Umm Kulthum named among 200 greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone magazine

Aziz Abouelkhair,Wednesday 4 Jan 2023

Egypt’s world-renowned singer Umm Kulthum ranked 61st on Rolling Stone’s annually updated list of the greatest 200 singers of all time, coming ahead of mainstays of popular music such as Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Rihanna.

Oum Kalthoum
Umm Kulthum (Photo: Al-Ahram)


The top spot on the list, which was published on Sunday, was reserved for Aretha Franklin.

Rolling stone magazine is one of the most prominent popular culture magazines in the United States, while its namesake shares similarly prominent cultural significance as it borrows inspiration from Bob Dylan’s hit song “like a rolling stone”.

The magazine was founded in 1967 in San Francisco, California; it reports on politics, music and pop culture.

The list was authored by a consensus of music critics who based the ranking on technical ability, depth of subject matter and cultural significance.

Umm Kulthum was dubbed by music critic Will Hermes as “the soul of the pan-Arab world”, the magazine reported. Moreover, the list asserted Um Kulthum’s timeless dominance of Arab culture, stating that she has “no real equivalent in the west”.

Umm Kulthum’s birth date is widely debated, while her birthplace stands as the village of Tamay El-Zahayra in Dakahlia Governorate, where her father earned his bread calling for prayers and singing in weddings, a profession that Umm Kulthum took on at the tender age of 12 years old.

In a career spanning more than 5 decades, Umm Kulthum’s contralto register, the lowest for a woman, mesmerized people the world over with a discography spanning more than 300 songs, all of which were never performed in the same manner twice as Umm Kulthum was known for her virtuosic improvisation.

Her songs would easily outlast an hour, and her concerts lasted for about 5 hours. While performing her songs, she would bring her audience to a state of enchantment, or tarab, that has become characteristic of most Arabic music.

Her death in 1975 from kidney failure brought millions to the streets of Cairo to mourn; and while she is heralded by many to be Egypt’s best diplomat, due to her cultural significance and soft power contributing to Egypt’s foreign influence, she is remembered best by her voice which was so powerful that she did not use a microphone during her lengthy concerts.


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