitter.”
Likening Aznavour’s literary genius to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Macron said: “In France, poets never die.”
Crucially, the French president also hailed Aznavour as an example of how much children of immigrants and refugees can give to their adopted country.
|Parisians watch the national homage to Aznavour broadcast on a giant screen at the Esplanades des Invalides in the French capital. Photograph: Lucas Barioulet|
Aznavour was born Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian in Paris on 22 May 1924 to an Armenian actor father and singer mother who had fled the massacres in their homeland as the Ottoman empire collapsed. He left school and became a child actor aged nine. Later, he survived the German occupation of Paris singing in cabarets, while his parents hid fellow Armenians, Jews, Russians and Communists in their apartment and his father joined the resistance.
“He knew that the real France was a France of welcome,” said Macron of Aznavour’s mixed heritage and embracing of French culture. “This son of immigrants, who had not studied, knew that in France … the French language was a sanctuary more sacred than any other.”
|Former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (left) and François Hollande, with Sarkozy’s wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, attend the homage. Photograph: Christophe Ena|
Alongside Macron, the Armenian prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said Aznavour had given fresh momentum to Armenian pride: “He brought to life the aspirations of Armenians, and so was declared a national hero for his songs and services to Armenia.”
Fittingly for a man who was devoted to rhythm and had a genius for describing melancholy, one of the most poignant moments in the ceremony came when the silence of the vast military courtyard was broken by the steady sound of footsteps on cobbles as marchers carried his coffin draped in the French flag with a wreath in Armenian colours.
His coffin was lifted away at the end to the sound of his hit song, Emmenez-Moi (Take Me Along).
|People watch the ceremony in Paris. Photograph: Lucas Barioulet|
The ceremony recognised Aznavour’s grit, fiendish hard work and determination to keep knocking on doors that were so often, at the start of his career, slammed in his face. French critics had initially dismissed him as repulsively ugly, too short, with a terrible cavernous voice and dubious song titles. His stellar success in the face of adversity was part of his great appeal in France: a national loser who became a winner – someone who was able to pinpoint emotion and magnify it.
The French poet and artist Jean Cocteau once said: “Charles’s true success comes from the fact that he sings more from his heart that from his vocal chords.”