When she first put a toe on the streets, in the mid-1930s, there were 30 others. It was a competitive business, but she could not cut her prices; at 20 francs a go, she needed to sell 100 scores at each performance just to pay the rent. Luckily she was healthy and her voice strong, since she stayed out for 12 hours a day and in most weathers— even in temperatures of ten degrees below, when people would run out of cafés with mulled wine to warm her up.
War interrupted things, but after that great Liberation day in August 1944, when she belted out “La Marseillaise” as de Gaulle appeared on the Champs-Elysées and found the crowd joining her, she knew she had arrived. Her timing seemed strange to some, just as her metier was fading. But singing made her feel free; and what she was doing was important. She was continuing a long tradition of popular songs in the street, one first organised in the revolution of 1789 to stir up citizen spirit and raise morale.
She thought of herself as a teacher, promoting songs (a few new ones, like “La Mer”, mixed in with the old), getting the people to learn them, and selling them scores so that they could practise at home. It was a truly communal enterprise. Another favourite pitch was outside the giant Renault factory in the suburbs, where at midday when the siren sounded a wave of workers in blue overalls would stream out and, with luck, cluster round her, chewing their casse-croûte as they listened.