This Week in Greek-American History: March 27 – April 6

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Vasilis Koutroumanos)

April 2:

On this day in 1948, Greek laiko genre singer Dimitris Mitropanos was born in Trikala. He was raised by his mother and didn’t meet his father until he was 29 years old. Until he was 16, the young Mitropanos had believed that his father was killed in action during the Greek Civil War but then he received a letter stating the elder Mitropanos was living in Romania. From a young age Dimitris Mitropanos worked in the summertime to help support his family, first as a waiter and then as a lumberjack’s assistant. He began his musically oriented trajectory in 1964 after middle school when he was living in Athens with his uncle.

Legendary Greek singer Grigoris Bithikotsis was invited to a work event organized by Mitropanos’ uncle and the younger Mitropanos awas present. He met Bithikotsis and then visit Columbia records in Athens. There he met Takis Lambropoulos and well known composer, songwriter Giorgos Zabetas. Mitropanos in later years would refer to Zabetas as a second father and his greatest musical teacher. During his well traveled and highly successful music career Mitropanos would work with some of modern Greece’s greatest creators, artists and writers of Greek contemporary and laiko music suchas: Mikis Theodorakis, Apostolos Kaldaras and Dimos Moutsis. Finally one of the great partnerships of the latter 20th century was between Mitropanos and Thanos Mikroutsikos. He worked with Mikroutsikos during the end of the 1990s and in the early 2000s. His 1996 iconic album “Stou Eona Tin Paraga” with predominantly Mikroutsikos’ lyrics included such timeless hits as “Roza”, “Pada Gelasti” and “Kosme, Mou ‘Gines Pligi”. Along with “Roza” Mitropanos’ other most commercially successful hit songs are  “S’Anazito Sti Saloniki and “Alimono”.

The late Dimitris Mitropanos. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Kostas Katomeris)

On April 17, 2012 at the age of 64 in Athens Dimitris Mitropanos passed away from pulmonary edema that came from a heart attack earlier the same day. He was married to Venia Mitropanou  with whom he had two daughters. Dimitris Mitropanos is considered by many to be the last great master of the Greek laiko genre of 20th century and is rightfully placed amongst modern laiko music’s greatest voices.

April 3:

On this day in 1770, in Ramovouni, Messenia of what was then the Ottoman Empire, Theodoros Kolokotronis, one of Greece’s greatest heroes was born. Kolokotronis grew up in Arcadia in the center of the Peloponnese. His family was a relatively powerful bunch that commanded a lot of respect from their contemporaries. Kolokotronis from a young age found himself at odds with the Ottoman warlords presiding over Greece. His father and two brothers were killed in 1780 during a Greek uprising against the Turks that was started by Catherine the Great of Russia called the Orlov Revolt.

In the years preceding the Greek revolution in 1821, Kolokotronis organized a band of his associates and friends as klefts that were essentially bandits raiding Ottoman outposts and Ottoman sympathizing Greeks in the Peloponnese. In 1805 Kolokotronis was wanted for treason against the Ottoman Empire and ordered to death but he escaped from the Peloponnese and participated in Russian naval attacks on the Ottomans following in his deceased  fathers’ and brothers’ footsteps. Because of the warrant for his arrest in the Peloponnese he fled to Zakynthos which was under British rule at the time. He was placed under the command of notable philhellene Richard Church in the 1st Regiment Greek Light Infantry. There Kolokotronis obtained structured military training and his trademark red helmet with a white cross on it. Kolokotronis returned to the Greek mainland immediately before the outbreak of the revolution. He tried to use his teachings from the British army to educate and organize the groups of warrior-bandits in the Greek countryside. He was named archistrategos (command-in-chief) of the Hellenic armies during the revolution and even earned a loving nickname, “O Geros tou Morea” due to the fact he was already 50 years old by the time the revolution broke out.

Kolokotronis was the most famous person in Greece and arguably its most able military commander. His most notable victory on the battlefield was the Battle of Dervenakia where a force of nearly 18,000 members of light cavalry units and 7,000 infantrymen Ottomans was pinned in the plains of near Corinth in a tight pass near the opening of the isthmus of Corinth and assailed the Turks with a force of 8,000 irregular units. The battle lasted for nearly the entire day and resulted in nearly 3,000 dead for the Ottomans and very few for the Greeks. Snipers in the foothills of the pass rained down bullets from the mountainsides as the cavalry of the Ottomans was neutralized by the mountainous and tight terrain. This battle elevated Kolokotronis to mythic levels of popularity but provided the right amount of fodder for his political rivals to unite against him during the civil war between Greek revolutionary factions. Kolokotronis  was imprisoned and was released only when a massive Ottoman relief force went to Greece for the final campaign against the Greeks. In 1825 he again reclaimed his status as commander-in-chief of the Greek forces and helped lead Greece to victory and glory in the war for independence. Following the war, Kolokotronis was a key supporter of Ioannis Kapodistrias and his vision for Greece as its first governor. He would remain so until Kapodistrias was assassinated in 1831. After initially supporting the arrival of Prince Otto as king, Kolokotronis began to oppose him and his Bavarian dominated court and for that was tried for treason and sentenced to death though he only served a year behind bars.

Theodoros Kolokotronis in the last years of his life dictated his memoirs to Georgios Tertsetis in 1851 called “Apomnimonevmata” which covered the years between 1770 and 1836 which remain a critical reference point for historians studying the war for independence. It is perennially a bestseller in Greece and has been translated in many different languages.

Kolokotronis passed away following a stroke on the morning of February 5, 1843 in Athens a day after one of his son’s weddings. He was buried with full honors and in his coffin an Ottoman flag was placed at his feet to symbolize the monumental victory that he was the chief architect of during the Greek War of Independence. He had five children with one of then being killed in combat (Panos). His wife was Aikaterini Karousou.