At the end of July 2020, the Greek Music in America Archives Project (GMAAP) will come to a close. This will conclude a series of projects stretching from 2015 to 2020 that documented, explored, interpreted, and preserved Greek music in the US.
Greek diaspora communities have long been transnational in nature—physically, emotionally, and culturally. In the diaspora, music is an essential component of social activities—linking the past to the present, the distant to the near—saturating the acoustic community with an intricate web of information and memories. And, for many whose roots are outside the United States, “music invents homeland” (Lornell and Rasmussen 2016, 20).
Commercial ethnic recordings were an important indication of community life and musical preferences. Historian Dan Georgakas asserted that, “Music, in fact, proved to be the most important cultural legacy of the immigrants….” (Georgakas 1987, 17). Moreover, the music produced by Greek immigrants in the US had an enduring influence on the musical culture of Greece and other diaspora communities. Gail Holst-Warhaft’s commentary on rebetika is also true of other genres: “The history of rebetika, both as a recorded and live genre, has always been closely linked to the émigré communities in the United States.” (Holst-Warhaft 2001)
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, growing commercial record production coincided with surges in immigration—generating substantial documentation of ethnic music. From May 1896 to 1942, more than 1,000 Greek records (Gauntlett 2003, 28) in many genres were recorded in the U.S. (Spottswood 1990)—and thousands more have appeared since. They encompass Greek traditional music from all regions, as well as emerging urban genres, stylistic changes, and newly composed songs of social commentary.
Seven years ago, I co-produced a CD of music by a Greek American performer. While writing the liner notes, I realized that there was little written on Greek music recorded and performed in the US—and most of what had been written appeared in ephemeral and largely inaccessible publications. At the time I was working for the City of Tarpon Springs, so I developed a project and was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to produce a groundbreaking exhibit and related programming about the development and social history of Greek music in America. It was the first exhibit to explore the range of Greek music and recordings in America, and the musicians who created them.
Although I curated the exhibit—which included editing and co-writing the exhibit text, selecting images and audio clips, and curating the artifacts—I relied heavily on the knowledge, suggestions, and co-writing of Greek music historians and exhibit consultants Steve Frangos and Meletios Pouliopoulos. In addition, Pouliopoulos supplied numerous images and artifacts.
The exhibition was displayed May-November, 2015 in the City’s Folklife Gallery. The opening reception featured a santouri performance by respected ethnomusicologist Dr. Sotirios Chianis, and a lecture by Meletios Pouliopoulos. To enhance the exhibit, I also produced a series of free concerts/dances highlighting different aspects of Greek music: Greek Music in America: 1910s-1945; Greek Music in America: 1945-2000; Songs of Struggle: Kleftika, Rizitika, Xenitia, and More; Songs of Love and Loss. In addition, we showed the film Rembetiko (1983), based based on the life of singer Marika Ninou, which depicts social conditions surrounding the rebetika music tradition in Greece.
After the exhibit, I realized that there was much more work to be done. Despite a substantial artistic legacy, there had never been a book devoted to Greek music in America. I pitched the idea to the University Press of Mississippi, with whom I had a long working relationship. They immediately realized that, despite their well-known series of music publications, there was nothing on Greek music—and they were excited about the project. So I organized and edited a volume that would provide a platform for understanding the scope, practice, and development of Greek music in America through essays and profiles written by principal scholars in the field.
The book Greek Music in America was awarded the 2019 Vasiliki Karagiannaki Prize for best edited volume from the Modern Greek Studies Association. It includes several pioneering essays that were published in obscure sources, as well as recent and previously unpublished work from contemporary specialists. It is important to note that recent technological advances have vastly increased the availability of original recordings, record catalogs, sheet music, ephemera, oral histories and other documentation—often resulting in scholarship with a more solid foundation than was possible in the past.
Authors Tina Bucuvalas, Anna Caraveli, Aydin Chaloupka, Sotirios (Sam) Chianis, Frank Desby, Stavros K. Frangos, Stathis Gauntlett, Joseph G. Graziosi, Gail Holst-Warhaft, Michael G. Kaloyanides, Panayotis League, Roderick Conway Morris, National Endowment for the Arts/National Heritage Fellows, Nick Pappas, Meletios Pouliopoulos, Anthony Shay, David Soffa, Dick Spottswood, Jim Stoynoff, and Anna Lomax Wood cover many topical areas. The essays in the section titled “Musical Genre,Style, and Content” are intended to cover a wide range of Greek music genres. In the “Places” section, authors interrogate the musical culture of specific Greek American communities. “Delivering the Music: Recording Companies, Performance Venues, and Radio” examines the ways that Greek music was made accessible. The “Profiles” section consists of short sketches of noteworthy individuals or entities that shaped the course of Greek music in the US or to its allure and perpetuation—with subjects ranging from artists who lived in the early twentieth century to those who still perform, from instrument makers to record company founders to club kids. Finally, the appendix contains a guide to collections of recordings and related materials currently available to the public.
After the exhibition and book projects, the need to establish a comprehensive physical collection of Greek music that would be preserved for posterity was glaringly evident. The Greek Music in America Archives Project (GMAAP), a collaboration between Florida Cultural Resources, Inc. and the Archives of Traditional Music/Indiana University, is now underway.
In 2019, I secured a $35,000 grant to Florida Cultural Resources from the National Endowment for the Arts/Folk and Traditional Arts Program. Grant funds support the creation at the Archives of Traditional Music/Indiana University (ATM) of a comprehensive, contextualized, and publicly accessible collection of commercially released Greek music recorded in America or recorded by American companies in Greece from 1896 to 1985. The Archives of Traditional Music was chosen as a project partner for its history of preservation and dedication to disseminating the world’s music and oral traditions. The collection encompasses about 1800 items in multiple formats, including analog discs, audiotapes, piano rolls, cylinders, and associated ephemera such as record catalogs, sheet music, or images. At this time there is no other comprehensive and publicly accessible collection of Greek recordings.
A team of Greek music specialists and archivists as been identifying, collecting, and contextualizing an integrated collection of Greek music and related materials produced in the US. The project has had three major components:
• Survey existing collections: GMAAP staff surveyed ATM holdings of US-recorded, commercially released Greek music. Efforts were guided by ATM collection descriptions and staff knowledge, as well as through consultation with project staff and consultants Meletios Pouliopoulos, Steve Frangos, Andy Kolovos, Dick Spottswood, Michael Kaloyanides, and Panayotis League.
• Acquisition: GMAAP staff and consultants determined the recordings needed, and staff acquired many for deposit with ATM.
• Cataloging: Working in partnership with ATM staff, lead music historian Pouliopoulos is describing acquired items and preparing them for deposit at ATM in July 2020.
People of all backgrounds will benefit from the increased knowledge about the history and development of Greek music in America provided by GMAAP—but especially Greek Americans and Greeks with an interest in their musical and social history, ethnomusicologists, folklorists, anthropologists, Modern Greek studies scholars, world music enthusiasts, music archivists and historians, and others. Scholars in Greece have expressed interest in the collection, which will provide a needed resource to extend their knowledge of music in the diaspora. Hopefully, the collection will provide the foundation for many future publications.
Gauntlett, Stathis. 2003. Greek Recorded Sound in Australia: A Neglected Heritage. In Greek Research in Australia: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Conference of Greek Studies, Flinders University, September 2001, edited by E. Close, M. Tsianikas, G. Frazis, 25-46. Adelaide: Flinders University Department of Languages – Modern Greek.
Georgakas, Dan. 1987. The Greeks in America. Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 14.1-2:5-53. http://www.kalami.net/2012/omogeneia/Georgakas_greeks_usa.pdf. Accessed 23 June 2020.
Holst-Warhaft, Gail. 2001. Rebetika Born in the USA: [Reviews of] Mourmourika: Songs of the Greek Underworld 1930-1955, Rounder CD 1120, Cambridge, MA 1999; Women of Rembetika, Rounder CD 1121. Accessed 23 June 2020.
Lornell, Kip, and Anne K. Rasmussen, eds. 2016. The Music of Multicultural America: Performance, Identity, and Community in the United States. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Spottswood, Richard K. 1990. Ethnic Music on Record: A Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893-1942. 7 vols. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.