Mr. Safi, whose real name was Wadih Francis, helped spread colloquial Lebanese Arabic outside his country. He became known to many Arabs as “the man with the golden voice.”
During a career that spanned seven decades, he worked with a string of legendary Arab composers and singers, including Egypt’s late Mohammed Abdul-Wahhab, the late Syrian-Egyptian Farid al-Atrash and Lebanon’s Fayrouz.
The son of a policeman, Mr. Safi was born in the mountain village of Niha. The second of eight siblings, he lived in near poverty in the village until his family moved to Beirut when he was 9.
There, he enrolled in a Catholic school and began singing in its choir. At the age of 12, he dropped out and began working and singing in order to help his family make ends meet.
When he turned 17, his elder brother, Toufic, showed him an announcement about a singing competition at state-run Lebanon Radio. Mr. Safi placed first out of 40 contestants and began working at the station.
He later lived in Brazil for several years before returning to Lebanon.
Mr. Safi left Lebanon at the start of the 1975-90 civil war, travelling first to Egypt, then Britain and finally France.
His hit songs included the nostalgia-laden “Lebanon, You Are a Piece of the Sky” and “We Are Coming,” about Lebanese migrants.
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA described Mr. Safi as “the giant of Arab singing.”
In addition to Lebanese, Mr. Safi held Egyptian, Brazilian and French citizenship.
Survivors include his wife, Melfina Francis, and six children.
— Associated Press