Ashraf os-Sadat Morteza'i, or "Marzieh" as she has been known to Iranians for the last 50 years, is a legend in her lifetime, and the most prominent Iranian singer.
Marzieh was born in 1926 in Tehran. Her father was a learned clergyman and her mother came from an artistic family which included sculptors, painters, miniaturists, musicians and singers. Her mother inspired her to sing and supported her during her entire life.
"At the time, when families were less inclined to send their daughters to school, my father, though a clergyman, encouraged me to go through formal education", says Marzieh. "When I began to sing it was extremely difficult to become a singer. One needed both a good voice and a good knowledge of music and singing. Moreover, several masters of music has to certify the voice as well as the artist's grasp of the theory of music. Thus, I spent many years training under masters of Persian music before I formally began to sing."
Marzieh entered the world of art in 1942, In a famous Iranian play, Shirin and Farhad, brought to the stage by the Barbad theatre company, she played the role of Shirin for 37 nights and was an immediate success. "In the pm, I was on air, performing live . The public reacted enthusiastically."
Marzieh attained such skill, technique and cognition that composers, song writers and poets competed to get her to perform their works, considering that their most important artistic honor. She was the first singer to take part in Tehran's most prestigious program of the day, the Colorful Flowers. In the company of the most famous masters of Persian music, Marzieh performed more than 1,000 songs during her career. She is distinguished for her innovation of a new style and influence in Persian music.
Yet beyond her achievements in singing and music, she has remarkable qualities as principles, brave and brilliant woman. She emerged as a star at a time when fanatics scorned and humiliated music, players and singers, calling them "corrupt", and when women were locked in their homes under very oppressive conditions. As a young woman, she approached singing as a serious profession and showed tremendous dignity in performing only works of a high cultural quality. Her profound devotion and hard work to promote Persian art and literature under the adverse conditions of the time made her a musical icon, loved by the people and praised as a cultural treasure.
Despite having reached the zenith of her profession, Marzieh chose to remain silent for the 15 years since the mullahs came to power in Iran. She lived alone in a village outside Tehran and sang "only for the traveling clouds, the birds and the rivers". She wanted to avoid giving the slightest hint of legitimacy to the killers of Iran's culture and civilization. For she is not only the dame of Persian music, but her life is entwined with the whole of Iranian history and culture. Finally, in 1994, she defected abroad.
Marzieh accepted honorary membership of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in September 1994, saying that it was an honor to stand alongside the Iranian resistance. "I could not do much from there. I have come to join my voice with yours and do the best I can to echo the voice of our women. I am honored to have been accepted by you". Marzieh was later appointed Advisor on Artistic Affairs to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.
Marzieh's departure from Iran, and her declaration of opposition to the ruling clerics, has had a tremendous impact inside and outside Iran. In an attempt to blackmail her into returning, the regime arrested her daughter Hengameh Amini, and held her as a hostage. "The mullahs have arrested an innocent woman to impose psychological pressure on her 70-year old mother, because she joined the resistance movement for democracy and human rights. Despite their ruthless crimes to silence my voice, I tell this criminal regime that their cruel kidnapping has strengthened my determination to defend the rights of the oppressed people of Iran". Marzieh appealed to international human rights organizations and personalities, to take urgent action to save her daughter. Mrs. Amini, 42, a French -educated architect living in Iran, was released as a result of extensive international pressure, but is still under house arrest.
"I have always sung for everyone", says Marzieh. "But the mullahs have silenced the voice of love, affection and humanity, and incarcerated the breeze, the moonlight, the spring and the smile of my homeland, Iran. Of the land which represents one of the greatest human civilizations, cradle of poetry, literature, music and humanity which is undergoing her days of destiny under the lashes of an uncivilized, anti-culture, anti-women and anti-human rule".