Lebanese singing legend Sabah dies at 87

Sabah was nicknamed "Shahroura", Arabic for "singing bird" by her millions of fans
Sabah was nicknamed “Shahroura”, Arabic for “singing bird” by her millions of fans

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 in Bdadoun, a Lebanese town in the Baabda-Aley province, she released her first song in 1940.

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, ever after.

But she also acquired several affectionate nicknames, including “Shahroura”, Arabic for “singing bird”, and “Sabbouha,” a diminutive of Sabah.

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.

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.

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”.

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Analysis – Carine Torbey, BBC News in Beirut

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.

Sabah belonged to what is referred to as “the golden era of arts” in the Arab world. Her personal life was as eventful as her singing career. She got married 9 times but she was alone in her final days. Her death evokes a lot of nostalgia across the region.

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BBC
  • nagy_michael2

    May God bless your soul the Princess of the East and one of the greatest entertainer ever. rest in peace ya amira Sabah..

  • TheUSequalsTheIS

    OMG this is so sad. May she rest in peace and pleasure. she was deffo one of the biggest stars in the ME.

    • Hind Abyad

      I’m sad at all what we loved disappearing, she made the beautiful Lebanon soul come back every time she sang.

      • TheUSequalsTheIS

        iza allah fi, then allah yer7amha.
        my fav sabou7a songs r yana yana and 3al basata

  • Fauzia45

    A great singer who will never die!!!!!