Sabah, Taboo-Busting Lebanese Icon of Stage and Screen, Dies at 87

Sabah, the Lebanese legend whose prolific singing and acting career lasted
over 70 years, passed away at home in Beirut Wednesday morning, aged 87. She was, according to Beirut’s Daily Star, “the first Arab singer to perform at Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, Piccadilly Theater in London and Sydney Opera House in Australia,” and remained fabulous ’til the end.

Sabah was born Jeanette Al-Feghali, and over the course of her career released over 50 albums and appeared in 83 films and 27 plays. She was also known for her personal life, which included nine marriages, and an unapologetic appetite for life. The Age writes, “She continued to shock fans with her dalliances well into her later years, getting engaged briefly in 2003 to a Mr Lebanon winner several decades her junior. In interviews, Sabah bluntly acknowledged she was unfaithful to most of her husbands, who she claimed were cheating on her.”

Here’s “Alo Beirut,” one of her better known songs:

Sabah got her nickname after starring in the Egyptian film Al-Qalb Laho Wahed in 1945, discovered at a young age by Cairo-based director Henry Barakat. The BBC writes:

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.”

Here’s Leila Baka Fiha El-Qamar (1980):

Sabah will be buried in Bdadun, her hometown, after a funeral in Beirut this Sunday.

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