Umm Kulthum (Arabic: أم كلثوم, born أم كلثوم إبراهيم البلتاجي ; see Kunya; Egyptian Arabic: Om Kalsoum). (May 4 1904 – February 3 1975). Various spellings include Om Kalthoum, Oum Kalsoum, and Umm Kolthoum. In Turkish, she is named Ümmü Gülsüm. She was an Egyptian singer, songwriter, and actress. Born in El Senbellawein, she is known as "the Star of the East" (kawkab el-sharq). More than three decades after her death, she is still recognized as the Arab world's most famous and distinguished singer of the 20th century. Kulthum had a contralto singing range.
At a young age, she showed exceptional singing talent. Her father, an Imam, taught her to recite the Qur'an, and she is said to have memorized the entire book. When she was 12 years old, her father disguised her as a young boy and entered her in a small performing troupe that he directed. At the age of 16 she was noticed by Abol Ela Mohamed, a modestly famous singer, and by the famous oudist Zakariyya Ahmad, who invited her to Cairo. She waited until 1923 before accepting the invitation. She was invited on several occasions to the house of Amin Beh Al Mahdy, who taught her how to play the Oud". She developed a very close relationship to Rawyeha Al Mahdi, daughter of Amin, and became her closest friend. Kulthum even attended Rawheya's daughter's wedding, although she has always tried to avoid public appearances.
Amin Al Mahdi introduced her to the cultural circles in Cairo.
In Cairo, she carefully avoided succumbing to the attractions of the bohemian lifestyle, and indeed throughout her life stressed her pride in her humble origins and espousal of conservative values. She also maintained a tightly managed public image, which undoubtedly added to her allure.
At this point in her career, she was introduced to the famous poet Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for her. Rami also introduced her to French literature, which he greatly admired from his studies at the Sorbonne, Paris, and eventually became her head mentor in Arabic literature and literary analysis. Furthermore, she was introduced to the renowned lute virtuoso and composer Mohamed El Qasabgi. El Qasabgi introduced Umm Kulthum to the Arabic Theatre Palace, where she would experience her first real public success. In 1932, her fame increased to the point where she embarked upon a large tour of the Middle East, touring such cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, and Tripoli, Lebanon.
Her songs deal mostly with the universal themes of love, longing and loss. They are nothing short of epic in scale, with durations measured in hours rather than minutes. A typical Umm Kulthum concert consisted of the performance of two or three songs over a period of three to six hours. In the late 1960s, due to her age, she began to shorten her performances to two songs over a period of two and a half to three hours. These performances are in some ways reminiscent of the structure of Western opera, consisting of long vocal passages linked by shorter orchestral interludes. However, Umm Kulthum was not stylistically influenced by opera.
The duration of Umm Kulthum's songs in performance was not fixed, but varied based on the level of emotive interaction between the singer and her audience. A typical improvisatory technique of hers was to repeat a single phrase or sentence of a song's lyrics over and over, subtly altering the emotive emphasis and intensity each time to bring her audiences into a euphoric and ecstatic state, and was considered to "have never sang a line the same way twice". Thus, while the official recorded length of a song such as Enta Omri (You Are My Life) is approximately 60 minutes, a live performance could extend to many hours as the singer and her audience fed off each other's emotional energy. This intense, highly personalized creative relationship was undoubtedly one of the reasons for Umm Kulthum's tremendous success as an artist.
Her funeral was attended by over 4 million mourners – one of the largest gatherings in history – and descended into pandemonium when the crowd seized control of her coffin and carried it to a mosque that they considered her favorite, before later releasing the coffin for burial.
She had been referred to as "The Lady" by Charles de Gaulle, and is regarded as "The Incomparable Voice" by Maria Callas, Umm Kulthum is remembered in Egypt and the Middle East as one of the greatest singers and musicians who have ever lived. It is hard to accurately measure her vocal range at its peak, since most of her songs are recorded live, and she was careful not to strain her voice too much due to the extended rendition of her songs. Even today, she has retained a near mythical status amongst young Egyptians. She is also notably popular in Israel among Jews and Arabs alike, and her records continue to sell around a million copies a year. In 2001, the Egyptian government opened the Kawkab al-Sharq (Planet of the East) Museum in the singer's memory. Housed in a pavilion on the grounds of Cairo's Manesterly Palace, the collection includes a range of Umm Kulthum's personal possessions, including her trademark sunglasses and scarves, along with photographs, recordings, and other archival material.
It is known that she had the ability to sing as low as the second octave, as well as the ability to sing as high as between the seventh and the eighth octave at her vocal peak; yet she also could easily sing over a range surpassing two octaves near the end of her career. Her remarkable ability to produce approximately 14,000 vibrations per second with her vocal chords, her unparallelled vocal strength (no commercial microphone utilized for singing could withstand its strength, forcing her to stand at a 1-3 meter radius away from one), her ability and capability to sing every single Arabic scale, and her voice’s unique and breathtaking beauty that surpasses convention, arguably makes her the most incomparable voice of all time. In her final few years, recordings show a slight coarsening of her voice, a loss of the silken golden thread of coloratura which in her earlier years, in songs such as Bairam al-Tunsi's Beredaak, she displayed with an ease and stupendous nonchalance. In a parallel to Piaf's recording of le Droit d'Aimer, Umm Kulthum's last recording, Hakam 'aleina il hawa, does in fact show that her vocal powers had deteriorated during her last illness, and it makes sometimes painful listening.