Sabah, a prolific and provocative Lebanese singer and actress whose fame in the Arab world endured for six decades, died on Wednesday in Beirut. She was 87.
Her death was announced by the National News Agency of Lebanon.
She was known by a single name — Sabah means “morning” in Arabic — but little about her was understated. She recorded 50 albums, appeared in nearly 100 films, married at least seven times and underwent an undetermined number of cosmetic surgeries.
Her hair had its own narrative — morphing from brown and basic when she emerged in the 1940s to blond and big, impervious to the elements, fashion or the conservative mores of the Middle East.
Her real name was Jeanette Gergis Al-Feghali, but she took her stage name as a teenager in 1940s, when she began appearing in films by the Egyptian director Henry Barakat. She went on to become a draw for decades. Among her better-known works are “How Can I Forget You?” (1956), “The Street of Love” (1959) and “Laila Baka Feha al Qamar” (1980).
Although she was Lebanese, many of her films were made with Egyptian production companies, and her stardom spanned much of the Middle East. In 2010, when she received a lifetime achievement award at the Dubai International Film Festival, Abdulhamid Juma, the festival chairman, described Sabah as “a bridge” between Lebanon and Egypt. This week, Ramzi Jreij, Lebanon’s information minister, said Sabah “was an Arab artist that invaded every Arab country, especially Egypt.”
While her films were mostly seen by Arab audiences, Sabah appeared around the world as a singer, performing Arab pop songs and also Arab classical and folk music. She specialized in mawwal, a slow, a cappella form of singing. In 1956, she appeared in the United States for the first time in concerts in Boston, Detroit and New York, where she sang at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn.
“She practices in her suite on a high floor in the Navarro Hotel on Central Park South,” Meyer Berger wrote in The New York Times that year. “Other hotel guests pause in the corridor, entranced by the melodies.”
She was born into a Christian family on Nov. 9, 1927, in a village outside Beirut. Her father abused her and took some of the money she earned early in her acting career, according to the National News Agency of Lebanon.
“She married early to leave her father’s overbearing financial control,” the agency said. It also said that Sabah’s brother “killed her mother because he believed she was seeing someone outside marriage.”
Information about survivors was not immediately available.
Sabah was married at least seven times, though some sources say 10. One of her husbands was Anwar Mansy, a prominent Egyptian violinist. Another was Joe Hammoud, an official in the Lebanese government. The marriage she seemed to treasure the most was the shortest, to the Egyptian film star Rushdy Abaza. They were married in the late 1960s for three days.
She told an interviewer several years ago that Mr. Abaza was the true love of her life and that their marriage was so brief because it turned out that he was married to another woman at the time, the belly dancer Samia Gamal.
“When I see him in a film,” Sabah said, “he’s so real and I feel that he’ll come out of the screen any second to be with me.”
Sabah (Arabic: صباح; born Jeanette Gergis Al-Feghali, 10 November 1927 – 26 November 2014) was a Lebanesesinger and actress. Considered a "Diva of Music" in the Arab World, (the same title often given to Oum Kalthoum, Warda Al-Jazairia and Fairuz), she released over 50 albums and acted in 98 movies as well as over 20 stage plays. She had a reported 3,500 songs in her repertoire. She was one among  the first Arabic singer to perform at Olympia in Paris,Carnegie Hall in New York, and Piccadilly Theatre in London and Sydney Opera House in Sydney. She was considered one of the four Lebanese icons along with Fairuz, Wadih El Safi and Zaki Nassif and was nicknamed "Empress of the Lebanese Song" (Arabic: إمبراطورة الأغنية اللبنانية) for it.Sabah, known locally as “Al-Sabbouha” was born in Bdadoun, Lebanon. Her father was severe towards her, even beating her sometimes. When she started making a small amount of money out of her movies, he used to take it away from her. She married early to leave her father’s overbearing financial control. Her brother killed her mother because he believed she was seeing someone outside marriage.She began singing and acting in the 1940s in Egyptian movies when Egyptian filmmaker Henry Barakat recognised her talent. Her first featured film was “El Alb Laho Wahed” produced by Asia Dagher. Although a Lebanese national, the majority of her films were co-produced with or focused on Egypt. She starred with many famous actors, such as Abdel Halim Hafez, Kamal El Chenawi, Ahmad Mazhar, Rushdy Abaza and Hussein Fahmy.
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. 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.
Al Shahrourah, a TV drama based on her life, aired during Ramadan 2011. She was portrayed by actress/singer Carole Samaha.
According to Lebanese Media Magazine Al Mawed and contrary to popular belief, Sabah was not married to her hairdresser Joseph Gharib.
Sabah received many awards during her lengthy career. Recent examples include:
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dubai International Film Festival.
- Honoured by the Egyptian Cinema in Cairo.
- Honoured in Beirut with a statue.
- Iyam El Loulou written by Karim Abou Chakra (As well as Nousi Nousi a play written and directed by Karim Abou Chakra)
- Kanat Ayyam (1970)
- Nar el shawk (1970)
- Mawal (1966)
- El Aydi el naema (1963) aka Soft Hands
- El Motamarreda (1963)
- Jaoz marti (1961)
- El Rajul el thani (1960)
- El Ataba el khadra (1959)
- Sharia el hub (1958)
- Salem al habaieb (1958)
- Izhay ansak (1956)
- Wahabtak hayati (1956)
- Khatafa mirati (1954)
- Lahn hubi (1953)
- Zalamuni el habaieb (1953)
- Khadaini abi (1951)
- Ana Satuta (1950)
- Sabah el khare (1948)
- Albi wa saifi(1947)
- lubnani fi al gamiaa (1947)
Last Years And Death
Until 2009, she performed both in concert and on television, including such programs as Star Academy (the Arabic equivalent of the United Kingdom’s Fame Academy), where she sang her new single onstage opposite a line of mannequins displaying costumes from several of her early films and musicals. In the 1990s, she and her former husband Fadi Lubnan (Kuntar) made a documentary about her life.She also developed a close collaboration with singer Rola Saad in remaking some of her old hits, such as “Yana Yana”. The accompanying video, in which Sabah is shown as “the notorious diva” to whom her younger colleague pays tribute, has received wide play on Arabic music channels. Sabah was hosted on Akher Man Yalam on 31 May 2010.In the 2011 edition of the famous Beiteddine Art Festival, a show retracing the incredible journey of Sabah as a singer and movie star was performed. In the title role Ruwaida Attieh, shared the stage with more than 40 singers & dancers.After selling her building in the early 2000s, she moved to “Hotel Comfort” in Hazmieh, Beirut. She lived in “Hotel Brazilia” next to her old hotel. She suffered from many illnesses due to several Thrombus in her brain. This caused her to lose control of her left hand and foot. However she did not lose her memories, but she suffered from a diminished ability to concentrate.Al Shahrourah, a TV drama based on her life aired during Ramadan 2011. She was portrayed by actress/singer Carole Samaha.Sabah’s reaction was mostly positive towards the series and was happy that it was a success. However, she had some comments about inaccuracies, such as the depiction of her father as wearing the traditional Lebanese costumes. Sabah’s professional success did not seem to mirror her personal life.In recent years, Sabah, who was humorously mocked for her - at least - nine marriages, experienced financial difficulties. Constant rumors involving Sabah’s death have been circulating in the past decade because of her advanced age. She has been described as “The artist who would not die”. However, Sabah was saddened by those rumors, saying :”Am I bothering them while i’m still alive ?”. On the topic of death, she said: “I’ve lived enough”. Sabah died on November 26, 2014 at the age of 87 in "Hotel Brazilia" for unspecified illness arround 3 a.m . Clauda Akl, the daughter of her sister Lamia said that Sabah wished before dying that people will dance Dabke in her funeral, to not feel sad and to keep listening to her songs.
Funeral: Sunday 30 November, 2014
Hundreds of friends, family and fans packed into Beirut church face downtown "Saint Georges" Sunday 30 November 2014 four days after her death to say farewell to the famed Lebanese singer, actress and entertainer Sabah.The daylong proceedings took on a festive air as the crowds celebrated the taboo-breaking six-decade career of Sabah, who died Wednesday 26 Novemver 2014 at the age of 87. A military brass band played in the street outside St. George Cathedral in downtown Beirut, where fans clapped and sang their favorite Sabah songs.Earlier, a troupe of dancers in traditional dress performed to the diva's music played from loudspeakers."I will call it celebration not a funeral," said Lebanese actress Ward El-Khal. "We feel today that we came here to share her feelings and to remember her. We will miss her."For the funeral Mass, Sabah's flag-draped coffin stood near the altar with a giant picture of the singer as a young woman with peroxide-blond hair. After the service, mourners carried the casket aloft — with people clapping, throwing flowers and reaching out to touch it and the photograph — outside to a waiting hearse. Sabah's body was carried through many towns to the church where she was buried.