World renown singer, songwriter, actor, diplomat, activist Charles Aznavour is Armenian! He was born in 1924 in Paris to Armenian immigrant parents and became one of the most popular singers in France, who was recognized as the most outstanding performer of the century and, arguably, one of the most famous Armenians of his time.
Charles Aznavour, of course, was his stage name, and he was born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian. He began performing in Paris at nine years old and when he was 22, he caught the French singer Edith Piaf's eye who brought him on tour throughout France and the US. His first song, “J’ai Bu,” was written in 1950, followed by his other famous love songs, including “La Boheme”, “She”, “Emmenez moi”, “Hier encore”, and “For me Formidable”, which have earned him the title of “France’s Frank Sinatra”. In fact, Aznavour was one of the few European singers who sang a duet with Frank Sinatra!
Charles Aznavour wrote over 800 songs in eight different languages and acted in over 80 films. In terms of Armenian music, Aznavour recorded Armenian folk songs, including Sayat Nova’s “Im Yare” and wrote a song about the Armenian Genocide, "Ils sont tombés (They Fell)". In 2006, he began his “farewell tour” with concerts in the US and Canada as well as in Armenia; 2007 brought concerts in Japan and throughout Asia as well as France, Belgium, and the Netherlands; 2009 brought him to Latin America, 2011 in Russia, 2012 in Georgia, 2013 in London.
In 2014, 2015, 2016 he continued his international tour in Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Madrid, Warsaw, Prague, Moscow, Bucharest, Antwerp, London, Dubai, Montreal, New York, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, Osaka, Tokyo, Lisbon, Marbella, Monaco, Verona, Amsterdam, and Paris. And in the 2018 year, at the age of 94, he continued his tour in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Vienna, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Haiti.
Beyond his singing and performance career, Aznavour was also an influential diplomat and activist. He served as the ambassador from Armenia to Switzerland, where he resided and was the permanent delegate for Armenia to the UN. In Armenia, he is still treated as a bit of a national hero: there is the Charles Aznavour square, a Charles Aznavour Museum, and his Armenian house, in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. In fact, he was given the title of “National Hero of Armenia” and granted honorary Armenian citizenship.
Aznavour's personal life
In 1946, Aznavour married his first wife, Micheline Rugel, which ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Evelyn Plessis, in 1956 which also ended in divorce. Finally, in 1967, he married his third wife, Ulla Thorsell. From these three marriages, he had six children. His daughter - Seda, followed in his singing footsteps and they even recorded a duet together.
His son, Mischa, is an actor and movie producer; and his daughter, Katia, is an actress. While visiting Armenia Aznavour’s son Nikola Aznavour got baptized in Tatev Monastery. “I am very proud that my son decided to get baptized in Armenia. My parents would be so happy to learn that my two sons Misha and Nikola got baptized here, in Armenia, staying committed to their roots,” said Charles Aznavour
A statue of Charles Aznavour is situated in Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, thanking him for the support of his charity, Aznavour for Armenia, during the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake that reduced the city to rubble, killing almost 50,000 people.
During the last 30 years since the earthquake, Aznavour has supported various humanitarian projects in Armenia through his Aznavour for Armenia charity. He was also a board member of the Armenia Fund project which also provided humanitarian and infrastructure support in the country.
Death of Charles Aznavour
To write about such a person in the past tense simply does not work. On October 1, 2018, the great Armenian passed. He was 95. He died in his home in the south of France. His death touched the soul of all mankind. Aznavour sang for all. He was a kind, talented citizen of the whole world. They say that a person lives while they remember his deeds. The name of Charles Aznavour is written in history forever.
Published January 8, 2018
Article by Areknaz Khaligian