Sabah, Lebanese singing legend dies at 87


Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, one of the Arab world’s best-known entertainers, has died 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.

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.

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.”

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.

“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.'”

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