ABC announced it days ago, but little could prepare viewers of Sunday night’s American Music Awards for Celine Dion’s heartfelt tribute to Paris in the wake of Nov. 13’s terrorist attacks.
Taking the stage after a somber, politically charged introduction by actor-musician Jared Leto, Dion sang an impassioned version of famous French troubadour Edith Piaf’s song “Hymne à L’Amour” (“The Hymn to Love”).
The French-Canadian pop star summoned the same passion that Piaf never failed to bring to the tune, which was written for her true love, boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was killed in a plane crash while traveling from Paris to New York to visit her.
The song has since been the ultimate homage to grief, which was fitting as the memory of the violent attacks and loss of 130 lives in the French capital still loomed large in the public’s mind.
Leto began his introduction by talking about the experience his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, had in its performance at Le Bataclan concert hall in Paris, which was the scene of one of the bloodiest attacks on Nov. 13, seven months after Leto’s visit.
“Tonight we honor the victims of the unimaginable violence that took place in Paris and around the world,” said Leto. “France matters. Russia matters. Mali matters. Syria matters.”
Leto continued citing countries in a litany of loss, concluding by saying, “The whole world matters. Peace is possible.”
He then took a moment to address the currently contentious issue of refugees in the United States and abroad.
“Many of us are the sons and daughters of immigrants,” Leto said, citing Steve Jobs and President Obama.
Dion took to the stage soon after, clad in a long black gown adorned with pale flowers. As she sang, images of Paris projected behind her: the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, candlelight vigils outside a cafe where one of the attacks took place, and finally, as her voice soared toward the song’s close, the Eiffel Tower lighted with the colors of the French flag.
As the camera panned the audience, there weren’t many dry eyes in the house.