Singer Shoshana Damari Passes Away

The much-loved Israeli singer Shoshana Damari, known as the Queen of Hebrew Song, passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 83.

Naomi Grossman, | updated: 10:53

Ms. Damari, who was hospitalized on Shabbat with a severe case of pneumonia, suffered a major deterioration in her health last night. She did not respond to treatment and finally passed away at 8:00 this morning. She was surrounded by her friends and family, who had been singing along with her right to the end. She breathed her last to the accompaniment of her famous signature tune, “Kalaniyot” (Poppies).

Israel Prize-winner Shoshana Damari, born in 1923, moved with her family from Damar, Yemen, to Israel in 1925, settling in Rishon LeTzion. As a child she performed at weddings with her mother, and at age 14 she began to sing on Israeli radio. She became a famous singer while retaining her Yemenite intonation and heavy Sephardic pronunciation.

Shoshana left home at the tender age of 13, when she studied drama at the Shulamit Studio in Tel Aviv. Studio manager Shlomo Busami became her constant companion, and when Shoshana was 16 years old they were married. Busami would manage his wife’s singing career for the rest of his life.

In 1939, Damari first performed solo, when she was only 16. In 1943, her career took another turn when she joined the “Li-La-Lo” musical theater, eventually becoming its star performer. Her distinct Yemenite style singled her out from the rest of the artists, most of whom were of European origin.

She is famous for her performance of many songs by composer Moshe Vilensky, chief among them "Kalaniyot." Other such compositions included “BeCarmei Teiman” (In the Vineyards of Yemen) and “Miriam bat [daughter of] Nissim.” During the War of Independence, some of Damari’s songs became synonymous with Israel’s struggle to emerge as a state, such as “HaKrav Ha’Acharon” (The Final Battle) and “Batsheva.” Just before independence was finally achieved, Damari performed with Vilensky in a series of moving concerts in DP camps around Europe.

In the 1950s, Damari recorded several songs with the Nachal choir. Around this time, her fame grew, making her one of Israel’s most popular singers. In 1957, she became the star performer of the Hebrew Shulamit choir. During the 1960s and 1970s, Damari performed in the United States and the United Kingdom and participated in music festivals around the world.

In 1988, Damari was awarded the Israel Prize for her contribution to Israeli vocal music. By then, she had started to appear less frequently, making her last album – Ohr (Light) - that year. In 2001, Israeli artists arranged a tribute concert especially in Damari’s honor.

In an interview she gave to Arutz-7 several months ago, Shoshana stated that she could not identify with current Israeli songs:
“We are such a talented nation with so much to offer, but instead we are turning into the best imitators in the world, copying songs from the U.S. and Europe. We don’t have any solid music of our own. Once, a song would be written in Israel about whatever happened here. I don’t accept the claim that the reason for [the change] is a decline in the values of the land of Israel, because for every Jew, whether he wants it or not, Israel is his home. He could sing about its views and its people."

She suggested that the best way to change this situation would be to keep listening to the old recordings of Hebrew music, which would arouse the younger generation’s love of this type of song.