Monument to Umm Kulthum in Zamalek, Cairo; it is located on the site of the singer's former house.
Order of the Virtues (or Nishan al-Kamal) is a female Egyptian order of knighthood, as an award for merit.
Umm Kulthum with some of the most prominent names in Egyptian classical music. From left: Riad Al Sunbati, Mohamed El Qasabgi, Farid al-Atrash, Zakariya Ahmad.
Umm Kulthum with Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi in 1971.
Umm Kulthum with her ensemble.
Kulthum was a talented singer from a young age and learned singing by listening to her father, an imam, teach her older brother, Khalid. She was also taught to recite the Qur'an. When sixteen, she began to study music with Mohamed Aboul Ela, a modestly famous singer.
In 1923 she moved to Cairo, having been invited by composer and oudist Zakariyya Ahmad. There she was educated to play oud by Amin Beh Al Mahdy.
By the mid-1920s Kulthum had made her first recordings and by the end of the 1920s, she had become a sought-after performer and was one of the best-paid musicians in Cairo. In 1932 Kulthum embarked upon a major tour of such Arab cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut, Rabat, Tunis, and Tripoli(Libya), thus increasing her fame.
Over the second half of the 1930s, she began to appear on the radio and in musical movies. In 1936 she made her first motion picture, Wedad, in which she played the title role. During this time her repertoire took the first of several specific stylistic directions, as she moved from singing religious songs to performing popular tunes. Umm worked extensively with texts by Ahmad Rami, who wrote 137 songs for her and a composer Mohammad El-Qasabgi, whose songs incorporated European instruments such as the violoncello and double bass, as well as harmony.
The 1940s and early 1950s are popularly known as "the golden age" of Umm Kulthum, when she began her collaboration with poet Mahmud Bayram el-Tunsi, and composers Zakariya Ahmad and Riad El-Sonbati, thus changing her artistic inclinations. That repertoire had lasting appeal for the Egyptian audience.
Around 1965, Umm Kulthum started collaborating with composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Umm Kulthum’s health declined; yet she continued with her demanding concert schedule.
In 1967, she performed for the first time outside the Arab world in Paris. That same year, she embarked on a grand tour across the Arab World to bolster Egypt’s image in the wake of its defeat in the Six-Day War. She was the voice and face of the nation across all the Middle East. She served as a cultural ambassador for Egyptians and Arabs alike.
By 1975, Umm Kulthum’s health continued to decline, and the Egyptian newspapers wrote daily updates on her medical state. On February 3, 1975 she died of heart failure.
Between the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the 1952 Egyptian revolution, Kulthum became a patriotic Egyptian and a devout Muslim. She sang songs in support of Egyptian independence and in the 1950s sang many songs in support of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, with whom she developed a close friendship. One of her songs associated with Nasser—“Wallāhi Zamān, Yā Silāḥī” (“It’s Been a Long Time, O Weapon of Mine”)—was adopted as the Egyptian national anthem from 1960 to 1979.
After Egypt’s defeat in the Six-Day War of June 1967, she toured Egypt and the broader Arab world, donating the proceeds of her concerts to the Egyptian government.
"This life is a book and you are the thoughts."
"All the things unsaid are filling my chest and it has narrowed."
"Our happiness will make the moon shine bright and the stars bigger."
"Has my tenderness hardened your heart?"
"Love appears in the eyes of the one who loves."
"We ran and raced our shadows."
"We are defeated but we continue to love."
"What is life, but a night like tonight?"
"And I chose to stay away, and I learned how to become stubborn, and even abandon you. See? See what cruelty does to you?"
Umm served as president of the Musicians’ Union, as a committee member on the government division of the arts.
Kulthum’s voice was unbridled power, as she was able to sing as low as the second octave and as high as the eighth. In many ways like an Opera, her concerts typically lasted anywhere from three to six hours, during which time she would only perform two to three songs. She would always perform with a live orchestra and the length of her songs was never premeditated; she would perform according the reaction of her audience in an improvised style. Playing off of the emotional reactions of the crowd, she would often repeat a phrase over and over again in different ways, emphasizing different portions of it to achieve intense audience response and emotion.
Quotes from others about the person
“Virginia Danielson, Harvard Magazine: “Imagine a singer with the virtuosity of Joan Sutherland or Ella Fitzgerald, the public persona of Eleanor Roosevelt and the audience of Elvisand you have Umm Kulthum.””
In the 1920s Kultghum was linked with a number of men, including poet Ahmad Rami.
In about 1946, Sharif Sabri Pasha, one of King Faruq's uncles, made her a proposal, but it was immediately barred by the royal family. Feeling the disappointment of the broken engagement, Umm Kulthum agreed to marry a fellow musician, the oud player, composer and a vice-president of the Musician's Union, Mahmud Sharif. The marriage was dissolved within days, regarded by both parties as a mistake.
Finally Umm Kulthum married one of her doctors and a long-time audience member, Dr. Hasan al-Hifnawi, in 1954.