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Arab world’s beloved singer Sabah dies at 87

One of Lebanon’s ‘giants,’ she was in at least 25 plays, 4 radio musicals and 85 films; sang 3,000 songs

Famous Lebanese singer Sabah speaks to journalists in November 2011 in Beirut, Lebanon. (photo credit: AP /Ahmad Omar)
Famous Lebanese singer Sabah speaks to journalists in November 2011 in Beirut, Lebanon. (photo credit: AP /Ahmad Omar)

BEIRUT — Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, an icon of Arab music, died Wednesday after a career that spanned over six decades, Lebanese media said. She was 87.

The diva was famous across the Arab world for her powerful voice, musical talent and joyful brazenness and is considered among the last of the “giants” — a crop of celebrated Lebanese singers that represent a golden age, including Fayrouz, Wadih el-Safi, Nasri Shamseddine and others.

Sabah, whose real name is Jeanette Feghali, first came to prominence in the fifties as a singer and actress in Egyptian movies.

Ultimately, she participated in at least 25 plays, four radio musicals, and 85 films and sang 3,000 songs, according to Charbel Alasmar, a Lebanese-Canadian composer who has documented Sabah’s career.

The peroxide blonde with a throaty laugh and playful smile was nicknamed “shahroura,” Arabic for “singing bird” and “the Sabbouha,” a diminutive for “Sabah” by millions of fans across the Middle East.

In Lebanon, she was humorously mocked for refusing to leave the limelight, clinging to youth through surgeries, marriages to younger men and garish outfits.

But she was universally admired for her love of life and positive outlook even in her old age.

“Our giants are leaving, our cedars are diminishing. Farewell our shahroura, our beloved, rest in peace,” wrote Lebanese singer Ragheb Alameh in a Twitter posting.

Also on Twitter, Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt wrote: “She was a great singer of a Lebanon that my generation knew, that will never come back.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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