The most serious hurdle on the way to stardom was Argov's socioeconomic background. He was born in Rishon LeZion, and grew up in a poor family, one of ten children. In those years, singers often began their careers by serving as entertainment for military troops, but Argov did not serve in the army. His remarkable singing abilities were cultivated at home, through his participation from early childhood in the singing and chanting of the religious Yemenite community.
Argov's debut album Eleanor (1981) featured the title track, "Sod HaMazalot" ("The Secret of the Zodiac"), and "Mah Lakh Yaldah" ("What's the Matter, Little Girl"), a tribute to his ex-wife, Bracha, who remained the love of his life.
His career was dotted with creative and personal lapses that were caused by his heroin addiction, which eventually led to his death at the age of 32. His musical achievements overshadowed his personal problems. His ability to sing heartbreaking versions of his songs in live performances, even when under the influence of drugs, allowed a blind eye to be turned to his addictive rampages, which ended up destroying his personal relationships.
Popularity and musical style
Argov was among the first singers to achieve commercial and country-wide success in the sphere of Middle Eastern-Mediterranean (Mizrahi) style music. This was despite the fact that his music was not mainstream at the time, and radio stations gave predominance to pop music from overseas. Some believe that the great popularity of Argov and other Mizrahi singers of his time, among them Avihu Medina, Haim Moshe and Margalit Tzan'ani, was a response to the widespread feeling among Mizrahi Jews in Israel that they were being discriminated against by the Ashkenazi hegemony.
The themes of Argov's songs were similar to those of American country music: love, heartache, disappointments, joy, addiction. He is considered a prodigy by many in the music business. Arranger and conductor Nancy Brandes, who musically directed many of his recordings, described him as a musical genius: He could make perfect recordings in one take, and when asked to do another take, was able to sing a totally different version just as perfectly. Argov had a remarkable talent for improvisation that respected the spirit of the song while allowing him to leave his personal mark.
Argov committed suicide in his jail cell following arrest on rape charges. Ironically, he died at dawn, a few hours after his appearance on a popular Israeli television talk show, where he discussed his life and drug problems. On the show he stated that he was being treated for his addiction. Argov had one son, Gili.
After his death Argov has continued to retain his undisputed status as "HaMelekh" (the King) of Mizrahi music. In recent years his important contribution to Israeli culture has been widely acknowledged. A mainstream label, Hed Artzi, put out a double album of his music, "Zohar Argov: The Best." Argov was the subject of a play mounted at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, and a feature film on his life, "Zohar," has enjoyed commercial success.
His songs, among them "HaPerakh BeGani" ("The Flower in My Garden"), "Mah Lakh Yaldah", "Ba'avar Hayu Zmanim" ("In The Past There Were Times") and "Badad" ("Alone"), are now considered Israeli classics and an integral part of national culture. Proposals to name streets after him in Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv are now being discussed.
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