GR US

Greek-American Eleni Barteri: The Rage of Athens

The National Herald

Eleni Barteri.

Eleni Barteri occupies a unique place among the host of Greek-American female singers performing during the post-World War II era. American-born Barteri, while an immediate hit with both Greek and American audiences, ultimately moved effortlessly across stages all over the world. With equal indifference but unquestionable skill and talent Barteri sang not just in Greek and English but a wide array of languages – always to great acclaim. With Greek and English language records being among her greatest hits Barteri also recorded best-selling songs in a number of other languages including Italian, French, Spanish, Turkish, Hebrew, and Armenian.

It must be noted that Barteri performed right at the moment when American night clubs, hotel ballrooms, and supper clubs were still all the rage and so heavily attended. In these venues Eleni Barteri was a bright star. Entertainment columnists in leading newspapers across the nation reported on Barteri’s every performance. Given that Barteri’s career had its brightest moment in the 1960s and early 1970s, an era when music clearly spanned the world itself, her popularity led to a series of whirlwind tours that took this young Greek-American literally around the world several times.

In June 1957, RCA-Victor signed and released Barteri’s first major hit ‘Boy on a Dolphin,’ sung in English and Greek. April 10, 1957 marked the world premiere of the movie by the same title. For reasons never given this theme song was sung – in the film itself – by Julie London. The lyrics are heard over the underwater title sequence:

There's a tale that they tell of a dolphin

And a boy made of gold.

With the shells and the pearls in the deep,

He has lain many years fast asleep

What they tell of the boy on a dolphin,

Who can say if it's true?

Should he rise from the depths of the ocean,

Any wish that you wish may come true.

You say "he's only a statue, and what can a statue achieve?"

And yet, while I'm gazing at you,

My heart tells my head to believe.

If the boy whom the gods have enchanted

Should arise from the sea,

And the wish of my heart could be granted,

I would wish that you loved only me.

Whatever the reasons for there being two versions of this song it was Barteri’s bi-lingual version that rocketed through the music charts.

Not long afterwards Barteri was the featured performer at the newly opened finely appointed Greek nightspot the Golden Dolphin on east 79th Street. Given her initial popularity it was noted that Barteri sang some popular rock and roll songs at the Casa Seville throughout January and February 1958 (Evening Sun – Baltimore – February 3, 1958). Among Barteri’s hit songs of this era is Girls Are Different,’ her new January 1958 release. By Thanksgiving Barteri had moved to the Boulevard Restaurant in Queens where she appeared nightly to large crowds. By 1959, Barteri was not only headlining, once again, at the Golden Dolphin but she was performing there along with Nikos Gounaris.

During this period in her career Leni Barteri was something of what was known in this era as a ‘jet-setter.’ Reviews of this period always make special note of Barteri’s movements from one coast to another and even taking care to mention her intercontinental flights across the world. One such listing, chosen completely at random of Barteri’s musical maneuvers, chart her performances first at the Fontaineoleau in Miami Beach, then the new Queen Elizabeth in Canada, followed by the Sheraton in Philadelphia, and finally her successful performances at the Club La Concha in Puerto Rico (Greenville News November 21, 1962).

By late February early March 1960, Barteri was singing nightly at clubs in Aruba, which was then a part of the Dutch West Indies. During April of 1960, Barteri was headlining at the Celebrity Room of the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in West Palm Beach Florida. By summer of 1961, Barteri was sole performer at the swank new Salle Du Barry supper club in Montreal’s Skyline Hotel. At this moment in time Barteri was frequently described as the ‘Greek Goddess of Song.’ Such was Barteri’s growing stature that on June 9, 1961 she was one of the guests on Carte Blanchem, a Canadian television program on CFCF-TV.

Curiously, during this era while Barteri appeared at several venues in Athens to ever greater acclaim, I have been unable to find any detailed coverage of her specific activities while in Greece. It is noted that while on this specific tour her single Rage of Athens (released as a 45rpm) became an international hit song. This being the case (and entertainment publicists being who they are) this talented singer was forever after known as ‘The Rage of Athens.’

Returning during the first week in the summer of 1962, Leni Barteri showcased the grand opening of the plush ‘Le Grecque’ supper club in San Francisco. During the years that followed Barteri continued to tour and record as she turned the nation. By May 1972, Leni Barteri was headlining at George’s Inn in St. Petersburg, Florida. In mid-June Barteri had left George’s Inn and began performing at Leon’s Restaurant and Lounge also in St. Petersburg. Once there, Barteri headlined two shows every Friday and Saturday: a Dinner Show at 10 PM and then a Late Supper Show beginning at 12 midnight. 

Now up to this point it would seem Leni Barteri only appeared in venues frequented by a supper crowd of appreciative listeners. This was far from the case. To be sure, Barteri performed regularly at Greek-owned nightclubs and high-end restaurants. Yet, at the very same time, this talented singer was also entertaining Greek-Americans. I will simply note a random number of such events. In late May 1959, Eleni Barteri performed for the District One conference of the Greek Orthodox Youth of America meeting in Bethlehem PA. Barteri sang with the Gus Vali Orchestra during the Grand Ball dinner dance.

Beginning in March of 1960, two icons belonging to two different members of the St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church parish in Hempstead, Long Island began weeping. These icons were brought to St. Paul’s for veneration (Visions of Jesus Christ.com - Hempstead, NY Weeping Icons at St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church).  Declared a Divine Sign by the Greek Orthodox Church after witnessing these two icons, it is said that Eleni Barteri along with two fellow composers were inspired by this convergence of spiritual events. In 1960, The Weeping Madonna, a 45 rpm was released on Tribute Records issued with a Greek version on one side (TR5-60-2) and an English version of the other (TR5-60-1).

In early August 1961, Barteri performed at the AHEPA conference meeting in Deauville, Florida. Ms. Barteri offered both a solo performance of her latest Greek and English hit songs as well as later accompanying briefly with the Gus Vali Orchestra.

On November 24, 1962, the St. Elpis Greek Orthodox Church of Hopewell VA held its third annual dinner dance. “Guests came from all sections of Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Delaware and Massachusetts (Progress-Index Petersburg VA December 2, 1962).” Eleni Barteri appeared as vocalist for this event’s main dinner-dance with the accompaniment of the Peter Kara Orchestra. In 1970, Barteri returned to Tarpon Springs headlining at the Epiphany celebration ball (Tampa Tribune January 5, 1970).

I must confess that yet another mystery I have not as yet unraveled concerning Barteri’s career is her sequence of record contracts. Compounding this lack of a detailed chronological discography is that Leni Barteri recorded with nearly a dozen companies and in a least a half-dozen languages. Without question Barteri signed with RCA-Victor in June 1957, issuing the Boy On A Dolphin theme song. After this record’s release Barteri’s discographic ‘trail’ becomes less clear.

Roughly speaking the following extremely incomplete discographic sequence can be offered of a handful of Barteri’s best-selling singles and albums. In 1950, Rendezvous in Athens (long-playing album) (Aristophone Records LGR-503); Five Oranges, Four Apples/Boy On A Dolphin (7”) RCA Victor 47-6907; A Certain Smile, side A Big Records (1012-1) 1958 and Side B Two Lovers (7”); Girls Are Different (nani nani) and Greek Sailor Dance (Anathemase) (7”) (RCA-Victor 43-8384). On March 14, 1960, Barteri released a 45rpm on Crosby Records 221 with Cry My Heart on side A (composed by Larry Coleman, Irving Reid) and on side B Lost And Lonely (composed by John Eshope). On June 14, 1967, Lenco Records released Barteri’s long-playing album, At the Athens Hilton (Lenco Records LLP-2022) and her extremely popular Xaroumena Xristougenna (White Christmas) Nina Records 625-A, and finally Consolation, with Martin Gold and His Orchestra (7” single) RCA-Victor 43-8385. For all the success of her musical career a strange mystery remains.

Despite Leni Barteri’s unquestioned world-wide popularity and the fact that a host of published sources exist that report upon her memorable performance before the King and Queen of Greece at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and despite the sheer number of these reports I have been unable to locate either a precise date or further details of what has been said was a unique evening of song.

Nevertheless, no mystery exists concerning Leni Barteri’s role in the annuals of Greek music in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Often noted in the public press as a “green-eyed Grecian Beauty,” Leni Barteri was nothing less than an international musical star of the first order.