DAMASCUS – 12/10/2013 – SANA-H. Sabbagh/ Mazen – The renowned Arab artist, musician and singer Wadih el-Safi, passed away on Friday at the age of 92, after decades-long career full of creativity and artistic excellence.
The Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) said that el-Safi suffered health complications while he was at the house of his son Tony in the town of Mansouriye east of Beirut. He was admitted to Bellevue Hospital where he passed away.
The Syrian Information Ministry and the Artists’ Guild offered their sincere condolences to his family.
El-Safi will be laid to rest on Monday at St. George Cathedral in Beirut.
Wadih el-Safi is considered a pillar of Lebanese music and one of the most prominent figures in Arab music, nicknamed “the man with the golden throat” whose name and voice were associated with the mountains of Lebanon.
El-Safi had a unique love for Syria and Syrians, often saying that the people of Lebanon and Syria are one, composing and performing two songs for Syria as a salute for its sponsorship of art and artists.
Wadih el-Safi was born Wadih Francis on November 1st 1921 in the village of Niha in al-Shouf area. The second child in a family with eight children, he lived a modest childhood, moving to Beirut with his family in 1938 where he enrolled in the Savior Convent Catholic School, where he became the first choirboy in the choir.
After three years, he was forced to leave school to help his father support their family. El-Safi eventually participated in a talent show organized by the Lebanese Radio, then known as the Near East Radio, winning first place in the singing category and outperforming the 39 other contestants.
The judges at the competition were so impressed by el-Safi’s voice, they asked him to join the radio officially and gave him his stage name, and soon his talent emerged with his first single “ya mersal al-nagha,” and he became renowned for his incredible performance of various types of Lebanese folk singing.
El-Safi traveled to work in Egypt in 1944 and to Latin America in 1947 where he stayed for three years, returning to Lebanon later where he issued his single “walaw” from one of the movies he appeared in, marking a landmark in his career.
In the following years, el-Safi became the undisputed king of singing in Lebanon and the Arab world. Throughout his career, the hundreds of songs he released invoked every possible feeling in the emotional spectrum, notably inspiring nostalgia and homesickness in expatriates with songs like “ala Allah te’oud ala Allah.”
In the late fifties, el-Safi worked with many musicians to improve Lebanese and Arab music, collaborating with contemporary musical giants like Philimon Wehbe, the Rahbani Brothers, Zaki Nassif, Walid Ghelmiye, Afif Radwan, Tawfik al-Basha and Sami Sedawi.
At the onset of the Lebanese Civil War in 1976, el-Safi left Lebanon, voicing his objection to that unfortunate war through his songs, and he continued to sing about the suffering caused by the Civil War throughout the eighties.
In 1990, el-Safi underwent open-heart surgery, yet he continued to compose, sing and perform and Lebanon and abroad and continued to cooperate with Arab and foreign artists.
El-Safi was awarded several honors, including the National Order of the Cedar which was awarded to him by former Lebanese President Emil Lahhoud. The Holy Spirit University in Kaslik gave him an honorary doctorate in music.
El-Safi was married to Melvina Tanyous. He left behind six children: Dunya, Marline, Fadi, Antoine, George and Milade.