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Greek-American Stories: A Voice from Paros

Bet you never heard of a singer named Yiannis Varthakouris. Thought so! Well his name was changed in 1969 when his manager told him that his moniker isn’t too appealing for a singer of romantic songs. Yiannis looked up, surprised. “But, that’s my name!” The manager, nonchalantly, tossed his key chain into the air, caught them and giving it more thought, asked him where he was from. “The island of Paros”, Yiannis told him. “GOOD! That’s the name you’re going with professionally. Got it?” Hesitant, Yiannis shrugged and with some reluctance, said, “Got it!”

He introduced the song, ‘Tu t’en vas’ but with Greek lyrics under its new title, ‘Tora Pia’. It was an instant and huge hit. No one could have imagined that his voice would become one of the most beautiful and expressive for the word, ’love’.

In time, he worked with many leading composers like, Manos Loizos, Stavros Xarhakos, Yeorgos Katsaros, Stamatis Spanoudakis, Marios Tokas, and even, Mikis Theodorakis. Besides working with those well-known and very talented musicians he wrote his own lyrics and often composed his own music. Many of his songs have been translated and sung by vocalists in other countries. It marked the beginning of the new age in which Greek singers adapted ‘foreign’ melodies to Greek lyrics.

One of his releases, ‘Nisiotika’, released in 1982, made a record sale of one million, four hundred thousand, earning him a gold disc. He has also won Platinum discs. Nisiotika consisted of a collection of songs about the Cyclades islands in the Aegean that he must have first learnt and sang in his childhood. The songs he sings are mainly romantic and nostalgic. My favorite, a song with so much feeling, is, ‘Tha me thimithis’ (No references to the past).

His vocal renditions are never loud or repetitious, or with ear splitting high notes backed by raucous drumming, so popular today. His lyrics touch the heart, having the magic of bringing back a nostalgic image, of recalling an unrequited love, experiencing a betrayal, a past hurt to the heart, stories real or imagined, past or present. They seem to come alive when he sings the lyrics. The accompanying background music is usually subtle and soothing, complimenting his renditions.

Parios did not confine his appearances only to Greece; he had the honor of performing at the Royal Albert Hall in England, Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as in Canada, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Turkey, and Israel. He, also, appeared on TV programs, earning him high viewing and listening rates. His career spanned five decades with every decade a success. Born on the island of Paros in March 8, 1946 he continues to sing when the occasion is deemed ‘right’. Truth is, few singers have gained so widespread a popularity and lasting that he doesn’t need a new ‘hit’ to maintain his fame, lest he be relegated to a waiting list. He is always in high demand. In 1980 he sang a song with such doubtful promise of popularity that even his manager held his breath. But, he sang it and even listeners with no special regard for love songs, listened and enjoyed it. It was called, ‘Se Hriazome’. It created the ‘Parios Phenomenon’.

Married twice, Dina Markopoulos (1972-1988) and Sophia Aliberti (1996 -1998), Parios has four sons from two marriages: Nikolas, Harry, Thanasis, Michael-Angelos. His oldest son, Harry Varthakouris, is also a singer. Vartha…who? Where’s Yiannis’ manager?

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