Shusha

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Shusha Guppy channeled the musical traditions of her native Iran to create some of the most beguiling and innovative folk records of the singer/songwriter era -- she is perhaps even better known for her…
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Shusha Guppy channeled the musical traditions of her native Iran to create some of the most beguiling and innovative folk records of the singer/songwriter era -- she is perhaps even better known for her award-winning memoir, The Blindfold Horse: Memories of a Persian Childhood. Born Shansi Assar in Tehran on December 24, 1935, she was the daughter of distinguished theologian Mohammad Kazem Assar, the longtime chair of philosophy at Tehran University. At 17 she was sent to Paris to study French literature at the Sorbonne, additionally training as an opera singer. There she adopted the name Shusha, becoming deeply immersed in the leftist ideologies of thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Aragon -- she also counted among her friends the poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert, who encouraged her interest in traditional Persian folk songs as well as the contemporary French chansons and ballads popularized by Juliette Gréco, and after honing a repertoire of original songs in both French and Persian, she began performing live across the French cabaret circuit. After marrying art dealer and explorer Nicholas Guppy in 1961, Shusha relocated to London, where she embraced the American protest folk of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. She also launched a career as a journalist, writing for publications on both sides of the Atlantic, and for years served as London editor of The Paris Review.

While Shusha's first LP, Persian Love Songs & Mystic Chants (first released in Britain in 1971), emphasized traditional folk, subsequent efforts like 1974's Shusha and This Is the Day spotlighted original material distinguished by a uniquely poetic lyrical outlook and cosmopolitan melodies informed by both Eastern and Western sensibilities. Although her albums enjoyed little commercial traction, Shusha toured throughout Europe and North America, and issued nine full-length albums in all, culminating in 1983's Durable Fire. In 1976 she also completed an Academy Award-nominated documentary, People of the Wind, a portrait of Iran's nomadic Bakhtiari tribes further distinguished by an acclaimed soundtrack LP. Upon the 1988 publication of The Blindfold Horse, an evocation of life in Tehran prior to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, Shusha earned a series of awards including the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. A follow-up, 1991's A Girl in Paris, charted her years among the French intellectual elite -- her other books include 2001's Three Journeys in the Levant: Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and 2005's The Secret of Laughter: Magical Tales from Classical Persia. After battling cancer, Shusha died in London on March 21, 2008.