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International Star You Should Know: Rita

This multiplatinum Israeli singer has a fan base that crosses Mideast borders

SAY MY NAME

The U.S. may have Madonna and Prince, but Israel has its own single-monikered pop star, Rita, who for decades has been considered the most famous crooner in the country. And here’s the kicker: She’s also really big in Iran.

EARLY YEARS

Rita was born Rita Jahanforuz in Iran in 1962. Her family left for Israel when she was 8, slipping out nine years before that country’s Islamic Revolution. “I remember a completely different country,” she says. She got her start at the mic as part of a musical troupe while serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and in 1986 her first album, “Rita,” went triple platinum. “My story is a Cinderella story,” she says. “I’m still in awe at how Israel embraced me from the first day I came onstage.”

SINGING IN THE STREETS

Rita flew the flag for Israel at the 1990 Eurovision Song Contest with “Shara Barkhovot” (“Singing in the Streets”), but she placed only 18th at the event. No matter: The song was a major hit at home in Israel, which she followed up with a chart-busting cover of the Police’s “Roxanne.”

TRACKING FAME

She has released 12 albums in 25 years, selling more than a million albums. Her debut album, “Rita,” went triple platinum (Israel’s numbers for gold and platinum are smaller than in the U.S.: Gold is 20,000 albums and platinum is 40,000). Her second album, which was her first international release, sold 50,000 copies. In the 1990s, she released three albums, all of which went multiplatinum. In 2011, as tensions between Israel and Iran continued to escalate, Rita recorded her first album in Farsi. “My Joys” was a hit in Israel, and thanks to bootleg copies and the Internet, the album soon made its way to Iran, where it has been illegally downloaded by thousands of unlikely new fans. “What was amazing was the emails that I started to get from the Iranian people,” she says. “The world is getting smaller and we can reach each other.”

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