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Shoshana Damari, 83; Israeli Singer, ‘Queen of Hebrew Music’

From Associated Press

Shoshana Damari, whose voice came to embody the emerging nation of Israel and comforted its people during their most trying times, died Tuesday. She was 83.

Damari, who was battling pneumonia, had been taken to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on Friday and put on life support. Her many friends, as well as leading Israeli singers, congregated around her hospital room in recent days, singing her songs and praying for her recovery.

She made her last public appearance a week ago at the Ami Awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Grammys, where she complimented the nation’s young generation of singers.

Known as “the queen of Hebrew music” and a recipient of the country’s most prestigious cultural prize, Damari entertained Israeli civilians and soldiers for nearly seven decades with her booming alto voice, continuing to perform until shortly before her death.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Damari “one of Israel’s cultural greats.”

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“Her voice and noble image guided us for more than 60 years ... through the establishment of the state, through wars and peace, happiness and grief,” Olmert said in a statement. “Shoshana Damari was an example for love of humanity, love of the land of Israel and, especially, love for the Hebrew song....

“We will remember her forever as the national voice.”

Damari immigrated to Palestine, now Israel, with her family from Damar, Yemen, as an infant in 1924, but her singing featured a distinctive Yemenite pronunciation, adding an ethnic quality to her Hebrew songs.

The diminutive performer was known for her powerful, low-pitched voice that seemed to start from her toes, working its way up her body.

She studied singing and acting and began appearing in public in her teens, performing on radio from the age of 14. She made many recordings and helped soothe the nation during its war of independence in 1948.

In 1988, Damari was awarded the country’s top civilian honor, the Israel Prize, for her contribution to Israeli vocal music.

As word of her death spread Tuesday, a wave of nostalgia washed over the country.

Her songs, such as “Kalaniot” (Anemones), were played repeatedly on the nation’s main radio stations, evoking memories of a bygone era of innocence. Israeli television also went to special programming Tuesday night, with tributes to her career and the airing of her last interviews and concert performances.

Damari is survived by a daughter who lives in Canada. Funeral plans were not immediately announced.


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