It's thirty-five years today since Damia left us.
Before Piaf came along, she was the most famous singer in France--some believe in Europe.
She introduced the dance known as the 'apache' and was one of the first to perform Cole Porter's 'Night & Day'. Two of her songs, 'Sombre dimanche' and 'Je suis dans la deche' were banned by the stuffy BBC--the first because it was about suicide, or so they thought--if you listen carefully you'll see that she's saying what MAY happen if her lover doesn't come back. The second, about a woman about to fling herself in the canal when she's mistaken for a prostitute--which leads to a new career!
Damia also sang 'Tu ne sais pas aimer', which in France has been adopted as the theme song of AIDS sufferers.
I met Damia twice, at her place in Montmartre--the picture at the top is how she looked at eighty. She was a fabulous woman with lots of stories to tell. Valentino, eighteen and not yet known by that name, stumbled into her club and the two became friends. She taught him the 'apache'. Later, she sang a song in his memory, 'Je sens en moi'. There's a picture of him with his lover André Daven outside her apartment in my new book. Damia also knew Piaf, who gave her three songs. It was wonderful, hearing her Valentino and Piaf stories. She sent wreaths to the funerals of both.
There's never going to be anyone of Damia's calibre in France. Never. She hated microphones, and never used one in her entire career. She told me she owed her deep, powerful voice to her daily intake of strong French cigarettes. Her swansong, when she was almost seventy, was singing 'Les croix' on Piaf's 'This Is Your Life'.