Abandoned by her mother at birth and raised by her grandmother, it was her acrobat father who encouraged her to sing. She started her career by singing in the streets, graduating to cabaret and becoming known as Piaf, from the Parisian slang for little sparrow.
She appeared in plays and films, but it was for her songs, with their undercurrent of sadness and nostalgia, that she became legendary, travelling widely in Europe and America. Among her best-remembered songs are 'Milord', 'La vie en rose', and 'Non, je ne regrette rien'.
Piaf's singing reflected the tragedies of her own life. Her mother, a cafe singer, abandoned her at birth, and she was reared by her grandmother. She became blind at the age of three as a complication of meningitis but recovered her sight four years later. Her father, a circus acrobat, took her along on tours and first encouraged her to sing.
At the age of 16, she fell in love with Louis Dupont and bore his child - a girl called Marcelle who died at the age of two from meningitis.
In 1935, Piaf made her theatrical debut, and within a few years she was singing in the large music halls of Paris. During World War II, she would only entertain French prisoners of war and aided several in their escapes.
The subsequent years were spent in tours of Europe, South America, and the United States. Her simple yet dramatic style and throaty, tender voice with its tragic overtones brought her wide acclaim and never ceased to move her audiences.