Fairuz: The Charming Voice of Lebanon 

Lebanese singer and actress Fairuz is widely considered to be one of the most celebrated Arab singers of the 20th century. Fairuz was born Nuhad al-Haddad, in 1935, the eldest child of Wadih Haddad and Liza Bustani. Her father was a print-shop technician who moved his family to Beirut from the village of Dbayeh in the Chouf region with the goal of making a better living.

 

In 1947, at age 14, she was discovered by Mohammad Fleifel, one of the founders of the National Conservatory of Music in Beirut, who was in search of talent for a newly formed choral group. Fleifel was instrumental in Fairuz's admission to the National Conservatory, where she spent five years training. She adopted her stage name, Fairouz, meaning “Turquoise,” after her first performances on Radio Lebanon in the 1940s. While singing at the national radio station she studied the voices and techniques of the other singers. There, too, Fairuz's relationship with her composer 'Assi Rahbani and his brother Mansour developed. Through their compositions and arrangements, she was soon singing tunes influenced by the many western dance bands popular in Beirut at the period. But Fairuz's first big success came with a song full of melancholy, ' Itab (Blame), which lifted her to recognition across the Arab world through the excellent recording made in Damascus in 1952. 

 

Fairuz married 'Assi Rahbani in 1954 in a church wedding attended by a large crowd of adoring fans. In 1955, Fairuz and Assi travelled to Egypt for the first time. Cairo, which was then the center of the Arab theater, cinema, and song, was conquered by the young Lebanese singer. Fairuz's triumph in Egypt led to many offers by celebrated Egyptian composers and filmmakers, but by then she was expecting her first child. She returned to Lebanon and gave birth to her son Ziad on January 1, 1957. She was later to have four more children, three girls and one boy. But it was Ziad who remained closest to her of all her children and who in later years wrote and composed the music for many of her songs.

 

In the summer of 1957 Fairuz appeared for the first time before a live audience. Until then she had been restricted to the recording studios. She sang in a musical review ("Ayam el Hissad," or "Harvest Days") before a large spellbound audience seated in the Roman ruins of the Temple of Jupiter in Baalback. This was her first appearance at the Baalback International Festival where she performed for many successive years, and she was awarded the highest medal for artistic achievement there, the Cavalier, by the president of Lebanon, Camille Chamoun. 

 

The 1967 play Hālah wa al-Malik (Hālah and the King) marked a transition away from the group’s typical rural folkloric subject matter and setting, with Fairouz playing an urban character for the first time. It was also the first time that her son Ziad was involved in one of her projects, stepping in at the age of 17 after Assi suffered a stroke. 

 

During the war and with her husband’s health declining, Fairouz began to collaborate more exclusively with her son, who in albums such as Maʿriftī Fīk (1987; “My Knowledge of You”) and Kīfak Inta (1991; “How Are You”) seemed intent on helping to free her from the iconic pedestal she had been put upon by various factions in the country, in no small part as a result of the chaste characters she embodied in her earlier songs and musical theatrical plays. He often incorporated jazz in some songs and Eastern themes (manipulating maqam masterfully) in others, proving his skill in both. Songs like “Kīfak Inta” scandalized her fans with its more colloquial style and content, thus reinventing her music for a new generation. 

 

When her husband died in 1986, factions in Beirut declared a cease-fire to allow the funeral to process from the Muslim side of the city to the burial site on the Christian side. In the 1990s, after the Civil War, she staged a comeback in Lebanon with a concert in Beirut and a new album that appealed to a new generation of listeners. Fairouz remained active well into the 21st century, performing at concerts and recording new studio albums, including Ayh Fī Amal (“Yes, There Is Hope”) in 2010 and Bibālī (“On My Mind”) in 2017. By 2018 Fairouz had sold more than 80 million albums worldwide.

 

Fairuz's fame spread throughout the Arab world and beyond. She sang in Damascus, Amman, Cairo, Rabat, Algiers, and Tunis as well as Beirut. King Hussein of Jordan decorated her in 1963, 1977, and 1999. On the occasion of her performance in Morocco, King Hassan II of Morocco received her personally at the airport. She also travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montreal, London, and Paris, and made concert tours of the United States, where she was frequently awarded the keys to the cities in which she performed. During her concert in Las Vegas in 1999, the mayor of the city officially proclaimed May 15, 1999 as "Fairuz Day."  She also performed a series of songs for all the major Arab capitals -- each became a celebrated piece of popular art. 

 

During a period of three decades, she produced a repertoire of more than 800 songs, three feature films, and 400 LP recordings. Her repertoire on recordings and in performance offered a broad spectrum of material unmatched by virtually any other vocalist. From classical language tomes, pop and dance music, Eastern tarab, and Western classical (including a Mozart tune with Arabic lyrics) to art, children's, and patriotic songs, she excelled. Fairuz’s songs tackled various universal and national themes such as the Palestinian political plight, adolescence, Christmas hymns, pastoral Lebanese, love and family.