French-Armenian singer, songwriter, actor, and diplomat Charles Aznavour was born on May 22, 1924. He was born in Paris to Armenian and Turkish parents and his real name is Shahnour Vaghenag Aznavourian. His father owned an Armenian restaurant and club and Charles dropped out of school at age 9 intending to make show business his life. When Edith Piaf heard him sing in 1946 and adopted him like a new puppy, his career was set.
Aznavour’s voice bridges the range between tenor and baritone. He has sold over 100 million records and composed over 1,000 songs – in French, English, Italian, Spanish, and German. His beautiful melody “She” was an enormous English language hit. I always figure someone’s made it really big when he or she is invited to sing with puppets; here’s Aznavour singing “Dance in the Old-fashioned Way” on the Muppet Show. My favorite Aznavour standard is “La Bohème”. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Aznavour has been flattered by the best in the business – virtually every major recording artist for the past 60 years has re-recorded an Aznavour hit. In 1998, he was named as CNN Entertainer of the Century, beating the Beatles, Elvis, and anyone else you would have predicted – even his mentor Edith Piaf. Aznavour’s been engaged on a farewell tour since 2006, but after 60 years as a performer, he has a lot of people to say goodbye to.
In 2008, he was made an honorary citizen of Armenia, and the following year he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for his artistic and humanitarian work. He serves as the Armenian representative to UNESCO and has been active in charities to help the impoverished country since it was ravaged by an earthquake in 1988. Aznavour has also acted in more than 60 movies. Most recently, he added his golden voice as the curmudgeonly Carl Fredricksen in the French version of Up, La-Haut. Aznavour currently lives in Switzerland, where he serves as the Armenian ambassador.
Today’s expression, c’est la voix du sang qui parle (seh lah vwah due sahn key parl) literally means “it’s the voice of the blood that speaks.” We’d say “it’s in the blood” when referring to an inherited trait, talent, or passion. Aznavour seems to have inherited both his supple voice and passion for his homeland from his father.