BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
It has been well over forty years that our beloved Charles Aznavour accepted an invitation to perform at the Armenian Club in Tehran. I was there with my husband. Even after so many years, the image of him in his white suit and the rich sound of his singing are still fresh in my mind.
It was a dinner concert, and after we enjoyed all the familiar tunes, he signaled the finish with a dramatic gesture. He threw his white handkerchief on the floor and then exited the hall quickly. My husband and I were among the very few who followed him outside, and because of that we had the delightful opportunity to sit around a table on one of those warm summer nights in Tehran and chat at length with him and his manager who was also French Armenian.
It was an exhilarating experience. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. I can’t remember what we talked about. But I do remember being surprised at how well he spoke Armenian. We had the good fortune of taking pictures with him too.
Fast forward to 2014: Charles Aznavour turns 90 and kicks off his World Wide Farewell tour with a huge concert in Yerevan. In attendance there were the Presidents of France and Armenia, François Hollande and Sezh Sarkisian.
At an age when most people hardly step outside their front door, Aznavour is trotting the globe and shows little sign of slowing down. Anybody who has reached 90 deserves a whole year’s birthday celebration. And that’s exactly what he has planned.
After the sensational concert in Yerevan, he performed in Berlin and then continued to other major cities around the world. His L.A. concert was on Sunday, September 13. The Greek Theatre in Hollywood was packed. I was there among the mesmerized audience. On the stage I saw the same Aznavour with the same extraordinary ease he displayed at the Armenian Club 40+ years ago. His rich voice soared across and left his audience in awe. This time he didn’t wear the white suit. Instead, he had a more casual outfit on – no jacket only suspenders over a dark blue shirt.
He interacted with the audience and amused us with a few jokes. I think he was more expressive than I ever remember. He told us that at his age it’s hard for him to sing because sometimes he tends to forget the words. And that was the only complaint I heard he had as a nonagenarian. Then he said he was happy that there was no air conditioning. Then he told us when he wants to compose a song the lyrics come first and the music next.
He finished the nearly two-hour long program as agile as he had started. Sometimes he strolled, sometimes he rested on a director’s chair, sometimes he waltzed his way across the stage. He sang in English, French and Spanish and added a duet with his daughter.
At one point someone from behind yelled, “en Français!” meaning “in French.” A few others echoed the request. I joined them too. Yes, I wanted him to sing in French. I grew up with his songs and perfected my French by listening to his meaningful lyrics.
I was so glad to be there and relive my past memories. What an extraordinary opportunity I had to experience again with this wonderful performer. And what an incredible gift Charles Aznavour has given his fans around the world for his 90th birthday. My only wish is that I will see him once more.