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French composer and singer Georges Moustaki dies at 79


Georges Moustaki, the prolific French singer and composer who wrote Edith Piaf's hit song 'Milord', died on Thursday after a long illness at the age of 79.


Georges Moustaki, the popular French singer and songwriter, died on Thursday after a long illness in the Mediterranean city of Nice aged 79. A one-time lover of the legendary singer Édith Piaf, he began his own performing career after a decade of writing songs for some of France’s most loved voices.

Leaders and musicians hailed Moustaki’s career and many contributions to the French songbook as news of his passing spread.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë remembered Moustaki as “a citizen of the world who was in love with liberty, a true rebel until his last days,” who had given France “unforgettable compositions and lyrics.”

French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti hailed an “artist with convictions who conveyed humanist values.”

Juliette Greco, one of France’s biggest singers in the 1960s, grieved the loss of a “poet” and “unique person”. “He was a fine, elegant man who was infinitely kind and talented,” she told RTL radio.

Moustaki wrote songs for Greco, as well as other acclaimed singers like Yves Montand, Serge Reggiani and Barbara.

However, he is best known for his 1958 song “Milord”, about a lower-class girl who falls in love with an upper-class British traveller. The ballad was made famous worldwide by Piaf, with whom Moustaki had a short but passionate romance.

Other Moustaki singles that are less recognised abroad but remain classics in France include “Sarah”, “Ma liberté” - a hymn to the 1960s free-living spirit - and “Le Métèque” – a autobiographical love song that makes reference to his foreign looks and vagabond lifestyle.

A life on the road

Born in Alexandria, Egypt to Greek parents, Moustaki - who was born Giuseppe Mustacchi - moved to Paris in 1951.

In the French capital, a meeting with renowned singer-songwriter Georges Brassens proved to be decisive in launching his career, to the extent that the young song composer adopted Brassens’s first name as his own.

Brassens introduced him to artists and intellectuals who spent much of their time around Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris’s bohemian left bank.

The release of the acclaimed 1969 album Le Métèque kickstarted the second phase of his career, allowing Moustaki to step out of the shadow of other artists and claim the spotlight.

With his signature bushy and grizzly beard he spent much of the next four decades criss-crossing Europe and the globe to give concerts. His repertoire also included songs in Italian, English, Greek, Arabic and Spanish.

In 2009, in a packed concert hall in Barcelona, he told the stunned audience he was incapable of singing. It would be his last public performance.

An irreversible bronchial illness spurred him to leave his beloved Paris to seek out warmer and cleaner air in the French Riviera. He never sang again, but continued to defend left-wing causes as he had done throughout his life.

In his last interview to Nice Matin newspaper in February, he said: "I regret not being able to sing in my bathroom. But singing in public, no. I've done it all... I've witnessed magical moments."

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