Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Zeki Müren

Zeki Müren (1931-1996) was the most famous twentieth-century singer in all Turkish-speaking countries. He was never surpassed in performing a very difficult form of Turkish classical music that originated in the Sultan's Court of the Ottoman Empire.

In his early years he became a popular movie star, branching out into Arabesk (a Turkish musical genre), popular music and even composition – he penned more than 300 songs, many of them written for use in his films. A true polymath, Zeki also achieved success in poetry and design.

His recordings and televised performances made him a cult figure of almost mythical status, held as dear to the hearts of the Turkish people as Frank Sinatra in the U.S. and Europe. And, just like Sinatra, Müren’s recordings, issued over a 40-year span (1951-1991), are still heard today in all Turkish-speaking countries. Five wildly popular compilation albums have been released since his death, which resulted from a string of health complications and massive weight gain.

Although Zeki was a homosexual who always lived his life according to his own terms, it is astonishing that as Müren became more flamboyant, sporting heavy woman’s make-up, a bouffant hairdo. female dress and outsized jewelry, his popularity grew, along with record sales. His stage persona was as over-the-top as Liberace – in drag. He designed most of his outrageous costumes. It is difficult for us Westerners to comprehend that there was no public backlash, in light of Muslim countries’ unwavering intolerance of homosexuality. The last five years of his life, during which he was afflicted with health issues, were spent in relative seclusion with his male partner. Even so, he made not infrequent "guest star" appearances.

Yet after his death backstage immediately following a live television performance in Izmir, it was revealed that Müren had left all his money to an Army Fund for disadvantaged soldiers and a foundation for education. His death caused the greatest public grief in years, and many thousands of Turks attended his funeral. Zeki Müren is revered to this day, having his own museum in Bodrum; his extravagant grave in his native city of Bursa had to be fortified by a heavy iron grill to prevent well-wishers from taking all the soil as souvenirs.

After early success in Bursa’s summer theatre, Zeki moved to Istanbul to pursue a singing career while still in his early teens. After studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Istanbul, he recorded his first single in 1951, at a time when he was already a regular singer on Istanbul radio. His first musical film co-starred Cahide Sonku (in polka dots at left), the greatest female Turkish movie star at the time. It was the first of Müren’s 18 consecutive films (1953-1971), all of which met with success.

To say that Muren's stage performances were novel and over-the-top extravagant is understatement. Müren was one of the first artists to use a catwalk stage in order to mingle with his audiences. Zeki was particularly popular with conservative housewives, who flocked to his sold out afternoon shows fashioned particularly for the entertainment of women. In fact, it was this dialogue with his fans, his manner of interacting and his flawless diction and pronunciation of the Turkish language that best explains his wide appeal. Through his recordings, "good Turkish" was brought to the masses, providing them with a free linguistic education alongside their musical entertainment.


  1. Great tribute to a great man. Even when singing his Turkish is crystal clear.

  2. I've only recently listened to Zeki Müren's songs, and I am just amazed at how different he was in so many ways. They don't call him the Paşa for nothing - his voice is the best I think I've ever heard, no word of a lie. No-one comes close, not even amongst Western music legends... every time I watch of a video of his or listen to his song, I feel this spiritual cleansing, this overwhelming sense of joy and purity that no other voice has done. And what's more, if you find translations for his songs, they're evergreen songs in nature. In fact, one song I'm listening to is so soulful, it makes me want to cry at times...

    I just also wanted to point out, Zeki Müren could not have done and been what he did and was if it were for Atatürk (I know there's a bio on him on this blog too). Atatürk changed the dynamic of Turkey almost completely. He took the rampant, most well perceived Islam of the Ottoman Empire and dampened its magnitude so much, that it was almost an open door for Zeki Müren, born during the reformation of Turkey, to come out loud and proud. All praises to Atatürk - without him, Turkey would probably be just like Iran, and a lot earlier than Iran...

    Because of Zeki Müren, I feel I am a lot more comfortable in myself, and in my sexuality. There is almost no other gay icon for me. ZEKİ MÜREN'İ ÇOK SEVIYORUM (I love Zeki Müren a lot).

  3. I love Zeki Muren!

  4. I wonder if anyone else will ever sing like Zeki Muren sang,