In October 1935, two tiny, emaciated young women in ragged skirts came to the angle of the Avenue Macmahon and the Rue Troyon from the poor districts of north-eastern Paris. They stood on a corner which was then a Metro entrance, but is now the exit ramp from an underground car park.
One of the young women, no taller than a 10-year-old, began to sing in a booming, haunting voice, which seemed too large to come from such a small body. Her friend went around with a woollen beret collecting money from passers-by. An audience gathered. They included Louis Leplée, who owned a cabaret just off the Champs-Elysées.
He invited the singer - Edith Gassion, 20 years old and 4ft 8in tall - to come and see him at his club. He gave her a job, but insisted that she change her stage name to La Môme Piaf - the kid sparrow.
And so it was that M. Leplée, a once-famous man long forgotten, "discovered" Edith Piaf, who has never been forgotten. She became the best-known and best-loved of all French singers, both inside and outside France.
Her voice - raw, rich, passionate, gritty, tragic, joyful - made her an icon of a timeless Frenchness, like berets, dark tobacco, soft cheese, yellow car headlights, red wine or the burnt-rubber smell of the Paris Metro.
Her life was blighted by a plane crash, alcoholism and dramatic collapses on stage - but the 'kid sparrow' still provided the soundtrack to her nation, as a new film recalls.By John Lichfield
In the next few months, the world, old and young, French and foreign, has an opportunity to discover Edith Piaf again. A new film about her life, La Môme, premieres at the Berlin Film Festival today, and in France next week. It will be shown in Britain and America as La Vie en Rose, probably from 8 June.
Marion Cotillard, a French actress who looks rather like Piaf, plays the starring role with extraordinary success, according to the few French critics who have been invited to advance viewings. "Her interpretation of Edith Piaf surpasses what is generally expected of an actress," Le Monde said.
The inescapable Gérard Dépardieu appears as Louis Leplée, who was murdered soon after discovering Piaf.
La Môme, directed and written by Olivier Dahan, is being billed in France as not just a film but a "film-événement" - a cinematic sensation. France loves, even more than Britain, to dwell on its recent past, and the movie has set off an avalanche of Piaf nostalgia: television and radio programmes, special editions of magazines and compilations of her most successful songs