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The Apollo Music Company of Detriot, Michigan

February 4, 2023

The fully documented history of Greek music in the United States has still to be written. For the moment, all we really have are historically sourced written fragments and a handful of interviews.

To be sure, sizeable archival collections of original 78 rpm records as well as two or three collections of sheet music and accompanying sales documents are now accessioned and ready for public review. But detailed historical accounts of the day-to-day operations in Greek-owned music companies, the considered actions of Greek musicians, record producers, or how daily music sales occurred – among other specifics, still seem to allude published accounts.

I realize many readers will point to the 2019 publication of the fine essay compilation ‘Greek Music in America’ (University of Mississippi Press) as the answer to these missing historical elements. Yet even this collection, detailed and fully referenced as it may be, has its limits. One such missing topic is in the realm of sheet music. Given the nearly universal presence across Greek-America of sheet music issued by the Apollo Music Company of New York City, more systematic research on this organization is clearly a mandate for future research.

As a step in that direction, we must first resolve or at least tease apart yet another issue. Among the dedicated Greek record collectors, it is well known that there were two Balkan record companies issuing 78 rpm records of the mixed music traditions found in that region, one in Chicago and the other in New York City. It should come as no surprise, then, that there were two Greek-owned Apollo Music Companies -one in Detroit and the other New York City. Much has been made of the so-called ‘mystery’ surrounding the New York City Apollo Music Company due to its long history and near domination of Greek sheet music production in the United States.

But Greeks in North America were directly involved in an amazing array of music venues as performers, producers, and promoters. None of what follows can be called secret information. Rather, what can be read below is merely ignored, and so, momentarily, is forgotten history.

I came to the following accounts by searching for information on what the American public press has long-labeled as the ‘Jukebox Wars’. For reasons I cannot now understand, while literally dozens and dozens of newspapers, magazines, and other published documents report upon and describe in sharp detail the nearly day-to-day doings of the crimes all gathered under the specific title of the sustained Jukebox Wars, I have as yet to find any encyclopedia entries, chapter in a book on American crime, or really any detailed year-by-year place-by-place account of this long and complex series of crimes – all related to jukeboxes.

As we shall see this pertains specifically to the very beginnings of the other Apollo Music Company that of Detroit, Michigan. First, in Billboard Magazine, under the ‘Music Machines’ section, we find the title: ‘Detroit Disk Store Sold to Apollo Music Company’ and then:

“Detroit, June 3 – The Apollo Music Company owned by George Skinas, has brought out the Chadwick Music Company, established by C. Leo Chadwick, one of Motor City’s best known music men…The Apollo Music Company was formerly known as the Service Coin Machine Company when Skinas was an active operator in the pin ball game field. The present name was chosen because it is the name of ‘the Greek god of music,’ Skinas said… He is now remodeling and equipping a store at 12700 Woodrow Wilson Avenue for opening and will make headquarters there. At present he will handle retail record sales and plans to be all set with an established store when post-war conditions permit resumption of normal business operations,” (Billboard Vol. 56 No. 24 June 10, 1944).

Next, we hear that, “George Skinas has established his route in his own name again, which he managed from his new store,” (Billboard Vol. 58 No.11 March 16, 1946). By ‘route’ is meant the various geographic arrays of jukeboxes Skinas owned and maintained in Detroit and elsewhere.

George Skinas was clearly not content to simply manage his store and his extensive string of jukeboxes in the Detriot metropolitan area. Skinas was obviously deeply concerned with bigger issues. “George Skinas, former member of the Automatic Phonograph Owner’s Association, has been appointed vice-president of the organization to succeed Tony Siracuse, who recently resigned,” (Billboard July 6, 1946).

In 1947, Skinas was formally elected to retain his position as vice-president (Billboard January 25, 1947). Then, as pressures grew, Skinas was elected president of the Michigan Phonograph Owners Association (Billboard March 29, 1947). Undoubtedly, Skinas’ election was due to his hard stance on who owned and controlled the vast amount of jukeboxes, then prevalent in Detroit and surrounding communities.
“Anyone trying to ‘muscle in’ on this city’s juke boxes will face a battle from the Michigan Automatic Phonograph Owners Association, president George Skinas said today. Skinas voiced the warning on behalf of the group which claims to represent 90 percent of Detroit’s juke box operations, after the state liquor commission said it feared a juke box war was imminent,” (Ludington Daily News (MI) May 19, 1947).

The Summer of 1947 had seen and on-again off-again struggle for not simply the ownership of jukeboxes but where jukeboxes could be installed. As we hear:

“A business agent for the newly formed Juke-Box Operators’ Union was slugged with a baseball bat on a downtown street Saturday afternoon, starting reports of a renewal of the Juke-Box War. He was Louis Fox, 43, of 120 W. Montcalm representing the Teamster Union (AFL) Local 985. Fox was taken to Grace Hospital by Eugene C. (Jimmy) James, union head. Fox told Detective Albert de la Meilleure that an unidentified assailant struck him from behind at Woodward and Montcalm,” (Detroit Free Press June 8, 1947).

George Buyukus, longtime owner, operator, and frequently composer for the Apollo Music Company of New York City was no stranger to legal difficulties. Especially since Buyukus is cited as composer for a host of the New York City based Apollo Music Company’s records and sheet music. Yet as public documents report Buyukus, faced more than one issue related to copyright law.

It really is incredible how little we know about Greek music in the United States. Both ‘Apollo Music’ companies were sought out and supported by the Greek-American community immediately around them. Clearly, numerous published accounts in the local American press are filled with detailed accounts of the Michigan-based Apollo Records.

Think of it. Without exaggeration there is no American entertainment form you can name that Greeks – and very often immigrant Greeks – did not own and operate to great popularity and financial success. Name any ‘American’ amusement form you wish from nickelodeons to movie palace theaters to music halls to dance halls, from quite literally dime and dance emporiums to the nation’s first regal ballrooms like the Aragon and Trianon of Chicago to the oldest jazz club still operating in North America, the Green Mill.

There were also amusement parks, from those with boats for a lazy canoe ride to circuses, penny arcades, and/or water parks that Greeks not only owned over a hundred years ago but still operate to great profit and renown.

Finally, why is all this missing from the standard historical accounts on Greeks in North America?

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