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Charles Aznevour Embodied The Very Best Of France

And we will keep loving him as much as he loved us.
CHRIS DELMAS via Getty Images

Charles Aznavour loved France. He sang about France. He was France.

A child of stateless immigrants, he came both from elsewhere and from here, from France and from Armenia, a son of Erevan and a kid from Paris. He embodied the very best of our country.

He became such a legend that we often forget how harsh it was for him in the beginning. He was out of tune and different. His looks bothered, his tone baffled. Many would have quit singing after facing the criticism he suffered. Yet, he imposed himself on his time with his bare hands and voice. His will to surpass himself and his taste for conquest — "this is my Bonaparte side!" he said — were stronger than anything and prevailed him from quitting.

Because Mr. Aznavour loved France.

He loved France and he loved la Provence. We both shared the same love for the region of Arles, the Alpilles, his little corner of paradise. That is where he "rested" — he never stopped working and wanted to sing until he was 100 years old. That is where he passed away, in the night from Sunday to Monday, leaving an entire country orphaned.

At the mere mention of his name, each one of us remembers the Rs he rolled, the violins of his songs, his discretion; those things that were his and that will live on. To every Frenchman and to many others, he was a reassuring figure, a voice that carried us through our joy and pain, a pillar we could always hang on to. We had been so used to his presence that we could not imagine that, one day, he would leave us. He had preceded us and we thought he would survive us. We have not seen the time fly by, and yet today here we are, all alone. He left us in Mouriès, in his house with blue shutters, surrounded by the smell of olive trees.

He loved France, its letters and its words. Eager to learn everything, to know everything, to live everything; he thirsted for knowledge in books. He loved those of La Fontaine, Molière, Guitry and Hugo. He loved to write his memories, declaring, "Writing is a muscle that needs to be maintained."

He loved France and he loved French language, which he declaimed, glorified, magnified. First, on the boards, at the théâtre de la Madeleine, the théâtre de Marigny and l'Alcazar. Then, on film, with Cocteau, Chabrol and Truffaut. And mostly on stage, singing. What he sang was pure poetry, accompanied by a piano, violins and spectacular orchestrations. A comedian, a musician, a magician of words and voice, Charles Aznavour was a total artist.

Five and a quarter feet tall, he was, he is and he will remain one of the greatest giants of la chanson française.

Mr. Aznavour sang about France. He sang about Marseille, Etretat and Paris.

Love, loneliness, happiness and disappointments, always told with a sweet melancholy: his lyrics gave pride of place to introspection and showed disarming lucidity. He knew like no other how to balance frivolity and solemnity. He set his memories to music - the memories of a man who has not forgotten anything. By the look he had on life, by his love for Paris, by his humour too, he was in the eyes of the world the ambassador of a certain esprit français. To know ourselves thus represented is for us an honour.

He sang about every place on Earth — Yerushalaim, Lisboa, Venice and Brasilia — in every language, in a, for me, formidable way. Adored in the U.S., Mr. Aznavour not only sang for those of his time or those of his country, but for the whole world. This universal vocation is the very heart of French culture. It is the very heart of France.

And Mr. Aznavour was France.

By making the French language resonate all over the world, from Royal Albert Hall to Madison Square Garden, Mr. Aznavour was France.

By considering that cultures do not oppose but complement one another, and are a chance for each other, Mr. Aznavour was France.

By campaigning to recognize the Armenian genocide and give his people a memory, Mr. Aznavour was France.

His attachment to our country has never prevented him from remaining deeply faithful to his roots. "Charles will be the honour of the Armenian people, and a glory to France," Missak Manouchian wrote, in 1940.

More than our glory, Charles is our pride.

France will keep singing his songs as much as he sang about France.

France will keep loving him as much as he loved France.

Francoise Nyssen is the French minister for culture

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