Previously, I wrote an article on the old time Greek dances (there was a great response – you still remember!) Now it’s time to reminisce about those bands that have performed for you.
How many times have we seen at weddings when the band starts zembekika, there is a crowd around the groom and his friends dancing, shots of ouzo flowing, and money flying? When people are dancing syrta or tsamika, the line will include young kids and yiayias and papous. Face it, Greek music is fun and here in the States, from the 1940’s to the present, bands, made up mostly of musicians born in the United States, but of Greek descent, performed at your weddings, dances, baptisms, festivals, and parties.
Back in the 40’s and 50’s the musical style was big band and the local Greek-American bands were no different. Here in Philadelphia area you had the George Giordas Orchestra featuring George on the clarinet, bouzouki and singing. The rest of the band consisted of an accordion, violin, drummer, bass guitar, and guitar and they played everything from Benny Goodman to Maria Me Ta Kitrina. (George had a huge impact on me getting into the business – it’s all his fault! lol – thank you George) Also, there was the Paul Kauriga Orchestra with Paul on the violin and his sons Dimitri, Gregory, and Paul, Jr. Although Paul was of Russian descent and he had founded many balalaika orchestras, he was a staple in the Greek community and performed many weddings and dances.
In the New York area you had the George Kent Orchestra, Gus Vali Orchestra (now known as Vali Entertainment), and the Mike Daniels Band (today, Mike’s daughter, Aphrodite, and his granddaughter, Despina, are well-known singers performing with the New York based band, Syn-Phonia). There were many others and the Greek music performed at this time was demotika (folk) music with and American flare and the clarinet was the featured instrument. Also, let’s not forget the Trio Bel Canto. Although technically not a “Greek-American” band, they did perform here in the States from 1950s to the 1990s.
In the 60’s and 70’s some of the younger bands started forming, which many were from the New York area. There was Neo Kyma, the VIPs, and the Spartans, who joined with the Trojans to form the Spartan-Trojan band and eventually become the Trojans of NY (you need a scorecard to keep up). These bands started performing many of the more laika music coming out of Greece in addition to demotika. The bouzouki was now becoming the featured instrument.
In 1974, my first band started, Orpheus. In the Philadelphia area, we were the first “kid band” and our original drummer was a girl. We were in our mid to late teens and not only did we play Greek music, we played modern rock and roll/disco music at our performances. This was something new and brought in the young people to the dances. Also, there was Adelphia out of Trenton, Poseidon from New York, and the Pappas Brothers from Cherry Hill. Out in Western Pennsylvania and Ohio you had the Taki and the Grecian Keys, Tommi and the Grecian Knights, and a lot of other “Grecian” bands.
During the 80’s and 90’s, there was Neo Kyma (from Philly, not the one from NY), Atlantis of Philadelphia (I know those guys!), and the New York bands, Power Station, Delta Music, Fantasia, and still performing – the Trojans. There were also the Baltimore bands such as the Hellenics, Zephyros, Appollonia, and Grecian Nights.
The start of the new century brought in the new “kid” band, Dionysos of Upper Darby who eventually morphed into Siezmos (with my fellow blogger Evan Karapanagiotides), and, you guessed it – still performing, the Trojans! What, are they Dorian Grey?
There have been so many bands, too numerous to mention here, and a few that may have slipped my mind – sorry to them but age is creeping in! There was also many musicians and singers who were not with any particular band but played all over… Kosta Meharas (bouzouki), John Roussos (sandouri and everything else), George Manioudakis (clarino), and Panagioti Halygiannis and his son, Christos (clarino), just to name a few.
Why do American boys and girls play and sing Greek music? Each musician and singer has their own reasons, but for me, it comes down to the sheer fun and joy of watching all of you dance and sing. For a few hours we take away your worries and the day-to-day grind and let you have a good time.
Many songs bring back a flood of memories. Recently, I spoke to someone who told me that years ago he met his future wife at a Greek dance that I was performing at and each time he hears us (Atlantis) perform a certain song, he is taken back to that time. Isn’t that what it’s all about… creating memories? I’m sure you remember a special night when one of these Greek bands played and you had the best time of your life. As Bob Hope use to sing, “Thanks for the memories”.
This article is sponsored by Atlantis of Philadelphia. From contemporary to classic, their talents have captivated generations of Greek music lovers. Whether it's a wedding, dance or festival, your special affair deserve the best, Atlantis of Philadelphia. For more info please visit atlantisofpa.com or call 856-418-0404.