PARIS (Reuters) - France bid farewell to Charles Aznavour on Friday in a tribute that reflected the late singer’s status as a national icon at home as well as the country of his roots, Armenia.
Pallbearers carried Aznavour’s coffin into the courtyard at Les Invalides military museum in Paris, where Napoleon is buried, to the sound of haunting music played from a duduk, an oboe-like wind instrument native to Armenia.
The singer-songwriter passed away this week at 94.
“In France, poets never die,” French President Emmanuel Macron said, standing before the coffin draped in France’s blue-white-and-red flag. Alongside the casket lay a wreath in the colours of Armenia.
Macron is expected to travel to Armenia next week on an official visit that Aznavour had hoped to take part in.
“Armenians of all countries today, I am thinking of you,” Macron said. “He was supposed to be one of us next week in Yerevan, his absence will leave a giant void.”
Celebrities including the now-frail actor Jean-Paul Belmondo and Macron’s two predecessors attended the ceremony under clear blue skies.
Aznavour, whose global reach was enhanced by his ability to sing in more than half a dozen languages, died at his villa in Mouries, a village in the southern French Alpilles region, in the night of last Sunday to Monday.
Among his best-known songs - he sold upwards of 100 million records - were ”Hier Encore” (Yesterday When I Was Young), ”Apres l’Amour” (After Love) and ”La Boheme”. Others of anthem-status included “She” and “Formidable”.
Aznavour was born in Paris on May 22, 1924, to Armenian parents. His birth name was Shahnour Aznavourian.
He grew up on the Left Bank of Paris and began performing at the age of nine. His first public performances were at Armenian gatherings where his father and older sister Aida sang while he danced.
He broke from the shadows penning songs for Edith Piaf in the years after World War Two, and later brought rapt audiences to their feet at venues as far away as New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Macron embraced and exchanged words with Aznavour’s widow Ulla and relatives before standing side-by-side with Armenian leaders for a ceremony that began with an army band rendition of Armenia’s national anthem, then France’s.
Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pachinyan paid tribute to the artist too, saying: “Charles Aznavour is the man who pitched the flag of Armenia on the roof of the world.”
Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Peter Graff and Richard Lough