ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

France has lost one of its most beloved songwriters. Georges Moustaki died in Nice after a long illness. He was 79. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, Moustaki was known for infusing French song with sounds from around the world.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Georges Moustaki wrote the lyrics to one of Edith Piaf's biggest hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "MILORD")

BLAIR: "Milord," is a song about a working-class girl who falls for an English gentleman. It was written in 1959. Edith Piaf was in her early 40s and the handsome Moustaki was in his mid-20s. Carolyn Burke, who wrote a biography of Piaf, says the two were lovers. They wrote "Milord" when they were on vacation.

CAROLYN BURKE: 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 to start from there.

BLAIR: Although Moustaki did not write the music for "Milord," Edith Piaf liked how his compositions were flavored with jazz and styles that went beyond France's borders.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: Georges Moustaki was born in Egypt to Greek parents. He 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 was about being an outsider. It's called "Le Meteque" or "Mongrel."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: In one of the many tributes being written today, France's culture minister wrote that Georges Moustaki was an artist committed to humanist values. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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