Charles Aznavour (1924-2018)
Arguably, the most famous Armenian of his time, Charles Aznavour (born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian) was a French-Armenian singer, lyricist, actor and diplomat. Aznavour was born in Paris, France to Armenian immigrants Michael (Misha) Aznavourian (born in present-day Akhaltsikhe, Georgia) and Knar Baghdasarian, an Armenian Genocide survivor from Adapazarı (born in present-day Sakarya, Turkey).
His father Misha, the son of a cook of a Russian Tsar Nicholas II, sang in restaurants in France before establishing a restaurant specializing in food from the Caucasus called “Le Caucase”. Charles’s parents introduced him to performing at an early age, and he dropped out of school at age nine, and took the stage name “Aznavour”.
Aznavour was known for his distinctive tenor voice: clear and ringing in its upper reaches, with gravelly and profound low notes. In a career as a composer, singer and songwriter, spanning over 70 years, he recorded more than 1,200 songs interpreted in 9 languages. Moreover, he wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs for himself and others.
One of France’s most popular and enduring singers, Aznavour sold between 180 and 200 million records during his lifetime, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Aznavour also had a long and varied parallel career as an actor, appearing in over 80 films and TV movies.
Aznavour spoke and sang in many languages (French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Armenian, Neapolitan and Kabyle), which helped him perform at Carnegie Hall, in the US, and other major venues around the world.
Artists who have recorded his songs and collaborated with Aznavour include Édith Piaf, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, Bing Crosby, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Dusty Springfield, Liza Minnelli, Mia Martini, Elton John, Dalida, Mireille Mathieu, Serge Gainsbourg, Josh Groban, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, José Carreras, Laura Pausini, Roy Clark, Nana Mouskouri, Julio Iglesias and many others.
In 1998, Aznavour was named Entertainer of the Century by CNN and users of Time Online from around the globe. He was recognized as the century’s outstanding performer, edging out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
In response to the 1988 Armenian earthquake, he founded the charitable organization “Aznavour for Armenia” along with his long-time friend impresario Levon Sayan. In 2008, he was granted Armenian citizenship, and was appointed Ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland the following year, as well as Armenia’s permanent delegate to the United Nations at Geneva.
On 24 August 2017, Aznavour was awarded the 2,618th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Later that year, he and his sister were awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Award for sheltering Jews during World War II. His concert at the NHK Hall in Osaka, on 19 September 2018, would be his final performance, with Aznavour soon dead on 1 October, aged 94.
Aznavour was married three times: to Micheline Rugel (in 1946), Evelyn Plessis (in 1956) and his widow, Ulla Thorsell (in 1967). Five children were produced by these marriages: Seda, Patrick, Katia, Mischa, and Nicolas.