TEHRAN – Mohammad Reza Shajarian, whose distinctive voice quavered to traditional Persian music on state radio for years before supporting protesters following Iran’s contested 2009 election, has died, state TV reported Thursday. He was 80.
Shajarian enlivened Iran’s traditional music with his singing style, which soared, swooped and trilled over long-known poetry set to song. But the later years of his life saw him forced to only perform abroad, after he backed those who challenged the disputed re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by telling state radio to stop using his songs.
“After what happened, I said ‘no way’ and threatened to file a complaint against them if they continued to use my music,” Shajarian told The Associated Press in 2009.
The TV report said he died on Thursday, following a long battle with cancer. Shajarian's son, Homayoun, tweeted that his father “flew” to meet the heavens.
Within hours, Shajarian’s fans began gathering outside the Jam Hospital in the capital, Tehran, where the singer passed, several crying openly. One man sat on the pavement, his head in his hands, weeping. A teacher, 34-year-old Hasti Amini, said she was deeply saddened, describing Shajarian as “the people’s voice in difficult times."
“He was the great child of Iran. He was a big person and was very precious to us,” said another fan, Paria Hosseini. As night fell, the crowd lit candles in a vigil honoring the national icon.
“I am heartbroken,” said Mojtaba Yousefi. The 65-year-old car mechanic recounted how Shajarian’s songs played over the radio during the 1980′s Iran-Iraq war, bringing him and his comrades in the trenches “great comfort."
Iran's 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 Rouhani praised Shajarian for the “timelessness" of his songs.