Monday, December 21, 2015

Sinatra Comes to Town but Piaf Ignored

Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago this month. He was a bona fide musical superstar - and a very good actor. Whether he was driving the bobby soxers nuts singing with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James or assuring us that he did it his way, no popular American singer came close to Sinatra for style, phrasing, longevity and the ability to switch from swing to jazz to pop.

The tough kid from Hoboken, N.J. played here at least a large handful of times, the last performance at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1991, seven years before he died. Sinatra had had a Hogtown connection for a long time thanks to Ruth Lowe. The hometown songwriter penned his hits I'll Never Smile Again and Put Your Dreams Away. And last month and this there have been Sinatra tribute performances galore in Hogtown - at Koerner Hall, at the Old Mill, at Roy Thompson Hall with the TSO.  Actor-singer Albert Schultz, artistic director at Soulpepper Theatre, has his own show that he's taking on the road: Frankly, Sinatra.

An ocean away, also in December, 1915, another musical legend was born in a hospital in the Belleville district of Paris. Her name was Édith Giovanna Gassion, and that tough kid became known around the world as Édith Piaf. I don't know if she performed in Toronto. If she did it was a long time ago since the French singer died in 1963. I am definitely not a Piaf fan. (I much prefer Juliette Greco, who sang here in June.) Nevertheless, I can't help but remark on the contrast between the noisy celebrations of Sinatra's centenary and the absolute silence hereabouts over Piaf's. She too was a bona fide musical superstar, ranking with Charles Aznavour and Greco as France's best - the brilliant Jacques Brel was a Belgian and is excluded on a technicality. And as recently as 2007, a film of Piaf's life, La vie en Rose, won an Oscar and a Golden Globe, a British Bafta and a French César for Marion Cotillard, the actress who played the singer. I wonder why the big difference.    

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