February 23, 2020

Obituaries Oct. 12

Charles Aznavour, Iconic Singer Whose Family Saved Jews, 94
Charles Aznavour, one of the most famous French performers of the 20th century, whose family rescued Jews from the Holocaust in World War II, died Oct. 1 in France. He was 94. 

Aznavour, whose international fame rivaled that of Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and Serge Gainsbourg, was nicknamed “the Frank Sinatra of France.” He toured the world, playing to packed houses until a few months before his death. He claimed to have written more than 1,000 songs, appeared in dozens of films and was one of the most prominent advocates for the Armenian people. What was less known was his family’s bravery in saving Jews from the Holocaust. 

Born Chahnour Vaghenagh Azavourian on May 22, 1924, in Paris, he started to perform at an early age. His parents were Armenians who fled to France to escape the Turkish genocide. They opened a restaurant in an immigrant neighborhood near the Sorbonne, which also was home to a large number of Jewish families. When the Germans occupied France in 1942, the Aznavour family offered its apartment and restaurant to Jews, Armenians and others hiding from the Gestapo.

According to the singer, his parents never thought twice about their actions, even though, if caught, they might have been killed. “My father said, ‘These aren’t Jews, they are human beings,’ ” Aznavour told Le Parisien earlier this year. His connection with Judaism lasted throughout his life. A vocal supporter of Israel, he wrote and recorded “Yerushalaim” after 1967’s Six-Day War, and “One of the Living Dead (Un Mort Vivant)” in response to the kidnapping and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl.

In 2017, Aznavour and his sister received the Raoul Wallenberg Award in honor of their family’s actions. “Jews and the Armenians have so much in common, in misfortune, in joy, in work, in music, in the arts and in the ease of learning different languages,” he said at the award ceremony in Jerusalem.

He is survived by his third wife, Ulla Thorsell, sister Aida and five of his six children.

— Steven Mirkin

Marty Balin, Co-Founder of Jefferson Airplane, 76
Marty Balin, one of the founding members of Jefferson Airplane, whose hits, including “Somebody to Love” and “Volunteers,” helped to popularize the San Francisco sound, died on Sept. 27 in Tampa, Fla. He was 76. The cause of death has not been released.

He was born Martyn Jerel Buchwald in Cincinnati on Jan. 30, 1942, to Joe and Jean Buchwald. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who eventually settled in San Francisco.

After Martyn signed a record deal in 1962, the label changed his name to Marty Balin.

By 1965 he was playing with future Jefferson Airplane members Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen and operating a small nightclub, The Matrix, which staged shows by the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Janis Joplin. The band signed with RCA, which released its debut album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” in 1966.  

As one of the band’s four lead voices, Balin’s harmonies with Grace Slick (who joined the band for its second album, 1967’s “Surrealistic Pillow”) became its signature sound. While “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” both written by and featuring Slick on lead vocals, became the band’s first Top-40 hits, Balin’s “Today,” “Plastic Fantastic Lover” and “Volunteers” became fan favorites. Jefferson Airplane headlined three of the 1960s’ most famous festivals: Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont. 

With four singers and songwriters in the band, Balin grew tired of fighting for attention. He left the band in 1971 but not its orbit, performing with the renamed Jefferson Starship, the KBC Band (with Kantner and bassist Jack Cassidy) and the reunited Jefferson Airplane in 1989. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Balin recorded and toured as a solo performer, but problems arising from a 2016 heart attack, including a paralyzed vocal cord that he claimed was the result of a botched tracheotomy, kept him sidelined. 

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two stepdaughters.

— Steven Mirkin