With his distinctive baritone vocals, mastery of the oud and affinity for poetic lyricism, Abdul Wahab (born: Muhammad Abdul Wahab) lay the foundation for a new era of Egyptian song. A prolific composer, Wahab wrote more than 1800 tunes, many of which were popularized by Egyptian diva Umm Kalthum. His scoring of the Egyptian national anthem earned him the rank of general. He also scored the national anthems of Oman and the United Arab Republic. Wahab displayed musical talent from an early age. He performed with a drama troupe at the age of seven and later began appearing at religious festivals. Although his family encouraged him to study religion, he rebelled and continued to focus on music, studying traditional Arabic music at the Arab Music Club (now the Institute of Arab Music) in Cairo. He expanded his knowledge of Western music at the Bergran School. Western influences played an important role in Wahab's approach to music. In addition to incorporating Western instrumentation, he infused his music with elements of the tango, samba, and rumba. A close friend of Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawky, during the late '20s, Wahab set Shawky's poetry to music in the late '20s. Shawky became a mentor to Wahab, providing an entry into the high society of Egypt. A frequent performer at royal parties and celebrations, Wahab became known as the "singer of princes."
Wahab was extremely successful as an actor, appearing in seven films between 1933 and 1946 that remain staples of Egyptian television. One of his earliest experiences with musical theater came in 1926 when he completed a stage musical based on the story of Antony and Cleopatra, begun by late composer Said Darwish, and appeared in the title role. Wahab's interests in musical theater were further boosted during a trip to France in the early '30s. Attending numerous musical shows in Paris, he formulated a new approach to Egyptian theater. Putting his beliefs to work, he appeared in his first movie, The White Flower, in 1933. The film was a major success, breaking box office records throughout Egypt. Wahab continued to work with Egyptian filmmakers until 1950, when he returned to singing.
Although he ceased performing in the 1960s, he continued to write for other Egyptian artists. One of his greatest hits came in 1964 when Kalthoum recorded "Ente Omry," which he had written to a poem by Ahmad Ramy. The song, which features Wahab on electric guitar, remains one of the best-selling recordings in the history of Egyptian music. Although he made few public appearances during the 1970s and early '80s, Wahab made a serious comeback in 1988. A recording of new compositions sold more than two million copies. Succumbing to heart failure on May 3, 1991, Wahab was mourned throughout his homeland.