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Umm Khalthoum
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Umm Kulthum – Singer, Songwriter, Film Actress and National Icon

Umm Kulthum – Singer, Songwriter, Film Actress and National Icon

Umm Kulthum, or “The Star of the Orient,” as she is often called, was born in a village near the Nile River on the 31st of December 1898. Born into a religious family in a rural area, Umm was swept up into singing on a national and international scale many years after starting out in one of the most unlikely places: religious recitations and songs alongside her cleric father. Today she is known as “Egypt’s Fourth Pyramid,” and “The Lady of Cairo,” and is known for making Egyptian history as the only artist to be officially decorated by the former King of Egypt (King Farouk I) with the Nishan El Kemal.

This honor usually only goes to members of the royal family! But, before all this, during her early years, Umm had to disguise herself as a boy when performing on stage to ease people’s anxieties about a girl performing in front of an audience. So, how did Umm go from singing in disguise to becoming a national Egyptian icon who, by 1926, became the highest paid musical artist in the history of Egypt?

The Lady Behind The Legend  

In the early 1900’a, in a small village on the banks of the Nile River Delta, a humble Imam (which is like a Muslim priest) would sing religious songs at weddings and holiday events to make ends meet for himself, his wife, and his three young children. Umm, the youngest, picked up singing from her father, who was training her older brother, Khalid in his profession.

During one of these sessions with his son, Umm’s father was dazzled by the strength of her voice and decided, when she was only 5 years old, to enroll her in a religious school that emphasized Quran (which is like the Muslim Bible) recitation. It was there that Umm continued to develop her singing talent.

As she grew older, her father would disguise her as a boy so they could go to events together, singing religious folk songs for an audience that came to remember Umm as “the little boy with the powerful voice.” Soon after this, however, Umm’s father sent Umm to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, where her talent might be more widely appreciated. And so, it was.

The Move To Cairo

In the 1920’s, Umm’s family relocated to Cairo to support her singing talent. Singing, especially singing for girls, was not seen as an honorable activity on the rural banks of the Nile River. But Umm’s father, who disagreed with this sentiment, made the decision to move to the capital city (Cairo) to seek out better opportunities for Umm.

In this new environment, Umm shifted the focus of her singing from religious folk songs to Cabaret-style romance music. As the months turned into years, Umm’s reputation grew with one performance after another, and she grew wildly popular after signing with a major record label called Odeon Records. Her work rapidly sold-out vinyl copies everywhere they were kept. Then, from the 1920’s through the 1940’s Umm leapt from the status of a famous singer to a national icon defining the voice and spirit of an entire generation in Egypt who adored the artist and her craft.

Umm’s performances were not only loved by her fellow Egyptians but other Arabic-speaking listeners across the Middle East and North Africa who tuned in to listen to the charming songs of this elegant Egyptian lady. Her voice travelled widely through the region and defined her as an iconic artist of the modern era.

Umm Kulthum The Voice Of Egypt

Umm Kulthum began her musical career in a small village on the banks of the Nile River and, because of the support of her father, lead a joyful life performing with audiences across the world. Despite the drawbacks of a harsh social attitude toward singing in general (and women signing especially) Umm pushed forward and ended up winning over the Egyptian people with the rich quality of her voice and the relatability of her songs.

During these rich years of wide success and popularity, Umm also and unfortunately experienced several health-related issues and eventually passed away. Millions of people lined the streets of Cairo for her funeral and Egyptians and Arabs continue to recognize her as “The Lady of the Orient,” and the voice of Egypt.

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