Yousef Ya'akov Shem Tov was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1924. His father, Yakoub, was a professional qanun player, but he had been disowned by his family, who considered this profession to be beneath their status. Yousef was introduced to music at an early age, and when he was around eight years old he began lessons with a Turkish-born oud player named Sissak Bek, who had deserted from the Turkish army and fled to Baghdad. He gave his first performance in 1936 at the age of twelve, together with some famous musicians in a cafe in Baghdad, and several years later he began to give oud lessons himself. He soon began to establish a reputation as an accomplished musician, becoming the lead oud player in the most popular orchestra in Baghdad and acquiring the professional name 'Yousef Al-Oud'. However, life for Jews in Iraq was becoming intolerable, so in the early 1950s he made the decision to leave for the newly-created state of Israel. Although he continued to perform and compose, Shem Tov found himself in a largely-ignored minority in Israel and never regained the fame he had enjoyed in Iraq. It was not until the 1990s that he returned to the public eye, when Israeli oud player Yair Dalal, who had known Shem Tov for many years, invited him to guest on his album 'Samar'. Dalal remained an enthusiastic promoter of Shem Tov's music until the latter's death in 2007.