Georges Moustaki, Poetic French Singer, Dies at 79
Roland Witschel/European Pressphoto Agency
By MAÏA de la BAUME
Published: May 25, 2013
PARIS — Georges Moustaki, a singer and songwriter who wrote Édith Piaf’s hit song “Milord” and won wide popularity in France for his poetic lyrics and melancholy ballads, died on Thursday in Nice, France. He was 79.
His death was confirmed by his longtime agent, Marie-Ange Mirande, who said that Mr. Moustaki had had emphysema.
His death prompted an outpouring of emotional tributes. The French president, François Hollande, called him a “hugely talented artist whose popular and committed songs have marked generations of French people.”
Mr. Moustaki, instantly recognizable by his bushy beard and long white hair, belonged to the generation of French singers — including Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, Léo Ferré and Georges Brassens — who composed many of their own songs, writing lyrics with a poetic sensibility.
Mr. Moustaki started his career as a songwriter, composing about 300 songs for some of the most popular singers in France, including Ms. Piaf, Yves Montand and Serge Reggiani.
“Milord,” his first hit, told the story of a “girl from the harbor” who falls in love with an elegant Englishman. Mr. Moustaki wrote it for Ms. Piaf, and the two became lovers, though she was more than 20 years his senior. It was later interpreted by Bobby Darin and Cher.
Mr. Moustaki made his name as a singer in 1969 with “Le Métèque” — a pejorative word for foreigner — in which he described himself as a “wandering Jew” and a “Greek shepherd.” He wrote and performed many other songs, including “Ma Liberté” and “Ma Solitude.”
Mr. Moustaki, whose real name was Giuseppe Mustacchi, was born on May 3, 1934, in Alexandria, Egypt, where his parents, both of Greek origin, had emigrated. His father, Nessim, ran a bookstore that drew visitors from across the Middle East.
Mr. Moustaki first performed as a pianist and singer in Brussels and Paris, but his career took off after he met Mr. Brassens, who became his mentor, and fell in with singers of the Left Bank, including Mr. Brel and Juliette Gréco.
Mr. Moustaki’s songwriting career peaked in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Sarah,” performed by Mr. Reggiani, and “La Dame Brune” (“The Lady With Brown Hair”), written for the singer Barbara (Monique Serf).
He later pursued a solo career, giving concerts in Africa, Japan and the United States, including at Carnegie Hall in the early 1970s. He performed in Italian, Portuguese, Arabic and Greek and grew passionate about Brazilian music.
After a 50-year career, Mr. Moustaki recorded his last album in 2008 and announced a year later that he could no longer sing because of his emphysema. He is survived by a daughter, Pia.
His philosophy was reflected in his 1973 song “Declaration”: “I declare a permanent state of happiness and the right of everyone to every privilege. I say that suffering is a sacrilege when there are roses and white bread for everyone.”