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December 17, 2000

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Both Sides Now

Both sides of the English Channel, that is, as we celebrate the birthdays of two very different musical stars: Sir Noël Coward (December 16, 1889) and Edith Piaf (December 19, 1915).
Selection Source Performer(s) Comments
Capsule Bio (courtesy of MSN Encarta : Sir Noël Pierce Coward (1899-1973), English playwright, actor, producer, and composer, was born in Teddington. 12/16/1889. He was noted particularly as a chronicler of British upper-class life. Coward wrote The Vortex in 1924, produced it in London with himself in the leading role, and in 1925 appeared in it in New York City. From then on his versatility was displayed throughout the English-speaking world.

Among Coward's two-score theatrical works, many of which he produced, directed, and appeared in, are the brilliant plays Private Lives (1930), Design for Living (1932), and Blithe Spirit (1941); the group of one-act plays Tonight at 8:30 (1935); the review Words and Music (1932); and the musical comedy Sail Away (1961). He also appeared in a number of films, including The Scoundrel (1934). His other writings include the autobiographies Present Indicative (1937), Middle East Diary (1945), and Future Indefinite (1954). His writings and music formed the basis of a review staged in 1972, Oh Coward!

Although most of Coward's works are notable for their biting satire and sophisticated wit, they also prove him capable of moving and tender sentiment. His songs, noted for their melodies and clever lyrics, epitomize their era; among the most popular are "I'll See You Again" and "Some Day I'll Find You." Several of his plays have entered the standard repertory, and Brief Encounter (1945), which he wrote and produced, is regarded as a film classic. Coward was knighted in 1970.

Find out more at The Noël Coward Society web site at
Mad Dogs and Englishmen I’ll See You Again (1994) Noël Coward, New Mayfair Orchestra cond. by Ray Noble Recorded 9/20/1932, originally from the revue Words and Music (1932).
Oh, Coward Oh, Coward (OC 1972) Barbara Cason, Roderick Cook, Jamie Ross A medley of some of Coward’s “greatest hits”: Spring, Bright Young People, Poor Little Rich Girl, Zeigeuner, Let’s Say Goodbye, This is a Changing World, We Were Dancing, Dance Little Lady, Room With a View, Sail Away. Oh, Coward started out as A Noël Coward Revue (or “To Sir, With Love”) at the Theatre in the Dell, Toronto, Canada in 1970-1971. The New York premiere under the present title took place on 10/4/1972 at The New Theatre.
Excerpt from Private Lives (1930); Someday I’ll Find You I’ll See You Again (1994) Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, New Mayfair Orchestra cond. by Ray Noble Recorded 9/1930, this includes one of Coward’s classic lines: “Strange how potent cheap music is”. The song is originally from Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet (1929), which received a highly acclaimed production by Hawthorne Players earlier this year.
Mrs. Worthington I’ll See You Again (1994) Noël Coward, New Mayfair Orchestra cond. by Carroll Gibbons Good advice for a would-be stage mother; recorded 7/1935.
The Stately Homes of England I’ll See You Again (1994) Noël Coward, New Mayfair Orchestra cond. by Ray Noble Coward at his most pointedly satiric, from Operette (1938)
Capsule bio: Edith Piaf was born on 12/19/1915 under a gaslight on the night streets of Paris. Her real name was Edith Giovanna Gassion. Her father was an acrobat, performing the streets of Paris, her mother a street singer who effectively abandoned the child in infancy. She was turned over to her grandmother who ran a brothel in Bernay, Normandy. By the time she was three she had contracted meningitis, which left her blind until the age of seven. Her sight was restored after a visit to the shrine of St. Teresa of Lisieux. She began traveling with her father on his circus tours sleeping in trunks and in hallways, her only comfort being a small doll to which she desperately clung.

For years she struggled making a living entertaining passers-by in Paris, literally singing for pennies. There she was discovered in 1935 by impresario Louis Leplee who suggested she change her name to La Môme Piaf ("the kid sparrow”) and adopt the simple black dress which became her trademark. With many problems throughout her career, Edith eventually became the most highly paid star in the world. She made many recordings dating from 1936 until her last recorded song, "L'homme de Berlin", which she taped in early 1963..

Edith did not die a rich woman. In fact she left many debts to her second husband, Theo Sarapo, a man many years her junior, but she lived her short life to the full, living only to entertain her public in the only way she knew how..

You can find out more about Piaf on the web at: and (both sources for this biographical sketch). You can also hear the documentary The Nights of Edith Piaf with RealPlayer at
Tu Es Partout La Vie en Rose (1999) Edith Piaf, Orchestra cond. by Paul Durand Recorded 2/18/1943, from the first half of Piaf’s career. She originally sang this "lost love" classic in the Georges Lacombe film Montmarte Sur Seine (1943). Steven Spielberg used it in Saving Private Ryan as well.
La Vie En Rose La Vie en Rose (1999) Edith Piaf, Orchestra cond. by Guy Luypaerts Recorded 10/9/1946, this is probably Piaf’s best-known song. The lyrics are hers.
Les Trois Cloches La Vie en Rose (1999) Edith Piaf, Les Compagnons de la Chanson Recorded 6/25/1946, this song about how church bells mark the birth, marriage, and death of human being also had some success here in the USA in a translated version (not performed by Piaf, of course).
Les Mômes de la Cloche The Great French Stars - Edith Piaf (1995) Edith Piaf, Jean and Jacques Médinger, accordions Recorded 12/18/1935. this song about Paris streetwalkers was one of Piaf’s first hits and established her as a cabaret star.
Paris - Méditerranée The Great French Stars - Edith Piaf (1995) Edith Piaf, Orchestra cond. by Jacques Météhen From 6/24/1937, this song about a romantic encounter on the Paris-Mediterranean train was also a great success for Piaf.
L’Accordéoniste The Great French Stars - Edith Piaf (1995) Edith Piaf, Orchestra cond. by Wal-Berg From 5/4/1940 and another hit. Ironically, the composer Michel Émer had to use considerable persuasion to get Piaf to sing it at first.

Acronyms and other mysteries defined:

OC: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Cast recording of a Broadway show, along with the date.

OS: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Soundtrack recording of a film, TV show, etc.

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