Top Lebanese singer and actress dies aged 87
Sabah, whose real name was Jeanette Gergis al-Feghali, first came to prominence in the 1950s as star of Egyptian movies. During her more than six-decade long career, she released over 50 albums and acted in 98 films. She died at her home in Beirut of an unspecified illness, reported Lebanon’s National News Agency.
Sabah was the first Arab singer to perform at Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, Piccadilly Theatre in London and the Sydney Opera House. Sabah acted several times with Egyptian heart-throb Ahmad Ramzi. She was totally complete in her appearance, behaviour and voice. She shocked people all the time”
Born to a Christian family in the village of Bdedoun, a Lebanese town in the Baabda-Aley province, she released her first song in 1940, aged just 13. The singer soon caught the eye of Egyptian film producer Asia Dagher, who immediately signed her for three films. The first of these, El-Qalb Louh Wahid (The Heart Has Its Reasons), made her a star – and she was known by her character’s name – Sabah, which is Arabic for morning – ever after.
But she also acquired several affectionate nicknames, including “Shahroura”, Arabic for “singing bird”, and “Sabbouha,” a diminutive of Sabah. Sabah at the opening night of Cairo’s 28th International Film Festival in 2009. Among her most popular films were Soft Hands (1964), Ataba Square (1959) and The Second Man (1960), in which she played a cabaret singer who vows to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of a smuggling ring.
In her parallel music career, she recorded more than 3,000 songs, working with a string of legendary Egyptian composers, including the late Mohammed Abdul-Wahhab. She specialised in a Lebanese folk tradition called the mawal, and her most famous songs included Zay el-Assal (Your Love is Like Honey on my Heart) and Akhadou el-Reeh (They Took the Wind). The star held Egyptian, Jordanian and US citizenship as well as Lebanese, and continued to perform and make television appearances into her 80s.
At home, she was humorously mocked for refusing to leave the limelight, as well as her garish outfits and use of cosmetic surgery. But she was unabashed: “I’m proud that I’m a village girl but I had a lot of ambition,” she said in 2008. “She broke so many taboos. I don’t know if she was even aware of it,” said Chady Maalouf, head of programming at Voice of Lebanon radio. “She was the example of a star, she was totally complete in her appearance, behaviour and voice. She shocked people all the time.”
Sabah released over 50 albums and acted in 98 films during her career. She married nine times, most most notably to Egyptian actor Roshdi Abaza and Lebanese author-director Wassim Tabbara. Her last marriage, to Lebanese artist Fadi Lubnan, lasted 17 years. She had two children, Dr Sabah Shammas and actress Howayda Mansy, both of whom live in the United States.
Few artists in the Arab world enjoyed the level of glory and stardom of Sabah. Her unique voice and glamorous style made her one of the top singers and actresses in Lebanon and Egypt. In her hometown she’s considered one of the icons of the traditional song. On social media there has been an outpouring of comments about Sabah. They are not just paying tribute to a grand voice and great diva but also lamenting the end of the “golden era” that Sabah and other artists of her generation represented to many.
Almost every comment carries a sense of nostalgia and loss, reviving old memories. In a way, that is how Sabah will be remembered; as one of the holders of the artistic memory of Lebanon and the Arab world. Her death is a time to recall her performances and her songs and to reflect on an era that has passed. Sabah posing in the 1960s on the set of a film in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria
“Today, Lebanon lost a legend. Sabah is gone but she remains in our hearts,” Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram wrote on Twitter.
“Her memory will remain in the minds and hearts of millions,” she tweeted. “Our giants are leaving, our cedars are diminishing. Farewell our Shahroura, our beloved, rest in peace,” added singer Ragheb Alameh in a Twitter post. Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt wrote on Twitter: “She was a great singer of a Lebanon that my generation knew, that will never come back”.
In her last months, Sabah was amused by a number of various fake reports of her passing, said Maalouf. “She said, ‘Even in my death, I’m making people busy.'”