Georges Moustaki, one of France's most beloved songwriters, died Thursday in Nice after a long illness. He was 79. Moustaki was known for infusing French song with sounds from around the world.
In 1959, Moustaki wrote the lyrics to Edith Piaf's international hit "Milord," a song about a working-class girl who falls for an English gentleman. At the time, Piaf was in her early 40s and the handsome Moustaki was in his mid-20s.
Piaf was smitten with Moustaki's music, as well as his great charm. Carolyn Burke, who wrote a biography of Piaf, says the two were lovers. They wrote "Milord" while they were on vacation.
"He started writing words down on a paper napkin. One of them was the word 'milord.' Piaf chose it, drew a circle around it and told him, 'Start from there,' " Burke says.
Although Moustaki did not write the music for "Milord," Piaf liked how his compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France's borders. She sang a number of his songs, including "Le Gitan et La Fille" and "Eden Blues."
Moustaki was born in Egypt to Greek parents and moved to France when he was a teenager. He wrote poetry and worked as a journalist for an Egyptian newspaper. As a solo artist, Moustaki became popular for songs about freedom and individuality. His first hit — "Le Meteque" (or "The Mongrel") — is about being an outsider.
In one of the many tributes being written today, France's culture minister wrote that Georges Moustaki was "an artist committed to humanist values."