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March 31: The Queen of Hebrew Music

March 30, 2016

damariHusky-voiced singer Shoshana Damari, who earned a reputation as “The Queen of Hebrew Music,” was born in Dhamar, Yemen on this date in 1923. Her family brought her to Palestine (on foot) the following year, and she became a child performer there within the Yemenite Jewish community. She gave her first radio performance at age 15 and released her first recording at 17. “In 1944, when the satirical theater troupe Li La Lo was established, the founding director, Moshe Valin, invited her to join its ranks,” writes Nathan Shahar at the Jewish Women’s Archive. “By the time the troupe’s second revue... debuted in January 1945, Damari was already clearly a star. Most of the lyrics for the show were written by Nathan Alterman and set to music by Moshe Wilensky. Among the songs on the program was ‘Kalaniyot’ (Poppies), which met with astounding success and became Damari’s signature tune... throughout her lengthy career...” That career included tours of Displaced Persons camps after the State of Israel was established in 1948, and international tours throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. “For over forty years Damari reigned supreme on the Israeli music scene,” writes Shahar. “The finest lyricists and composers wrote for her. At national song festivals she was crowned the outstanding singer of her generation. Cities and villages, moshavim and kibbutzim held evenings of appreciation in her honor. Hers was a familiar presence at state occasions, alongside presidents and heads of state.” In the 1980s, her career experienced a revival and she was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew song. Damari died in 2006. To hear her signature song, look below. To see her singing in 1976, look below that.

“In her performances and recordings Damari spanned a range of genres, including patriotic songs (known in Hebrew as ‘songs of the homeland’), shepherds’ songs, holiday songs, love songs, children’s songs, Yemenite songs and songs in English and Yiddish.“ ‘ —Nathan Shahar