Tag Archives: UNICEF

“Je Finirai Par L’oublier” b/w “Milisse Mou” by Nana Mouskouri. Fontana 6010 066. Recorded in France, 1972.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in Crete to a projectionist father and usher mother in 1934, Iōánna Moúschouri (Nana to her friends) had shown a clear gift for music at a young age. So did her sister, however. Her family could only afford music lessons for one of the girls, so they asked their tutor which one should have them. They were told that Jenny was more skilled, but Nana had the passion and the need to sing.

Nana got the lessons. They must have been a bright spot in a childhood marred by the Nazi occupation of Greece. Her father fought in the Communist resistance.

Nana spent eight years studying opera at the Athens Conservatoire, but was barred from taking her final exams because of her moonlighting in a jazz club. As a child in Athens (her family had re-located when she was three years old) Nana had listened to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra on her radio, and the temptation to apply her skills to that work had been too great to resist. So opera proved to be unwelcoming, but exposure in the clubs lead to recordings—this is one of her first, 1958’s “Ilissos.”

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45: “In the Evenin’ Mama” b/w “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” by Harry Belafonte. RCA Victor 61-8513. Taken from the album “Belafonte Sings the Blues,” recorded in New York City, January 29 and March 29, 1958 and Hollywood, June 5 and 7 1958.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Harry Belafonte started his life in Harlem, but was sent to live with his grandmother in Jamaica at the age of 5. He returned to New York in time to start high school, and then served in the Navy during the Second World War. After the war, a night at the American Negro Theater inspired Harry to try his hand at acting. He and fellow starving artist Sidney Poitier would buy one ticket to a play and share it, the first friend coming out during intermission to pass the ticket on to the other friend, filling him in on the story up to that point.

Belafonte first started singing in clubs just to make money for acting lessons. In a Forrest Gump-sized coincidence, his 1949 singing debut was backed by Charlie Parker and his band, which included Max Roach and Miles Davis at the time. Stage and club work continued apace, until his first album—Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites—was recorded in 1954. It was a collection of American folk songs, including this rendition of “John Henry.”

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