A strange paradox exists in the current studies of Modern Greek music: we seem to know more about individual songs recorded or released in the United States than we do about the lives and purposes of the musicians who first performed this music.
Reissued CDs of Greek music, some of which were first recorded over 100 years ago. cannot replace a clear historical account of the circumstances under which this music was first composed and released.
Situating the music into some semblance of the actual social circumstances from which it initially arose is critical if the intended meanings infusing/informing this music are to be properly understood. Our collective goal should be nothing less than recovering as much raw information about the original day-to-day circumstances and intentions of Greek musicians who have recorded in North America since 1896. Studies must take place that systematically inform us about the individual lives, careers and artistic dimensions of Greek musicians in North America.
Far from an impossible prospect, such studies are as difficult as reading the daily press. As a case in point let us examine something of the life and times of Tetos Demetriades (c. 1897-1971) unquestionably one if not the most influential figure in Modern Greek music in the United States, to date.
Whatever Demetriades’ ultimate destiny in the pages of history may yet prove to be, he began as simply a working musician. To illustrate this point we need only review Demetriades involvement in the 1924 musical tour for the company, then known, as the Victor Talking Machine Company. Back grounding this particular tour is the fact that Demetriades had first arrived in the United States from Constantinople in 1921 and is said to have started working for Victor Records full-time by 1922.
Clearly these Victor Tours were meant to promote the careers of this company’s artists and so overall company sales. Where did they perform? Anywhere and everywhere according to advertisements. Yet we must always be aware of the time and place in which these tours took place. Radio broadcasting became popular in the United States in 1920s, alongside the new film industry. Yet during these early years radio programming had not yet covered the nation. So this tour, while it involved some radio performances, the majority of these public performances took place in front of live audiences.
Various top Victor performers took part in this tour. Demetriades inclusion in this far ranging, logistically complex and expensive tour indicates that Victor executives had high hopes for the young Greek tenor. As newspaper accounts report this Victor Artist Tour began in 1924 showcasing not only the talents of Tetos Demetriades but also Lukianos Cavadias. Various news accounts scattered about the country report not only on the tour route of Demetriades and Cavadias but their individual performances as they traveled from one city to the next. Press coverage was steady and extremely positive. In one account entitled Record Artists to Give Concert we find that on August 16, 1924: “A concert will be given in Fahnestock Hall next Tuesday evening at 9 o’clock by Tetos Demetriades, tenor, a Victor record artist, assisted by Thalia Cavadia, and with Lucian Cavadia at the piano. Miss Cavadia is a 13-year old pianist. Two numbers composed by Cavadia will be played. His Agapi will be sung by Demetriades and Bouquet of Grecian Melodies will be given by the composer, Sakellaridi” (Evening News, Harrisburg, PA, August 19, 1924).
What is so striking about this musical tour is that it was not aimed exclusively at a Greek-only audience. To illustrate this point here is the full program of the musical selections as published in the Evening News:
“PART I: Thos Mou Pali San Prin Ta Philia Sou, Sakellaridi, and Elegie (French), Massenet, Tetos Demetriades Spinning Wheel (Piano Solo), B. Godard, Thalia Cavadia; Voskopoula, Sakellaridi, and
Agapi, Cavadia, Tetos Demetriades. Five minute intermission.
“PART II: Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14, Mendelssohn, Thalia Cavadia; Slumber Song (English), Gretchaninoff, and An Vgoun Alithia, Triantafillou, Tetos Demetriades; Marche Slave (four hands), Op. 31,Tschaikofsky, Thalia Cavadia and Lucian Cavadia; Granadinas (Spanish), Barrera, and Mono Me Sena, Hadjiapostolou, Tetos Demetriades. Five minute Intermission.
“PART III: Bouquet of Grecian Melodies, Cavadia; Macushla (English), Macmurrough; Exomologisssis, Samara, Tetos Demetriades; “II Hungarian Rapsodie (Piano Solo), F. Liszt, Thalia Cavadia; O Gero Dimos, Karreri, and Thelo San Prota, Sakellaridi, Tetos Demetriades (Evening New August 19, 1924).”
While this Tours newspaper accounts clearly showcase Demetriades, both Sakellaridis and Cavadias became notable Greek musicians in North America. While Sakellaridis is credited with innumerable musical compositions he is today principally remembered for his liturgical music. Loukianos Cavadias was also a noted composer and orchestra leader. Perhaps Cavadias most well-known composition, is his AHEPA Hymn.
But this tour continued. With the headline Tenor At Capital, we hear “Coming direct from the New York Hippodrome, and having just completed a lengthy contract for the Victor Phonograph company in Camden, N.J, the celebrated European tenor, Tetos Demetriades will be heard in song recital Monday evening, Labor Day, at 9 oclock. Mr. Demetriades will offer a varied, both popular and classical program and as a special added attraction, is sure to delight the Capital audiences” (Altoona Tribune, August 30, 1924).
Victor Artist tours were fairly common during this period. Paul Whiteman, Billy Murray, Henry Burr and a host of other Victor musicians toured the country on a regular basis. Full page articles with a mixture of Victor Talking Machine Company advertisements announced, described and showcased these special performances. Aside from live performances, a number of these Victor Artist also performed on radio shows. “A novelty program, one of many specialties WCAE has in store for its unseen audience during the next few months, will be the introduction of a Victor and Columbia recording artist, Tetos Demetriades, Greek tenor soloist. He will sing a favorite Greek song in his national language. He will be accompanied by Mme.” Lelia Wilson-Smith (Pittsburgh Press September 30, 1924).
With the brief account Recording Artist Presents Program in Five Languages, we find a photograph of Demetriades and then we hear something of his live radio performance: “Tetos Demetriades, Greek soloist, who is making his first American tour, is a Victor and Columbia recording artist. Mr. Demetriades entertained WCAEs audience last Tuesday evening with a group of songs which he presented in the English, French, German, Italian and Greek languages. He is a favorite tenor soloist of European countries and is expected he will be equally well received in this country” (Pittsburgh Press October 5, 1924).
This all too brief account cannot hope to even outline more than a very specific moment in Tetos Demetriades’ incredibly full life. Yet these publicly available accounts offer more documented history than one sees in the vast majority of writings on the history and social contest of modern Greek music. I have to repeat that the overwhelming majority of reissued CDs of Greek music recorded in the United States and/or specifically for a Greek-American audience over the last one hundred years by themselves have virtually nothing to tell us more about the daily lives and intentions (let alone any loftier aspirations) of the original performer(s).