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Iconic Lebanese Singer Sabah Dies At 87


And the Arab world is mourning the death of a household name there - one of its biggest film and music stars. Sabah was known for heartrending ballads and a risque flamboyance. She was born in Lebanon and rose to fame in Egypt during the 1940s. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this remembrance.


SABAH: (Singing in foreign language).

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: That is the voice of Sabah, the singer who died at age 87 Wednesday in Beirut. She was born Jeanette Gergis al-Feghali in Lebanon. But from the 1940s on, she was just Sabah - a single-named diva like Madonna or Cher. Her career spanned six decades. In her lifetime, she starred in nearly 100 films and sang some 3,000 songs, staying in the limelight even through her 80s. This week, the Arab world mourned her.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Fellow artists called into the Lebanese channel MTV to remember her. One younger singer, Melham Zein, called her a source of happiness for the Arab world that taught everyone of the meaning of song. Some called her a symbol of Lebanon, but she was beloved around the region and a star of Egyptian cinema.


SABAH: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: In a 2010 TV interview, Sabah told her fans, may God never deprive me of you. You raised me, and you loved me. And I don't have a love bigger than your love. But when I say goodbye, don't be sad. Say that she went to a very pretty place.

In her personal life, she pushed the boundaries of what was expected of women in a largely conservative society. She married nine times. One of those husbands divorced her over a way-too-short skirt. And in her 70s, she dated a much younger winner of a Mr. Lebanon pageant. In her later years, she was a sometimes ridiculed for over-the-top outfits, makeup and cosmetic surgery. But this week, what people remembered most was her voice, a voice that earned her the nickname Chahroura - singing bird. And they remembered her most famous songs.


SABAH: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: Songs like Zay al Asal - your love is like honey. Fans on social media remembered her as an emblem of tiny Lebanon, plagued with sectarian strife in the middle of a chaotic region but rising up to enjoy life. As one remarked, she illustrated everything Lebanese in her love for life to the point of recklessness. Leila Fadel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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