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Zehra Bilir

Zehra Bilir

First professional female folk singer in Turkey
"The children start speaking by singing folk songs."

Date of Birth: 1913

Place of Birth: Arapgir, Malatya

Date of Death: 28/06/2007 2007

Place of Death: İstanbul

Burial Site: Zincirlikuyu Cemetery,Istanbul



Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir Zehra Bilir

Field of Activity

Professional Folk Songs Singer

"In the 1940ies folk music instruments were being used only in their respective regions. The players of these instruments were not annotators. In fact, in those days folk songs were not sung very much on the radio because the radio had no department for folk songs at that time. They were listed under Turkish Art Music. Later they made a distinction, which was of course very appropriate. It was for this reason that I started to sing with the Turkish Art Music instruments. I was obliged to have friends who were not only musicians but also annotators. I was very relaxed as the folk songs I was singing were the ones I had brought with me. I wrote the notes of the folk songs I was singing and professional musicians played the music.

We are children of Anatolia. I can say that since the day I started speaking I have been singing folk songs. Children, especially in the eastern regions, start speaking by singing folk songs.

Due to my husband's occupation I have travelled all over Anatolia. The songs of these regions fascinated me. I learnt a new folk song nearly every day. When our travels in Anatolia ended and we returned to İstanbul, I had hundreds of folk songs with me. I started to have lessons with the famous music teacher Artaki Candan. I was capable of playing the bağlama, a Turkish folk music instrument. I was also a guest student in musical notation and the solfegé at the Conservatory of Istanbul.

I started to work as a folk singer in 1943 on İstanbul Radio, which broadcast at that time from the upper floor of Beyoğlu Post Office. I took the stage at the Küçükçiftlik Park Casino and Novotni Casino in Tepebaşı. Thus I became the first professional folk singer. I sang the folk songs in my repertoire with the respective regional accent and always dressed in regional costumes."
(Zehra Bilir )

About a concert of Zehra Bilir

2 June 1944, Küçükçiftlik Park, Maçka, İstanbul

Smart gentlemen and chic ladies at the tables around the pool have come to listen on this hot summer evening to the famous voices of Turkish Music. According to the advertisements in the newspapers very famous names are there tonight. Composer Selahaddin Pınar, violin master Necati Tokyay, kemancha player Aleko Bacanos, piano player Valantin Taskin, lute and piano player Yorgo Bacanos, cümbüş player Cemal Cümbüş, zither player İsmail Şençalar, drum player Hasan Tahsin Parsadan, violonist İsmail Özsoy, ney player Nihat, singers like Agyazar Effendi, Aksaraylı Yaşar, İbrahim, soloist Lütfi Güneri, and the female singers Can Akşit and Emine. The star of the night is Hamiyet Yüceses, better known as the Queen of Voices.

The female artist announced towards the end of the evening, just before the star, is very interesting. A tall, shapely singer with a friendly smile and dressed in an Anatolian shalwar appears on the stage. Between her fingers she has a red handkerchief which she waves to the rhythm of the music. Accompanied by Turkish art music instruments, she sings a folk song from the Gaziantep region with a full voice and a marked accent.

The audience listens to this voice with some confusion at first but they accept it in the second and third song and give it its due. A folk song is sung on stage for the very first time.
Ali Can Sekmeç, "Yaşadıklarını Zehra Bilir, Kimse Bilmez",, access 11.4.2012.

Examples from Zehra Bilir's Folk Songs Collection

Helvacı helva

Sen bu yaylaları yaylayamazsın


Kalenin Bayır Düzü

Zehra Bilir presents one of her stage costumes to folk singer Necla Akben. Necla Akben sings the folk song "Tiridine bandım " from the collection of Zehra Bilir

Zehra Bilir talking to singer Nurhan Damcıoğlu about her art.

The albums of Zehra Bilir
(a selection)
"I have made 31 albums with "Sahibinin Sesi Recording Company" between 1939 and 1955."
(Zehra Bilir )

  • Öyledir yar öyledir (First Single, no date available)
  • Al almayı daldan al (Second Single, 1941)
  • Karanfil ocak ocak
  • Delilo
  • Konyalım,
  • Diyarbakır şad akar
  • Yekte anam yekte
  • Kalenin bayır düzü
  • Nere gidem şu sarhoşun elinden
  • İki gemi yan yana
  • Sen bu yaylaları yaylayamazsun
  • Kaçma güzel kaçma ben adam yemem (1949)
  • Tiridine tiridine bandım
  • Baba ben dervişmiyem
  • Habudiyar
  • Makaram sarı bağlar
  • Asmalar kol uzatmış dallara

Zehra Bilir as Operetta Dancer
"I have been very interested in the arts since my early childhood. After reading an advertisement in the newspaper, I applied to İstanbul Şehir Tiyatrosu (İstanbul Municipal Theater). In those days Muhsin Ertuğrul was the artistic director of the theater. He accepted me with some other applicants. During this period the Municipal Theater was staging operettas as a new branch. They took me with some others to the ballet division. I danced in operettas like Lüküs Hayat (Luxurious Life), Üç Saat (Three Hours) and Deli Dolu (Madly) with artists such as Bedia Muvahhit, Vasfi Rıza, Muammer Karaca, Feriha Tevfik,and Azım Körmükçü."
(Zehra Bilir )

Zehra Bilir as teacher

Zehra Bilir worked as associate professor in the Folk Song Department of the State Conservatory of the University of İstanbul during the 1990ies.


No information available


No information available


  • Primary School: Arapkir İlkokulu, Malatya
  • Middle School: Kayseri
  • Method and Solfegé Teacher :Artaki Candan-Terziyan (composer and kanun artist)
  • Conservatory of İstanbul:Istanbul, guest student

Contributions to Society

Collector of folk songs

Family and Friends

  • Mother:No information available
  • Father :Harutyun (soldier during World War I. Never came back from the front)
  • Brother:Garbis
  • Son :Ergün Bilir
  • Grandchildren:Zehra Rengi Bilir, Ali Berker Bilir
  • Great grandchild:: Eylül Yağmur Sever
  • Marriage:Selahattin Bilir (engineer), Necmi Ergener (lawyer)
  • Friends:Artaki Candan Terziyan (composer, kanun player, director of "Sahibinin Sesi Music Company"), Vahram Gesaryan (owner of "Sahibinin Sesi Music Company"), Agop Ayvaz (Publisher of the "Kulis", a theater magazine, 1946-1966), Müjdat Gezen (actor), Alaattin Palandöken (instrumentalist, dentist), Hikmet Feridun Es (journalist), Bercuhi Berberyan (female journalist, writer and theatre director) Semiha Es (photographer) .

Commemorative Projects

Street Name in her memory

In 1985, the street in Arapgir (Malatya) in which the house where Zehra Bilir was born is situated, was named "Zehra Bilir."

Video in her memory
Ermeni Yetimi (Armenian Oprhan) Zehra Bilir (Eliz Surhantakyan) Türkü Ana

Further Reading

Ali Can Sekmeç, "Yaşadıklarını Zehra Bilir, Kimse Bilmez",

"Zehra Bilir (Eliza Surhantakyan)", .

"Heranuş Seher, Mehmet Ruhi, Eliz Zehra", .

"Türkü ana artık yok", yeniş, 2.7.2007.

"'Türkü Ana' Zehra Bilir vefat etti",, 30.6.2007.

"Türkü Ana vefat etti", 30.6.2007,

Coşkun Yerli, "Son Şehzade ", , no 95, 6/2006.

Mine Şenocaklı, "Ne olur, bana bir çukur bulun",, 12.3.2002 (11.4.2012).


Quoted sources
  • Mine Şenocaklı, "Ne olur, bana bir çukur bulun",, 12.3.2002 (11.4.2012).
  • Ali Can Sekmeç, "Yaşadıklarını Zehra Bilir, Kimse Bilmez",, access 11.4.2012.
  • See the "Further Reading" section

Source for visual images

Translation into English: Çetin Alanya, İstanbul
Editing: Mary Waegner, Fürth/Bay., Germany

©2012 Meral Akkent
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