Egypt and the Arab world are commemorating the death anniversary of late Egyptian iconic singer Umm Kalthoum, who was born on December 31, 1898.
Today, Feb. 3 marks her 46th anniversary of her death at the age of 76 after a struggle with heart disease.
It has been 46 years since an estimated four million music fans paid their last respects to the “Lady of Arab singing,” Kalthoum, who died on 3 February 1975.
Kalthoum is the most renowned name in the history of Egyptian Music. She was born in the village of Tamay e-Zahayra, belonging to the city of Senbellawein, Dakahlia Governorate, in the Nile Delta.
In the earliest years of her life, she learned how to sing by listening to her father who was teaching her older brother, Khalid. From a young age she showed exceptional singing talent.
Her father, an imam at the local mosque, taught her to recite the Qur’an, and she is said to have memorized the entire book.
In 1922, she moved to Cairo and built her first musical instrument in 1926. Her starting point was when she got to know the poet Ahmed Rami then the composer Mohammad Al-Qasabji.
In 1928, she released her first monologue which made her very famous, which was a gateway for her to enter the film industry through her voice in the movie “Awlad el-Zawat” in 1932.
She then joined the Egyptian Radio upon its inception in 1934, and was the first artist to join the station.
Later that year, her fame as a singer increased through sales of her records to the point where she embarked upon a major tour of the Middle East and North Africa, performing in prominent Arab capital cities such as Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, Rabat, Tunis, and Tripoli.
Furthermore, Kalthoum participated in several films, however, she decided to devote herself to singing completely.
Moreover, she sang many patriotic songs and had numerous famous political stances.
The Lady of Arab singing was honored by many political and social leaders including King Farouk, Shaikh Zaid, Gamal Abd-El-Naser and Anwar Al-Sadaat. She also influenced “The Soft- Spoken Woman”, Nagaat El-Sagheera.
It’s worth noting that the story and the making of Umm Kalthoum, who was born Fatemmah Ibrahim El-Sayed in Egyptian countryside in the late years of the 19th century, was turned into a soap opera and produced in 1999 and is now being replayed by Egyptian TV drama channels in memory of her.
This historical daytime serial depicts the life of a countryside girl who made her way to fame and splendour, despite many challenges.
It does not closely examine the fact that Elwy elucidates, that Kalthoum as an artist was the product also of two urban middle class modernising artists, Ramy, a poet who studied Persian in France, and Al-Qasabji, a composer who reworked the musical path of Kalthoum following the death of Mohamed Aboueila in the early years of the 20th century.
“Ramy and El-Kassabguie were both keen on experimenting and Umm Kalthoum went along,” Elwy confirmed.
Not long after her successful debut with these two artists, Kalthoum found the most impacting partnership on her path with composer Riyad El-Sonboty, whose name is associated with some of her best classical songs (some argue that ‘Al-Atlal’, or The Ruins, is the most memorable song of her discography).
Upon the wish of Nasser, Kalthoum started collaborating with the Egyptian remarkable composer Abdel Wahab who helped her venture to new areas in the musical arena before her encounter with Baligh Hamdi who, according to the most conservative of critics, revolutionised her performances.
Actually, Kalthoum married four times; the first was an Imam named Abdel-Hamid. The second was an Egyptian composer named Mahmoud Sherif who cheated on her. Her last marriage was to Hassan El-Hefnawy who was her personal physician.
Ultimately, the death of the most prominent of all Egyptian and Arab women singers put an end to a successful career that was initiated in the early decades of the 20th century, first as a reciter of the Holy Quran and later as a singer who started with short songs.