The Record
4:15 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

Georges Moustaki, Who Wrote Songs For Edith Piaf, Dies

Originally published on Thu May 23, 2013 7:23 pm

Georges Moustaki, one of France's most beloved songwriters, died Thursday in Nice after a long illness. He was 79. Moustaki was known for infusing French song with sounds from around the world.

In 1959, Moustaki wrote the lyrics to Edith Piaf's international hit "Milord," a song about a working-class girl who falls for an English gentleman. At the time, Piaf was in her early 40s and the handsome Moustaki was in his mid-20s.

Piaf was smitten with Moustaki's music, as well as his great charm. Carolyn Burke, who wrote a biography of Piaf, says the two were lovers. They wrote "Milord" while they were on vacation.

"He started writing words down on a paper napkin. One of them was the word 'milord.' Piaf chose it, drew a circle around it and told him, 'Start from there,' " Burke says.

Although Moustaki did not write the music for "Milord," Piaf liked how his compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France's borders. She sang a number of his songs, including "Le Gitan et La Fille" and "Eden Blues."

Moustaki was born in Egypt to Greek parents and moved to France when he was a teenager. He wrote poetry and worked as a journalist for an Egyptian newspaper. As a solo artist, Moustaki became popular for songs about freedom and individuality. His first hit — "Le Meteque" (or "The Mongrel") — is about being an outsider.

In one of the many tributes being written today, France's culture minister wrote that Georges Moustaki was "an artist committed to humanist values."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

France has lost one of its most beloved songwriters. Georges Moustaki died in Nice after a long illness. He was 79. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Moustaki was known for infusing French song with sounds from around the world.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Georges Moustaki wrote the lyrics to one of Edith Piaf's biggest hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "MILORD")

BLAIR: "Milord," is a song about a working-class girl who falls for an English gentleman. It was written in 1959. Edith Piaf was in her early 40s and the handsome Moustaki was in his mid-20s. Carolyn Burke, who wrote a biography of Piaf, says the two were lovers. They wrote "Milord" when they were on vacation.

CAROLYN BURKE: He started writing words down on a paper napkin. One of them was the word "milord." Piaf chose it, drew a circle around it and told him to start from there.

BLAIR: Although Moustaki did not write the music for "Milord," Edith Piaf liked how his compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France's borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: Georges Moustaki was born in Egypt to Greek parents. He moved to France when he was a teenager. He wrote poetry and worked as a journalist for an Egyptian newspaper. As a solo artist, Moustaki became popular for songs about freedom and individuality. His first hit was about being an outsider. It's called "Le Meteque" or "Mongrel."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: In one of the many tributes being written today, France's culture minister wrote that Georges Moustaki was an artist committed to humanist values. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.