Search
Close this search box.

Remembering The “Star of The East”

Celebrating 100 Years of the life and legacy of Umm Kulthum

As we commemorate the centennial of what is believed to be the first public performance of the legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, we must reflect on the unparalleled impact she had on the Egyptian and Arab music landscape. Born in 1898 and died in 1975, Umm Kulthum’s extraordinary vocal abilities and remarkable life journey had her name engraved forever in our history. Pioneering the career for almost six decades, the Voice of Egypt and Star of the East, as she was referred to, left a legacy of over 300 songs. Walking the streets of Cairo today, her voice surges from every corner, never failing to capture your heart just as it did when she began singing back in 1924.

Not only was her voice one of a kind, but her songs were also written by some of the most famous and loved Egyptian and Arab poets. Among them were Ahmed Shawky, his dire competitor Hafez Ibrahim, Ibrahim Nagy, and Ahmed Ramy, who wrote most of her songs, as well as the Saudi Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal. Their words were brought to life by the Star of the East and orchestrated into timeless musical masterpieces like Amal Hayaty, Alf Leilah w Leilah,  AlHob Kolo, and Enta Omry. The latter was dubbed Leqaa Al-Sahab, referring to the first collaboration between Umm Kulthum and her lifelong foe Egyptian singer and composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

THE FIRST STEPS: HOW IT STARTED

As breathtaking as the period of her fame was, her beginnings were even more interesting. Umm Kulthum’s journey to fame began in small Cairo theaters back in 1924. Her encounter with both the young promising composer Mohamed Al-Qasabgy and young poet Ahmed Ramy would change her life forever. Umm Kulthum went from a young girl dressed as a boy chanting verses of the Quran back in her small village in Mansoura, to an earthquake of a woman who ended up performing at one of the world’s most famous stages, L’Olympia, Paris.

Star of the East wasn’t just a nickname bestowed by famous radio broadcaster Mohamed Fathy, it was one she had earned. The legendary singer was not only deeply loved by the people all over the Arab world, but also cherished by its presidents and kings. King Farouk, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and President Anwar El-Sadat would be seen front-row at her concerts.

During her long, successful career Umm Kulthum had won many international awards including: The Medal of Perfection from King Farouk, The Lebanese Cedar Medal, The Jordanian Renaissance Medal, The Iraqi Order of Mesopotamia, The Syrian Order of Merit, and The Pakistani Order of the Star of Merit.

THE WOMAN, THE LEGACY: COMMEMORATING THE LEGEND

Since 1975, the year when Umm Kulthum passed away, many singers have tried to follow in her footsteps, including Amal Maher whose voice might have been the closest.  Many have paid tribute to her since her death, capturing her in paintings or statues, honoring her through songs, and even with her very own museum.

The famous Egyptian-French painter George Bahgoury, had proudly pinned his Umm Kulthum inspired paintings in many of his exhibitions. Two statues were sculpted embodying the legendary singer, one located in Umm Kulthum square in Zamalek, and the other one honored her memory at her birth place, Mansoura.

In 2016, the “Umm Kulthum” museum located in Manial opened its doors, in memory of her long life journey. The museum displays many of the ornate gowns, jewelry she wore at her concerts and the famous black sunglasses she was so often pictured in. And of course no homage to her style can be complete without the famous handkerchiefs which moved in her hands to the sound of her songs.

The great and long life journey of Egypt’s and the Arab world’s greatest singer should never be told in parts.  The 30-episode namesake TV show that aired back in 1999, starring Egyptian actress Sabreen, documented her life and honored her memory.

CELEBRATING A HUNDRED YEARS

This February, Egypt celebrates the centennial of Umm Kulthum. 1924 was the year when she first performed on a stage. Under the roof of Al Busfor Theater, she chanted poems and short traditional songs among them her first famous song, Wa Haqak Anta AlMuna Wa Altalab.

No honor seemed ever enough to honor the Star of the East. This year, the Egyptian Tourism and Revitalization Authority chose the Grand Egyptian Museum to commemorate her with the 100 Years of Umm Kulthum ceremony. The concert is scheduled on the 21st of February and will star many popular singers such as Reham Abdel Hakim, Marwa Nagy, and Eman Abdel Ghani, and conducted by the maestro Mohamed Al-Mogy.

Saudi producer Mona Khashoggi was also keen on documenting the life of Umm Kulthum. Her musical Umm Kulthum and the Golden Era took the stage at some of the most prestigious theaters in the world, from the London Palladium premiere in 2020 to the Dubai Opera, and the Ithra Theater in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This year the musical took over the stage of the Bahrain National Theater on January 25th. The hit musical narrates the life of Umm Kulthum, and the star musicians she contemporized, such as Mohamed Al-Qasabgy, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Tahia Karioka, and her rival, Munira Al-Mahdia.

We’re sure this won’t be the last of many tributes to follow.

 

Share this article

Related articles

Sign up to our free newsletter for your guide to fashion trends, cultural talking points, celebrity profiles and other exclusive insider tips