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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Legendary Lebanese singer and actress Sabah dies at the age of 87

The Lebanese actress and singer Jeannette Gergi Feghali, better known as Sabah, has died at the age of 87.
Lebanon's veteran singer and Arab star Sabah has died aged 87. AFP
Lebanon's veteran singer and Arab star Sabah has died aged 87. AFP

The Lebanese actress and singer Jeannette Gergi Feghali, better known as Sabah, has died at the age of 87. She was known for her “voice of honey” and her ability to evoke memories of the mountains in Lebanon, and the star’s death is a blow to the world of Arab film and music.

In a career that spanned 60 years, and created a treasured archive for Arab film and music – more than 90 films and thousands of songs – Sabah became known for her generosity, her forgiving nature, her elegance and class. Fans describe her as “white-hearted”, meaning a woman who has given much of herself and given so much back to the land from which she came. Born in Bdadoun, a Lebanese town close to Beirut, in 1927, Sabah began her rise to fame in the 1940s.

Her’s was not an easy life. There are reports that she suffered abuse at the hands of her father, and that her brother may have killed her mother. It is believed she married early to get away from her father. She has also had to deal with bankruptcy in her later life, and was taken advantage of financially by several of her husbands. It is not clear how many times she was married: some reports say seven, some nine, some even 10.

Some of her husbands were icons of Egyptian cinema, like Rushdi Abaza and Ahmad Farraj. It is also rumoured that she was married to a prince of Saudi Arabia for a few months, but apparently the union was dissolved as his family disapproved of the marriage.

Rumours about Sabah abound, but the singer was known for not caring what any­one thought. She turned the other cheek towards harsh criticism in the media and it was said she never held a grudge - even if she was interviewed by someone who had previously spoken harshly of her, she was always gracious and kind.

The Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt took to Twitter to express sadness at the singer’s death, writing: “She was a great singer of a Lebanon that my generation knew and that will never come back.”

Sabah’s most popular films include How Can I Forget You? (1956), The Street of Love (1959), Al Layaly al Dafiaa (1962) and Layla Baka Fiha el Kamar (1980). She has shared the screen with stars such as Abdel Halim Hafiz, Farid al Atrash and Emad Hamdy.

The star was honoured with the Dubai International Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. Abdul­hamid Juma, the chairman of DIFF, said: “Sabah is a symbol of Arab optimism, and her charisma, talent and staying power brought hope and good humour to many during difficult times.”

Sabah said of the award: “DIFF has boosted my confidence, especially for an artist of my age to be honoured at such a prestigious festival.”

artslife@thenational.ae