On this day in 1920, Manolis Chiotis, the famous singer, composer, and soloist bouzouki player, was born in Thessaloniki. At the age of 14, Chiotis and his family moved to Athens where his father opened a cafe. It was there that Chiotis began his stage career and one year later, he recorded his first song. The German Occupation eventually became a reality and many record companies in Greece shut down. It was after this time that he started to gain much popularity. He became known for blending the popular folk music (laika) and the more modern Greek and international sounds. It is said that Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis took Princess Grace Kelly to one of Chiotis’ shows. Callas told Chiotis that she had been translating the lyrics for the American actress and that she loved them. It was then that Kelly asked Chiotis what the difference was between a bouzouki and an electric guitar. Chiotis said, “Ms. Callas, please explain to Princess Grace that the strings of an electric guitar are vibrated due to electricity, while the song of the strings of a bouzouki come straight from the heart.”
On this day in 1896, Charilaos Vasilakos of Greece won the first modern marathon in three hours and eighteen minutes at the Panhellenic Games. The main purpose of these Games was to help the country assemble the team that would compete in the first Modern Olympic Games later in the same year. Vasilakos ended up being one of the seventeen athletes to start the Olympic race on April 10, 1896. He finished with the silver medal, behind Spiridon Louis, with a time of three hours and six minutes (as one of only nine finishers). Vasilakos, a man with a reputation for honesty and integrity, went on to become a customs director in the Greek Ministry of Finance. To this day, there are annual marathon races in Olympia that commemorate his memory.
On this day in 1985, Peter Charanis, the Greek-American historian, passed away. Charanis was born in Lemnos, Greece in 1908. In 1920, he immigrated to the U.S., coming to New Brunswick, NJ – where he spent the majority of his adult life. Charanis eventually became a scholar of Byzantium and a professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University. He received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. After postgraduate work at the University of Brussels and the University of Salonika in Greece, he joined the Rutgers faculty in 1938. Between 1964 and 1966, Charanis served as chairman of the university’s history department and retired from teaching in 1976. In many ways, Charanis embodies the American dream: he arrived in the U.S. as a poor immigrant boy but when his life was ending, he was one of the most respected members of the American academic community.
On this day in 1921, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark, the last Queen of Yugoslavia, was born in Athens, Greece. She was the daughter of King Alexander of the Hellenes and Princess Aspasia of Greece and Denmark. Aspasia was pregnant when the King died suddenly after being bitten by his pet monkey, and five months after his death, Alexandra was born. Alexandra studied in London and then in Paris before settling in Venice with her mother. Her first marriage proposal came from King Zog of Albania who, according to palace sources, fell in love when seeing her photo. Alexandra’s mother thought her daughter was too young and was relieved when King George II of Greece refused permission for the match. Eventually, the future queen met King Peter II of Yugoslavia in London in 1942 and they were married two years later. Due to a difficult financial situation and war restrictions, the bride had to borrow a wedding dress from a relative. Their son, Crown Prince Alexander, was born in 1945 in the Claridge’s Hotel in London. To enable the child to be born on Yugoslav soil, i.e., to claim Yugoslav nationality, Winston Churchill (the British Prime Minister at the time) reportedly asked King George VI to issue a decree transforming her suite (Number 212) into Yugoslav territory for that day only – which he did. After a tumultuous life and an unhappy marriage, Queen Alexandra died of cancer on January 30, 1993 in England. She was buried at the Tatoi Palace Royal Cemetery near Athens and then reburied in 2013 in Serbia at the Royal Family Mausoleum at Oplenac.