Childhood and early Career
Dana International (Sharon Cohen) was born in Tel Aviv, Israel as the youngest of three children. Her family is of Yemenite-Jewish descent.
Though assigned male at birth, she identified as female from a very young age. She dreamed to become a singer from the age of eight, when she watched Israeli singer Ofra Haza perform her song “Chai” in the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest. Although the family was quite poor, her mother worked to pay for her music lessons, and she stated that her childhood was happy.
Dana International took her stage name from a feminized version of a childhood friend Daniel, who died in a car accident.
At 18 years of age, Cohen (still legally male at the time) earned a living as a drag queen, parodying many famous female singers. During one of her performances, she was discovered by Offer Nissim, a well-known Israeli DJ, who produced her debut single “Saida Sultana” (“The Great Saida”), a satirical version of Whitney Houston’s song “My Name Is Not Susan”. The song received considerable exposure and helped launch her career as a professional singer.
In 1993, Dana International flew to London to continue her transition, and legally changed her name to Sharon Cohen. That same year Sharon released her first album, titled “Danna International”, in Israel. Soon after, the album was also released in several other countries including Greece, Jordan, and Egypt (In Jordan and Egypt the album sold illegally). Sharon’s stage name Dana International comes from the title track of the album, and was originally spelled with two n’s. “Danna International” turned gold in Israel.
2nd Album “Umpatampa” and Eurovision Song Contest
In 1994, Dana released her second, Trance-influenced album “Umpatampa”, which built on the success of her debut album and provided further hit singles. The album went platinum in Israel and has sold more than 50,000 copies to date. Because of her popularity and the success of this album, she won the award for Best Female Artist of the Year in Israel.
In 1995, Dana attempted to fulfill her childhood dream of performing in the Eurovision Song Contest. She entered the Eurovision qualifying contest Kdam Eurovision in Israel with a song entitled “Layla Tov, Eropa” (“Good Night Europe”) which finished second in the pre-selections, but became another hit single.
In 1996, Dana released her third album, “Maganuna”. Although this album was less successful than her previous efforts, it still reached gold in Israel.
Dana was chosen to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest 1998 in Birmingham with the song “Diva”. Orthodox Jews and others with conservative views were opposed to the choice and attempted to void her participation in the contest. In May 1998, Dana performed “Diva” at the Eurovision final and won the contest with 172 points.
She became internationally known, and was interviewed by the big music stations, unfortunately mostly focusing on her life as a transsexual person before winning the contest. Dana’s own words “the message of reconciliation” were; “My victory proves God is on my side. I want to send my critics a message of forgiveness and say to them: try to accept me and the kind of life I lead. I am what I am and this does not mean I don’t believe in God, and I am part of the Jewish Nation.”
After winning the Eurovision
In 1999, Dana released “Woman in Love”, a Barbra Streisand cover. In May 1999, Dana again participated in the Eurovision Song Contest held in Jerusalem. Dana was a part of the interval act and sang the Stevie Wonder song “Free”. One memorable moment from the event was when she presented the award to the winners of the contest. Whilst she was carrying the heavy trophy, one of the composers of the winning Swedish entry stepped on the long trail of her dress by mistake, and she fell over on stage – in front of a television audience estimated to be a million or more, making it one of the most memorable moments in the 50-year-long history of the contest.
She released her next album “Free” in Europe in 1999, which enjoyed moderate success. A few months later Dana moved back to Israel and started to work on different projects. Israeli and Japanese editions of “Free” were released in 2000. That same year, an Israeli documentary film was made about Dana called Lady D.
In 2001, after a break, Dana released her seventh album “Yoter Ve Yoter” (More and More). The album put her career in Israel back on track and provided two hits called “Ani Nitzachti” (I Won) and “Achrei HaKol” (After All), which eventually both went gold.
Dana was about to sign with a major label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, for an international recording contract. There were disagreements that led to Sony Music cancelling the deal before it was completed.
A few years later, in 2005, Dana participated in the 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Copenhagen, after “Diva” was selected as one of fourteen songs considered to be the best Eurovision songs. The song did not make it into the final top five. Dana got the chance to perform both “Diva” and an old Eurovision favourite of hers, Baccara’s 1978 entry “Parlez-Vous Français”.
Return to music and Eurovision comeback
After a few years away from show business, together with the relaunch of her official website, a first single of the upcoming album was released in March 2007: “HaKol Ze LeTova” (“It’s All For the Best”). The official album, also titled “Hakol Ze Letova,” was released on 15 August 2007. “
On 26 February 2008, Dana gained an additional achievement when the song “Ke’ilu Kan” written and composed by her and performed by Boaz Mauda, was chosen on Kdam to represent Israel at Eurovision Song Contest 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia. It came 5th in the semi-final and gained 9th place in the final rank.
Dana campaigned for Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni shortly before 2009 legislative elections in Israel. At a women’s political rally in Jerusalem Dana performed a disco song alongside Livni onstage, announcing “I now formally invite you to the diva sisterhood.”
On 8 March 2011, Dana International won the Israeli National Final for Eurovision with the song “Ding Dong”, and represented Israel at Eurovision for a second time. The song did not make it into the final; she was the first Eurovision winner not to do so.
2013–present: new singles, TV show and album
In April 2013, after a two-year break, Dana released a new single, “Ma La’asot” (What To Do). It was released digitally worldwide on 24 April 2013. On 29 May, Dana released a video clip for the song Loca, to promote the Gay Pride Tel Aviv 2013. Dana will perform on the main event for the Gay Pride on 7 June. Her third single for that year, “Ir Shlema” (A Whole City), was released in July. Late in January 2014, Dana’s new music reality show “Yeshnan Banot” premiered. Dana is the main judge on the show, attempting to find Israel’s next girl group.
Also in 2014, Dana was the main attraction aboard the first Jewish boat to participate in the Amsterdam Pride Canal Parade. Dana stated, “I don’t believe in any religion, so I’m here as an Israeli, not as a Jew. But it’s time to end the persecution over religion or national reasons. Just cut out all that shit. That’s my message.” Previously, after she won the Eurovision song competition, a religious debate had been held as to whether, and how, Dana should pray in a synagogue, with one rabbinical authority concluding that Dana should be counted in a minyan as a man. She could not sing in front of the community since she was also a woman, according to the rabbi, and that would violate the Orthodox rule of kol isha.
In June 2017, Dana released a new single, called “Ruti”. In August 2017 she released another single, called “Yesh Li Ahava (La Costa)” (I Have Love (La Costa)). In November 2017 she released a third single, called “Nish’eret Itcha” (Staying With You).
In April 2018, Dana recorded a new version of the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila” to promote “Israel Calling”, a pre-Eurovision event. 20 years after her win in the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham with her song Diva, Dana released a new version of her hit in June 2018, in association with NYX Hotel and pagfilms.
In July 2018, Dana performed at the rally during the 2018 Israeli LGBT’s strike events with her song “Ani Nitzakhti” (I Won). Later that month she released a new version of the Jewish song “Mi Ha’Ish” (Who is the Man) to promote the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade, in which she performed in August.
In may 2019, Dana performed in the Eurovision song contest with Bruno Mars’s song “Just the way you are”.