RFL/RE – Iranian composer and singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian, whose prolific recordings of traditional Persian music made him a national icon and “ambassador of Iran,” has died at age 80.
There was an immediate outpouring of grief outside Jam Hospital in Tehran, where the singer died on October 8, according to state television. As night fell, the crowd lit candles in a vigil honoring the classical musician.
Videos posted on social media later showed the gathering turn into a protest as police moved in to disperse the crowd, Reuters reported.
Shajarian, who died after a long bout with cancer, was born in 1940 in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran. His son, Homayoun, said on Twitter that his body would be transported to Mashhad on October 9 for a Shi’ite ceremony and burial.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted his condolences, saying, “Maestro Shajarian was a great & true Ambassador of Iran, her children and –most of all — her culture.”
Iranian President Hassan Rohani praised Shajarian for the “timelessness” of his songs.
Sharjarian got his start in singing through reciting the Koran. After Iran’s 1979 revolution, it was his soaring voice that sang a prayer before sunset during Ramadan, and Shajarian’s songs played over the radio during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
But he surprised his fans and Iran’s political structure when he supported a challenge to the reelection of hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
After Ahmadinejad won a contested vote count that sparked massive protests, ending in a crackdown, he demanded that state radio stop playing his songs, which it did.
Shajarian called on the authorities to lay down their guns and talk with the protesters. The clerical leadership responded by banning him from releasing albums and holding concerts in Iran.