Indisputably portraying what it means to be an extravagant diva with her oh-so-grand hairdo, camp attire, and powerful voice, Sabah embodied her name as the Arab world’s symbol of light.

With a presence as compelling as her voice, the Lebanese singer and actress set a precedent for what it means to be an Arab star. Unconcerned with traditions, she lived and delved into controversy and put camp on the Arab map, leaving behind an unforgettable legacy. 

Credit: @lebanesefashionhistory

There is no doubt that her playful personality has earned her several iconic nicknames, including Shahroura, which means a singing bird, Sabbouha, which is a diminutive form of Sabah, as well as Al-Ustura, translating to “the legend”. But despite her nicknames, few people know her real name; Jeanette Feghali. Having been born on November 10, 1927, in Bdadoun, Wadi Chahrour, near Aley in Mount Lebanon, Sabah began her career as a singer and actress at thirteen. She witnessed glimpses of stardom in the 1940s, eventually finding her way into Egyptian cinema, which held the highest stature in the region then, which allowed her influence to grow further. The first film she starred in, El Qalb Louh Wahid (The Heart has its Reasons, 1945), where she played Sabah, made her a star immediately, creating the eternal Sabah persona. 

After she was embraced by Egyptian cinema, Sabah became a household name throughout the rest of the region. She appeared in 25 plays, four radio musicals, nearly 100 films and recorded 3,000 songs. She worked with a plethora of Egyptian composers to master the art of mawwal, a genre of traditional Lebanese folkloric music. With her powerful voice, Sabah revealed herself in the genre with slow beats and sentimental songs, including “Zay el-Assal“, which means “Your Love Is Like Honey on My Heart“, “Yanna, Yanna,” “Akhadou el-Reeh,” meaning “They Took the Wind”, and so many others that evoked a sense of nostalgia. Her influence saw its way into historic venues; she played at Olympia in Paris, Carnegie Hall in New York, London’s Piccadilly Theatre and the Sydney Opera House. 

Known for her avant-garde blonde hairdos, exaggerated silhouettes, and exciting colour choices accompanied by all things glitter and sometimes questionable glamour, the Shahroura was an Arab pioneer of camp fashion. She challenged the archetypes of what it meant to be feminine and took steps in the world of fashion due to her unforgiving nature. She said no to suffocating ideals of what a woman should and shouldn’t be. 

Though Sabah remained away from politics, she was still infamous for her ten marriages, which kept her name in the minds of many. The Guinness Book of Records recognized Sabah as the oldest bride in history at 85 when she married her last husband, Joseph Gharib, despite her life expanding beyond love life.

On November 26, 2014, Sabah died at the age of 87. Details surrounding her death were scarce and caused havoc among the media to search for more information regarding her condition. In Beirut, thousands of people stormed the streets playing her songs, mourning, remembering, and celebrating her six-decade-long legacy. Here to one of our favourite divas. 

Through her writings about culture, art, music, and fashion, Zeina Saleh hopes to answer her own questions and to constantly stimulate her own curiosity. She holds an immense love and appreciation for music, and loves to travel. Her social media handle is @zeinasaleh.