Celebrities and dignitaries gathered in Paris today to say goodbye to Charles Aznavour, the iconic singer known as France’s Frank Sinatra, who died earlier this week aged 94.
The tribute ceremony in the French capital was attended not only by President Emmanuel Macron, but also his two predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the leader of Armenia, the country of Aznavour’s roots.
Pallbearers carried Aznavour’s Tricolour-draped coffin into the courtyard at the Les Invalides military museum where Napoleon is buried in the heart of the French capital.
Aznavour, whose global reach was enhanced by his ability to sing in half a dozen languages, died at his villa in the village of Mouries, in the southern French Alpilles region, in the night of last Sunday to Monday.
The 94-year-old sold upwards of 100 million records during his long career, with his best-known songs – besides the iconic anthem ‘She’ – including ‘Hier Encore’ (Yesterday When I Was Young), ‘Apres l’Amour’ (After Love) and ‘La Boheme’.
Aznavour, born to Armenian parents who fled to Paris in the 1920s, became one of the Armenian diaspora’s most recognised voices and a vocal defender during a performing career spanning eight decades.
Covered by a French tricolor flag, Aznavour’s coffin arrived in the courtyard carried by military personnel to the sound of a traditional Armenian tune.
A spray of red, blue and orange flowers – the colours of the Armenian flag – was then laid close to the coffin.
‘Every Armenian sees him as a close relative,’ Mr Pashinyan said. ‘Because Aznavour is the one who lifted Armenia to the roof of the world.’
Born Shanoun Varenagh Aznavourian, the singer cut the Armenian suffix from his stage name but never forgot his Armenian roots.
He founded Aznavour and Armenia, a non-profit organisation created after the devastating earthquake that hit Soviet Armenia in 1988.
His film credits include Atom Egoyan’s 2002 Ararat, a film that dealt with the 1915 massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
Aznavour campaigned internationally to get the killings formally deemed a genocide.
Speaking after Mr Pashinyan, Mr Macron said that ‘for so many decades, (Aznavour) has made our life sweeter, our tears less bitter’.
‘His songs were for millions of people a balm, a remedy, a comfort,’ Mr Macron said, praising Aznavour for the quality of his lyrics and the promotion of France.
‘French language is not only the cement of a nation, it’s also the catalyst for freedom and hope,’ said Mr Macron, who compared Aznavour to French poet Guillaume Apollinaire.
The ceremony ended with a rendition of Aznavour’s hit Emmenez-Moi, which was played as his coffin was carried away.
Aznavour started his career as a songwriter for French chanteuse Edith Piaf, who took him under her wing.
Like her, his fame ultimately reached well outside France.
The crooner often compared to Frank Sinatra sold more than 180 million records and was one of France’s most recognised faces abroad.
He sang to sold-out concert halls until the end and wrote more than 1,000 songs, including the classics La Boheme and She.
A love ballad, She topped British charts for four weeks in 1974 and was covered by Elvis Costello for the film Notting Hill.
Friday’s ceremony in Paris marked the second time in a year that France has paid tribute to one of its musical stars after hundreds of thousands gathered on the Champs Elysees in December to mourn the death of Johnny Hallyday.