paris street scene

No Regrets:
The Life of Edith Piaf

Carolyn Burke

No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf by Carolyn Burke

By Kirsten Fairchilds, Santa Cruz Sentinel
March 16, 2011

As a teenager living in Paris, Carolyn Burke would come home from school, climb to her small room at the top of a seventh-floor walkup and turn on the radio.

Exhausted from the climb as well as her intense studies, Burke would then collapse on her bed and let the voice of Edith Piaf fill the room with song.

More than 50 years later, Burke has paid tribute to the renowned singer, who aided her rejuvenation after long days at the Sorbonne, in a new biography, No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf, which will be released Tuesday.

"Listening to Edith on the radio made a huge impression on me," said Burke, who studied French in Paris as a 19-year-old junior at Swarthmore College. "My instructor at the Sorbonne held her out as an excellent example of diction and pronunciation. I was able to absorb the sounds and what she was teaching by listening to and singing along with Edith on the radio."

The title of No Regrets is the English translation of one of Piaf's most well-known songs, "No, Je Ne Regrette Rien." It is the third biography by Burke, born in Sydney, Australia to an English father and an Australian mother.
A Santa Cruz resident for the past 35 years, Burke, 70, will sign books and share her love of Piaf at 7:30 pm, March 24, at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

"Carolyn is an internationally recognized author — we are so lucky to have her in our community," Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Casey Coonerty Protti said. "She's very good at what she does, and she's profiled really incredible lives."
Burke's first biography was of Mina Loy, a relatively little-known English poet who lived in Paris in the 1920s and the 1930s. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy was published in 1996 and deemed a critical success after being widely reviewed.

While researching Loy in Paris, Burke met Lee Miller, an American photographer, at an event. After completing the biography of Loy, Burke turned her attention toward Miller, widely recognized as the first female photojournalist to report from the frontlines during World War II.

Lee Miller: A Life was published in 2005 and was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, as well as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Biography award.

With Piaf, Burke takes on arguably her most famous subject, and one who fits the three criteria she's developed in consideration of a subject.

"My editor asked me to do another book, and I came up with three conditions," said Burke, whose family moved to Philadelphia when she was seven. "The first is that the person had to die young. Secondly, the person had to die childless, and thirdly, they had to have lived in Paris.

"When I thought about my conditions — and I take my conditions very seriously — I came up with Edith Piaf," Burke continued. "I have always loved her, and she was at the top of my list. It did take some time for me to work up the nerve to do it because she seemed like such a major figure."

Burke traveled to Paris on three different occasions to research Piaf, spending between one and two months for each trip. A fourth visit was necessary to secure rights for the photographs and song lyrics that appear in the book.
Because of Burke's previous success as well as the sustained popularity of Piaf, Burke has been invited to Paris, London, New Zealand, Australia and the East Coast to discuss No Regrets at book festivals and other events this spring.

After spending nearly three years immersed in Piaf's life and watching her performances on YouTube videos, Burke has seen her love and admiration for the unique yet often troubled singer continue to grow.

"Piaf was just a gift and a joy to me," Burke said. "I came to love this project so much. I felt grief when it was done, because I wasn't ready to let go of her and stop living with her in my heart and imagination, where she still resides."