Syrian singer Mary Jubran in 1939

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Image Source: Syrianhistory.com Archive

 

Mary Jubran (1911-1956) was born in Beirut, but raised in Damascus during the early years of World War I. She launched her artistic career at the age of 16, performing on the stages of Beirut, Aleppo, and Jerusalem. In 1929, Jubran performed before Salama al-Hijazi, an Egyptian contractor visiting Damascus. Hijazi loved her voice and brought her to Cairo for a one-year contract. In addition to singing, Jubran acted on the Egyptian stage with theatre star Hussein al-Barbari. She returned to Syria when her contract expired, but was unable to find a decent job given that show business and stage singing were frowned upon by conservative society in Damascus. Jubran went briefly to Beirut where she performed at local nightclubs, becoming popular for her beauty and strong voice. Syrian agents were no longer able to ignore her. They hunted her down in Beirut and offered to bring her to the Damascus stage, to perform nightly at the Qasr al-Ballour Nightclub in Bab Touma.

In 1932, Badia Masabni, an Egyptian dancer, hired Jubran for another contract in Egypt, where as a more mature performer she became a huge success. Her performances had improved and her physical features matured, making her one of the main attractions of Cairo nightlife and earning her the nickname, "Mary the Beautiful." She befriended leading Egyptian composers like Mohammad al-Qassabji, Zakariya Ahmad, and Daoud Husni. These men had helped elevate the Egyptian diva Um Kalthum to stardom and had previously done wonders for the Syrian singer Asmahan.

Her rapid fame, however, annoyed many well-established Egyptian artists, who began to defame her, claiming that she should return to Syria. They applied pressure on the Egyptian government to extradite her, and when that failed, circulated rumors that tarnished her reputation. In spite of strong pressure to leave, she remained in Egypt until 1937.

When she returned to Syria, Mary Jubran became the number one artist in Damascus. She signed a contract for daily performances at Abbasid Club in Damascus for a staggering salary of 150 gold coins per month. She performed her own songs, but also sang the well-known songs of the Egyptian divas Um Kalthum and Munira al-Mahdiyya. When the Syrian National Radio was established in 1947, Jubran began to perform on radio and recorded her classic song, Khamrat al-Rabi (Wine of Spring).

During the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Jubran stopped singing romantic verse. Instead, she concentrated on national anthems and lyrics. Among her classics in 1948 were the songs Dimashq and Zanoubia, composed by Zaki Mohammad.  In 1950, she co-founded and was voted president of the Syrian Musicians Syndicate, a predecessor of the Artists Guild that was later established in the 1960s.

Mary Jubran developed cancer and died at the age of 45 in June 1956.