French singer Charles Aznavour dies at the age of 94

The singer was awarded the Wallenberg medal in 2011 in honor of his parents, who saved Jews during the Second World War.

Charles Aznavour chantera à Tel-Aviv (photo credit: DR)
Charles Aznavour chantera à Tel-Aviv
(photo credit: DR)

Beloved French singer Charles Aznavour has died at age 94, his spokeswoman said on Monday.


Aznavour, dubbed the ‘French Frank Sinatra,’ died overnight at one of his homes, in a French village north of Marseille.


The singer, who sold more than 100 million records in 80 countries, began his career writing songs for famous French performers in the 1940s and 50s.


But when he began performing his own tunes, he rose to international levels of fame, known for songs like “Hier Encore” (Yesterday When I Was Young), “Apres l’Amour” (After Love), “La Boheme,” “She” and “Formidable.”


Aznavour, who was born in Paris to Armenian parents, visited Israel many times over his career, including three times in the past decade. He performed in Tel Aviv in 2013, 2014 and 2017. In June, Aznavour announced a global 95th birthday tour, that was slated to include a stop in Tel Aviv in June 2019.


But his ties to the Jewish state date to long before that as well. Aznavour reportedly visited Israel in 1948, just after the creation of the state – an anecdote he has repeated many times. In 1957, the singer opened at the Olympia in Paris for a group of Israeli singers known as the Arava Trio.

In 2011, Aznavour received The Scopus Award from the French Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his cultural contribution. The singer’s 2013 show in Tel Aviv was billed as a peace concert, and he shared the stage with Achinoam Nini, a singer and longtime peace activist.


On Monday evening, Nini eulogized the legendary singer on her Facebook page.“Charles Aznavour is gone – a man of great talent, values and courage,” she wrote. “A real artist, who throughout his career, alongside breathtaking music, fought for the recognition of the suffering of the Armenian people... his people... Rest in peace, great man. The world is a lesser place in your absence.”


Ahead of his 2013 concert, Aznavour met with then-president Shimon Peres to discuss peace. Before his 2014 show, the singer held a bar mitzva at the Western Wall for his grandson, who is Jewish.


It was revealed in recent years that during World War II, Aznavour’s parents hid Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of France. Aznavour, and his sister Aida, gave up their beds for the new guests and took part in what their parents were doing.


In 2017, the singer and his sister were awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Medal from President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony in Jerusalem. During the ceremony, Aznavour said he was honored to receive the award, especially in Jerusalem, one of his favorite cities. He also asked Rivlin at the time why Israel did not recognize the Armenian Genocide.


Known best for his beautiful love songs, Aznavour’s gaze turned political at times. He wrote a song in 1975 in memory of the Armenian Genocide and donated profits from another song, “Pour toi Armenie,” (For you Armenia) to help rebuild the country after its 1988 earthquake.


Armenia in 2009 named Aznavour ambassador to Switzerland, where the singer resided in his later years. He was also made UNESCO’s ambasador and permanent delegate of Armenia in 1995. Despite launching a farewell tour in 2006, Aznavour continued to tour around the world. He leaves behind his third wife, Ulla, and six children.


Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.