7 Unexpected Western Singers with Arab Roots
By: Carrie Stewart / Arab America Contributing Writer
We all have our favorite musicians, actors, celebrities, etc. that we love to follow. But have you ever looked into the background of these artists? Artists may choose to make their ethnic background a very prominent aspect of their brand, or it could be more private for them. There are many celebrities in America that are from all over the world and you may not even know it. The following article will introduce 7 Arab American famous musical artists.
Musical Artists You Didn’t Know Were Arab Americans
Shakira was born in 1977 and grew up in Barranquilla, Columbia. Her father William Mebarak Chadid was born in New York City, and his family was from Lebanon. Shakira’s mother, Nidia Ripoli Torrado was Columbian.
Shakira wrote her first song at the age of 8 and signed her first record deal at the age of 13. When she was 20 years old, she and her family moved to Miami Florida, this is when she taught herself to write songs in English.
Shakira had a huge number of hits in both Spanish and English. She is known for her “aggressive rock-influenced vocals, passionate lyrics, and sexy belly dance moves.”
One thing you may remember is her Super Bowl performance in 2020 with Jennifer Lopez – it was a moment of Latin pride for the two women.
Recently, Shakira was accused of tax fraud and will face more than 8 years in prison if convicted.
2. Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande was born in Boca Roton, Florida. She is the daughter of Joan Grande and Edward Butera. Grande has always described herself as an Italian American. However, she took a genetic test that revealed that she also has Moroccan, Tunisian, or Algerian roots from one side of the family.
Ariana Grande started singing and acting when she was young (around 8). She has some roles on broadway and in TV shows, but her big break was when she starred as Cat in Nickelodeon’s Victorious.
After the show ended, she started to focus more on singing and released albums such as Yours Truly and My Everything. She had collaborated with a huge variety of talented artists such as Nicki Minaj, Mac Miller, The Weeknd, and Jesse J.
She also was judge on America’s Hit TV show, The Voice.
3. Paula Abdul
Abdul started her career as a cheerleader for the Los Angels Lakers. In 1987, she used her savings to make a signing demo and was eventually signed to the newly formed Virgin Records America. Her first album was called Forever Your Girl and it reached number 1 on the Billboard 20 chart at the time. Her second album was called Spellbound and had a lot of success. Abdul also appeared in a very famous Diet Coke Commercial.
Abdul became a judge on the hit television singing competition American Idol from season 1 to season 8. At that point, she hadn’t been in the spotlight for some time so the was renewed fame and success for her.
4. Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore Maryland in 1940. His mother, Rose Marie was Italian and his father, Francis Zappa had Greek and Arab ancestry.
In his early career Zappa “attempted to earn a living as a musician and composer, and played different nightclub gigs.” He also got the chance to make two soundtracks for low-budget films.
In the 60s Zappa wrote and produced songs for local artists such as Ray Collins. He “put together a series of stellar ensembles both under the rubric of the Mothers of Invention and under his own name.” In the first 30 years of his career, Zappa released 60 albums in rock, blues, and experimental jazz fusion genres.
Zappa was also a political activist. He even “set up voter-registration booths in the lobbies of his concerts and memorably testified against censorship at the Parents’ Music Resource Center hearings in 1985 in Washington, D.C.”
5. Herbert Khaury (a.k.a Tiny Tim)
Khaury was born in Manhattan, New York. His mother was a Polish Jewish garment worker and his father was a textile worker from Lebanon. He began teaching himself guitar at the age of 6 and at the age of 11 he started playing the violin.
“In 1963, he landed his first paying gig at Page 3, a gay and lesbian club in Greenwich Village.” After being booked to follow a “midget” act, his manager, George King, started calling 6 ft 1 Khaury “Tiny Tim,” which later become his signature name.” He was also known for his ukulele playing.
He signed with Frank Sinatra‘s record label Reprise and issued his debut album, “God Bless Tiny Tim.” On it was one of his most famous hits “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” which he sang in a falsetto voice. He also appeared in some films including Normal Love and You are What You Eat.
6. Paul Anka
Paul Anka was a Canadian- American singer. He was born in Ottawa, Ontario. Both his mother and father were of Lebanese descent. In high school, he studied piano, was part of a vocal trio, and sang in a church choir.
He recorded his first single at the age of 14 and then went to audition for Don Costa and ABC records. There he sang a song called Diana that ultimately went number one on American and Canadian music charts.
As he wrote more songs, he started to tour Australia and Britain with Buddy Holly. He also became a junior associate of Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Lastly, he starred in some movie roles such as in a cameo as an army private in The Longest Day (1962). He also composed the title song of the movie.
In 1963, he was married to Anne de Zogheb, the daughter of a Lebanese diplomat. They were divorced in 2001 and in 2008 he married his personal trainer.
7. DJ Khaled
DJ Khaled was born in New Orleans to Palestinian parents. His parents were musicians and they played Arabic music, this is where his interest in rap and soul music started. “DJ Khaled is an American DJ, record executive, songwriter, record producer, and media personality.” Khaled is currently married with two kids and describes himself as a devout Muslim.
He gained popularity as a radio host on 99 Jamz. After this, he released his debut album, Listennn… He then went to found the record label We the Best Music Group. Khaled has helped several big stars before their breakthroughs such as Birdman, Lil Wayne, and Mavado.
DJ Khaled currently has a very large social media following and “in 2016, he wrote a book, The Keys, which includes his opinions on success, recounts life stories, and describes contributions from other musicians.”
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