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A Look Back at the Life of Fairouz, The Jewel of the Arab World

Credit: Rene Burri/Magnum Photos

Born Nouhad Wadie’ Haddad, the iconic musical legend is the most widely admired singer in the Arab world. The singer, who is beloved in the Vogue office, had the ability to unite entire generations of Arabs through her music. “She was the only symbol of peace in the times of war in Lebanon,” recalled Vogue’s senior translator, Dima Lababidi, who dubbed her a “beacon of hope.” Indeed, with her whimsical voice and ethereal vocals, Fairouz earned the nickname “the Jewel of Lebanon.”

Born on November 21st 1934, Nouhad found her passion for singing as a child, when she would help her grandmother fetching fresh water from the nearby spring in the rural village, singing on the way there and back. When she was 14, she started to sing in her school’s choirs and shows, and eventually caught the attention of a well-known musician at the time, Mohammed Flayfel, who encouraged her to pursue a musical career. Nouhad began by singing for a radio station in Beirut, where she adopted the stage name Fairouz, which means turquoise in Arabic.


Photo: Scott Lifshutz

During her time at the radio station, the rising star met singer (and future husband) Assi Rahbani, who shortly began to compose songs for her, one of which was Ithab – the song that would catapult her whirlwind career.

Fairouz went on to become an international star and household name by the 1960s. The Lebanese icon continued to produce hit after hit, such as “Nassam Alayana al Hawa” (The Air Breezed Upon Us,) “Habaytek Besayf” (I Loved You In The Summer,) and “Kan el Zaman w Kan” (Those Were The Days,) to name but a few. Today, her songs of love and her simple life still ring through the streets of Lebanon and other Arab countries, signs of the indelible mark that she left on many. As a Harvard University scholar, Barry Hoberman, once put it in a 1982 article in Saudi Aramco World: “Quite simply, Fairouz is one of the world’s nonpareil musicians and outstanding artists, an international treasure of the order of Rostropovich, Sills, Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, Sutherland, Pavarotti and Dylan.” We couldn’t agree more.

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