Friday, June 20, 2014

Sunday service set for Casey Kasem

Funeral services for American entertainment icon and proud Arab American Casey Kasem will take place Sunday. Kasem died June 15 in a Washington State hospital following a long illness. He was 82.

The service will be held at the American Druze Society’s cultural center in Eagle Rock, Calif. Kasem was an active member of the Druze, a religious community with ancestral ties to present-day Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. He was a founding member of the American Druze Foundation and played an integral role in establishing the Society’s Southern California cultural center.

Manal Saab, who chairs both the American Druze Foundation board and the Arab American National
Museum’s National Advisory Board, was a personal friend of Kasem’s. She recalls his dedication to his faith and community.

“Casey was different than most celebrities. He always picked up the phone and he never said no to helping. My husband Ghassan and I had a personal relationship with Casey. He was Lebanese, Druze, and from Michigan. Casey had the chance to visit Lebanon with his family in 1997, and the Lebanese people embraced him with relentless celebration.”

Casey Kasem has long been celebrated as an iconic voice of American radio and music, and is also recognized as one of the most famous Arab Americans. He was born Kamel Amin Kasem in Detroit on April 27, 1932, to Lebanese immigrant father and Lebanese American mother. Like many Arab immigrants to Detroit at that time, Casey’s father Amin owned a grocery store. In the 1950s, his mother and aunt owned a grocery store in Fenton, Mich. (near Flint), where Arab immigrants were also succeeding in the grocery business.

Kasem is a graduate of Wayne State University in Detroit, where he began his career by performing bit parts in radio dramas. He is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served as a DJ during the Korean War. In the summer of 1970, in collaboration with fellow Arab American broadcaster Don Bustany and other partners, Kasem launched his syndicated radio program, American Top 40, on just five radio stations. Soon the program was heard “coast to coast” on hundreds of stations and later became a TV show. Classic episodes remain on the air today. Kasem also had a successful career as a voice-over actor, most notably as an NBC announcer and the voice of Shaggy (“Zoinks!”) on the children’s cartoon Scooby Do, Where Are You!.

In addition to his numerous accolades and awards, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1981) and induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (1992), Kasem has always been proud of his Arab heritage. “Whenever I can,” he said in a 1983 interview, “I like to let people know that I am Lebanese, that I am Arabic, and that’s my heritage. I’m an American first, but at the same time I feel strong ties going way back.” Several obituaries recount how Kasem’s entertainment career was inspired by listening to his older relatives’ one-upsmanship style of storytelling as a kid.

Throughout his career, Casey Kasem fought against media stereotyping of Arabs and Arab Americans, and has always encouraged young Arab American media producers. He has given selflessly to many Arab American causes, including the Arab American National Museum, lending his sonorous voice to its Making An Impact permanent exhibit and donating multiple items for display, including his Hollywood Walk of Fame plaque and the American Top 40 sign that hung on the program’s Ventura Boulevard studio in Los Angeles. Kasem has been an honorary member of the AANM’s National Advisory Board since the Museum opened in 2005.

“I fondly recall listening to American Top 40 as a child,” says Devon Akmon, AANM director. “Knowing that Casey and I shared our Lebanese heritage gave me a great sense of pride from an early age. His contributions to American popular culture and his advocacy for the Arab American community will be forever celebrated at the AANM.”

Casey Kasem’s legacy also includes the new $2 million Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Druze and Arab Studies at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, a first-of-its-kind program. Casey’s daughter, Kerri, also a great friend of the Arab American National Museum, is following in her father’s footsteps professionally and through her community involvement.

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