Legendary Lebanese singer passes away

Vibrant and elegant Sabah, who could sing in both Egyptian and Lebanese dialects, has passed away at the age of 87.

al-monitor Lebanese singer and actress Sabah and Wafaa Suleiman (R), wife of Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman, attend "Sabah, the Musical" during the opening of Beiteddine Festival in Beiteddine village, Mount Lebanon, June 24, 2011.  Photo by REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir.

Topics covered

music, movie, lebanon, egypt, beirut, art

Nov 30, 2014

She fought death until the last breath. She loved life until the last moment. At the age of 87, the great artist Sabah passed away, somewhat lonely, in a hotel room. Her son, Dr. Sabah, had emigrated, and her daughter Howeida had chosen to stay away from her.

The artist filled Lebanon, Egypt (her second home) and the Arab world in general with the joy of singing, and with theater and film appearances. She spent her last years living in a hotel after she was forced to sell her house and other properties to pay money owed to relatives and friends. However, this artist, who was passionate about life, elegance and romantic adventures, never gave up nor regretted anything. She remained fun, with a grin that never left her face.

The personal and artistic life of Sabah was loud and vibrant. Her real name was Jeanette Feghali, and she was born in 1927 in Bdadoun. She was given the name Sabah in Cairo, accepting an offer in 1945 from Egyptian producer Assia Dagher to act in her first film in Egypt, “The Heart Can Only Love Once.” It was back then that she got to meet the great musician Riad Sunbati, who trained her in Egyptian singing and composed a song for her in the film.

In Lebanon, Sabah was given many titles: Shahrourat al-Wadi, the blackbird of the valley; al-Sabbouha; the Princess; and the Legend, among others. Sabah started singing at an early age and was influenced by the zajal atmosphere that surrounded her, particularly as her uncle was one of the pioneers of zajal. When she grew up, she decided to become a singer and started looking for a new life away from her unhealthy family atmosphere.

Her father was an alcoholic and a womanizer, which prompted her mother to cheat on him. This, in turn, prompted Sabah’s elder brother, Antoine Jr., to shoot his mother dead. These painful facts may have prompted Sabah to face challenges head-on and achieve great successes. She married eight times, all of which ended in failure and divorce.

Her last marriage was to the young Fadi Lebnen. It was a tragedy that led her to bankruptcy and marred her with scandal. Her sixth husband, the late Lebanese MP Joe Hammoud, was the most loyal to her and remained friends with her, helping her with the numerous financial crises that she faced.

Sabah was reportedly a woman who "marries and divorces a lot." Her first husband, Najib Shammas, was the same age as her father. She married him when she was 18 to escape the domination of her father, and then they divorced. Later on, she married Sheikh Abdullah al-Mubarak, whom she divorced a month later. She then married the Egyptian violinist Anwar Mansy and divorced him because he gambled and beat her. Sabah later married the Egyptian religious broadcaster Ahmed Farrag Farrah. He imposed rules on her behavior and clothing, so she divorced him. Then she married the Egyptian actor Rushdi Abaza for two months, then divorced him. Following her divorce from Joe Hammoud, she married the Lebanese artist Wassim Tabara, before her last disastrous marriage with Lebnen.

Sabah lived many lives and married many men. She loved openly and without hesitation. The artist also lived two lives: one Lebanese and another Egyptian. She excelled in singing in the two dialects and performed roles in Egyptian and Lebanese cinema.

Sabah was always a great singer with a unique, strong, fresh, extremely soft, malleable voice which could perform specific Arabic notes and multiple musical genres. She had a supernatural voice capable of easily reaching the highest and lowest musical notes.

Sabah mastered her voice and was able to convey various musical and emotional situations and ideas. Her voice is Lebanese par excellence. She sung mawwals and Lebanese folkloric songs, such as Abu el-Zolouf, Al-Mijana and Al-Ataba. She excelled at extending musical strings to their end, without her breath falling short and without becoming tired. She was also good at merging the Lebanese and Egyptian genres, and she satisfied the Egyptian composers, who used to give her the most beautiful melodies that fit her voice.

Her vocal capabilities allowed her to work with nearly 38 different musicians and composers, and her voice was able to adapt to different styles with strength. Following are some of the great musicians she collaborated with: Riad Sunbati, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Mohamed El Qasabgi, Zakaria Ahmed, the Rahbani brothers, Philemon Wehbe, Farid al-Atrash, Kamal term, Zaki Nassif and Walid Gholmieh.

Sabah made exquisite appearances both in movies and on the stage. She was an actress and a singer who played lead roles, often spontaneously and with excellence. She starred in about 80 movies in Egyptian and Lebanese theaters, as well as about 30 musicals, and she sang more than 3,000 songs.

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