Nathalie Lermitte's tribute to Edith Piaf

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday October 31, 2023
Share this Post:
Nathalie Lermitte in 'Piaf! The Concert'
Nathalie Lermitte in 'Piaf! The Concert'

Between a summer that brought TayTay and Bey to the Bay and a winter that heralds the latest manifestation of Madonna, yet another gay-favored global superstar headlines the Herbst Theatre on Monday, November 6.

You've surely heard her hit "Padam, Padam," but she's not Kylie. She's not even alive.

Edith Piaf (1915-1963), the original padamsel in success, will be paid tribute in "Piaf! The Show," featuring fellow French songstress Nathalie Lermitte fronting a four-piece combo.

Nathalie Lermitte  

In a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter from her home in Paris, Lermitte suggested that Piaf's knack for self-mythologizing and personal branding makes her a true forerunner to today's social media-adept musical celebrities.

"She was born in poverty and worked her way to the top," said Lermitte, who remembered first hearing Piaf on her parents' phonograph at six years old.

"By repeating this story over and over, to the press and anyone who would listen," Lermitte said, "she turned herself into a symbol of hope, of the idea that anything is possible if you want it to be. She was one of the first woman entertainers who really knew how to manipulate the press. She built an identity that was bigger than herself."

Lermitte, who has performed highlights of Piaf's oeuvre in hundreds of concerts around the world, said that it's clear to her that Piaf's staying power transcends her distinctive, if unpretty, singing voice and even the lyrics of her repertoire.

"How many Francophone singers ever become popular in China or in Mexico, let alone remain in people's minds 60 years after their death? It's the idea of Piaf, of this tiny little woman who stood tall and sang loudly, that has made her last. She made herself into an immortal rock star."

Along with the myth, there is still the music. And whether or not you understand all the words to "Non, Je ne Regrette Rien," "La Vie en Rose," or the 1951 "Padam, Padam" (a maddening earworm of waltz), just the sound Piaf's piercing, earthy burr, so skillfully summoned on stage by Lermitte, can inspire a sense of indomitable self-reliance and undying hope.

'Piaf! The Concert,' Nov. 6. $60-$100. Herbst Theater. 401 Van Ness Ave. (415) 392-4400.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.