Özel Türkbaş (September 1, 1938 – July 22, 2012) was a Turkish-born actress, model, singer and belly dancer, who helped popularize belly dancing in the US and recorded traditional music aimed at a western audience.
Life and Career
She was born in Turkey, and lived in Ankara as a child and then moved to Istanbul. She was a member of the State Children’s Theatre in Ankara, before starting a singing career with her sister in Istanbul. Her sister, Tancan Ferguson and herself were known as the Ozel Kardesler (meaning the Ozel Sisters [Ozel also meaning “special” in Turkish]). During the 1950s, she worked as a model, and also starred in films in Turkey including Gunah Koprusu in 1955, where she met Ayhan Türkbaş (film alias Batu Turkbas) who became her husband. She also represented Turkey at international film festivals, including Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.
Ozel came to the United States in 1959. After several years of touring the major cities of the United States and dancing in the top night clubs and venues, she was selected by Franco Zeffirelli to play the role of La Orientale in his production of the opera Thais, in Dallas, Texas, with the premier dancer Jacques D’Amboise of the New York City Ballet.
She settled in New York with her husband, and continued to dance throughout the country, including the Catskills and Mexico City. Türkbaş regularly worked with leading musicians, and in 1969 released the album How to Make Your Husband a Sultan, on which she was accompanied by the leading Turkish clarinet player Mustafa Kandıralı, together with Cevdet Çağla (violinist), Ahmet Yatman (kanun), Tarik Bulut (piano), Gerhard Rudolph (bass guitar), and Leszlo Kubinyi (drum). The record contained a complete 17-minute dance routine, together with other traditional songs. How To Make Your Husband A Sultan was included in the book 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. She followed it up with several further albums including How to Belly Dance for Your Sultan, Dance into Your Sultan’s Heart, Alla Turca, and Kismet. She also wrote two books, The Turkish Cookbook by Ozel and The BellyDancer in You.
Ozel appeared on the Mike Douglas Show, Joe Franklin Show several times and the Dinah Shore Show. She modeled for PeReJa and appeared on the cover of major Turkish magazines, including Hayat Magazine, in the 60’s and 70’s.
After she retired from performing, she and her husband owned restaurants and invested in real estate, owning properties in Manhattan and Long Island. Her and her husband opened the one of the first Turkish restaurants in New York City named Ozel Restaurant. She continued to make appearances and speak about her passion for belly dancing. She occasionally appeared to sing as well. She passed away in New York in 2012. She is survived by her husband, Ayhan Turkbas and her two children, daughter Deniz Turkbas and son John Halil Turkbas.