From Virginia Louise Danielson’s “Shaping tradition in Arabic song: The career and repertory of Umm Kulthum”:
Umm Kulthum was born in a small rural village to a poor family. Her background typified that of the mashayikh and did not differ substantially from that of many of her contemporaries. Her father, al-Shaykh Ibrahim al-Sayyid al-Baltaji (d. 1932), was the imam of the local mosque, and her mother, Fatmah al-Maliji (d. 1947), was a housewife. Her date of birth is not known for certain, but the most reliable suggestion is May 4, 1904, given on a page from the Daqahliyah provincial birth records for Tammay al-Zahayrah.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Umm Kulthum began to make commercial recordings and launched her life-long involvement with mass media, essential to her long and extensive popularity. Her commitments later expanded to include radio, from the inception of Egyptian National Radio in 1934, films, which she began in 1935, and television in 1960.
Her increasing musical skill and financial stability in the 1930s allowed her to assume great control over all aspects of her performances. As sis most entertainers who were able, Umm Kulthum eliminated the theatrical agent from her professional life as soon as possible. She used her circle of carefully chosen friends as advisors and sometimes representatives and, by 1938, became the producer of her own concerts and negotiator of her own contracts. She was able to obtain extraordinary contracts that called for her approval of virtually every aspect of a performance, including selection of accompanists, and actors and technicians for her films.
During the 1930s, her repertory took the first of several specific stylistic directions. Her songs were virtuosic, as befit her newly trained and very capable voice, and romantic and modern in musical style, feeding the prevailing currents in Egyptian popular culture of the time. She worked extensively with texts by romantic poet Ahmad Rami and composer Muhammad al-Qsabji, who’s songs incorporated European instruments such as the violoncello and double bass as well as harmony.
Umm Kulthum’s musical directions in the 1940s and early 1950s and her mature performing style caused this period to be popularly called the “golden age” of Umm Kulthum. In keeping with changing popular taste as well as her own artistic inclinations, in the early 1940s she requested songs from composer Zakariya Ahmad and colloquial poet Bayram al-Tunisi cast in styes considered to be indigenously Egyptian. This represented a dramatic departure from the modernist romantic songs of the 1930s. The result was a populist repertory that had lasting appeal for the Egyptian audience.