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 France’s most popular singers, was recognized as the most outstanding performer of the century and is arguably one of the most famous Armenians of his time.
Charles Aznavour, of course, is a 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 eye of French singer Edith Piaf who brought him on tour with her 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!
Now, at 93 years old, his singing performance career still continues and thus far he has written over 800 songs in eight different languages and has 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 this year, at the age of 93, his tour continued in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Vienna, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Haiti.
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 current wife, Ulla Thorsell. Of his six children from these three marriages, his daughter, Seda, has followed in his singing footsteps and they even have recorded a new duet.
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
Beyond his singing and performance career, Aznavour is also an influential diplomat and activist. He serves as the ambassador from Armenia to Switzerland, where he currently resides and is the permanent delegate for Armenia to the UN. In Armenia, he is 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 has been given the title of “National Hero of Armenia” and granted honorary Armenian citizenship.
In Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri, there is a statue of Charles Aznavour, 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 is also a board member of the Armenia Fund project which also provides humanitarian and infrastructure support in the country.
In this way, it is thanks to Armenia that the world has Charles Aznavour, and Armenia is thankful to have a hero like Charles Aznavour!
Published January 8, 2018
Article by Areknaz Khaligian