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Globally speaking, Nana Mouskouri is the biggest-selling female artist of all time. Her fluency in multiple languages -- Greek, French, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese -- enabled her to reach audiences all over Europe, the Americas, and even Asia. Possessed of a distinctive, angelic soprano -- the product of having been born with only one vocal cord -- Mouskouri was sometimes described as Europe's answer to Barbra Streisand. Her repertoire was varied enough to support the universal appeal she aimed for: jazz standards, well-known pop tunes from before and after the rock era, French cabaret chansons, movie songs, classical and operatic repertory, religious music, folk songs from her native Greece and elsewhere, and more. Television ads for Mouskouri collections (a major North American marketing tool) leave the impression that her chief strength was interpreting familiar songs in that lovely voice; however, her early fame in Europe was built largely on songs written for and associated with her, most notably her first hit, "The White Rose of Athens." She was particularly successful in her eventual adopted home of France, where her trademark large black glasses were viewed as highly unorthodox visual style. Mouskouri recorded steadily from the 1960s into the new millennium, tailoring specific releases to specific international markets with tremendous success.
Ioana Mouskouri (Joanna in English; nicknamed "Nana" from a young age) was born October 13, 1934, on the island of Crete, in the town of Chania (or Carée in French). Her father worked as a movie projectionist, and moved the family to Athens when she was three. Much of her childhood was colored by the Nazi occupation of Greece -- during which time her father worked for the resistance movement -- and the four-year civil war that broke out on the heels of World War II. She started taking singing lessons at age 12, and listened regularly to radio broadcasts of American jazz singers (Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday in particular) and French chanson stars (Edith Piaf, etc.). In 1950, Mouskouri was accepted into the Athens Conservatory, where she studied classical music with an emphasis on singing opera. In 1957, it was discovered that Mouskouri had been singing with a jazz group by night, and she was summarily kicked out of the Conservatory.
Mouskouri began singing jazz in nightclubs, concentrating especially on Ella Fitzgerald repertory. In 1958, she met the emerging songwriter Manos Hadjidakis, who would become her mentor in the field of popular music, and recorded an EP featuring four of his compositions for a small record label that year. The following year she performed his "Kapou Iparchi Agapi Mou" (co-written with poet Nikos Gatsos) at the inaugural Greek Song Festival; it won first prize, and Mouskouri's high-profile performance began to make a name for her. At the 1960 festival, she performed two more Hadjidakis compositions, "Timoria" and "Kiparissaki," which tied for first prize; not long after, she made her first appearance outside of Greece at the Mediterranean Song Festival, held in Barcelona. She performed the Kostas Yannidis composition "Xypna Agapi Mou," which again won first prize, and attracted interest from several international record companies. She wound up signing with the Paris-based Philips-Fontana axis.
In 1961, Mouskouri sang on the soundtrack of a German documentary about Greece, which resulted in the German-language single "Weisse Rosen aus Athen" ("The White Rose of Athens"). Adapted from a folk melody by Hadjidakis, it was an enormous hit, selling over a million copies in Germany; later translated into several different languages, it went on to become one of her signature tunes. In 1962, she met producer Quincy Jones, who flew her to New York to record an album of American standards titled The Girl From Greece Sings; not long after, she had a sizable U.K. hit with the pop standard "My Colouring Book." In 1963, she settled permanently in Paris and recorded a Greek-language album; she also sang Luxembourg's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest that year, "À Force de Prier," which became an international hit, and helped win her the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque in France. She attracted the notice of composer Michel Legrand, who supplied her with two major French hits in "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (1964) and "L'Enfant au Tambour" (1965). Also in 1965, she recorded her second English-language album in America, Nana Sings, and found a patron in Harry Belafonte, who brought her on tour with him through 1966, and teamed with her for the live duo album An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri.
Mouskouri ascended to superstardom in France with her 1967 album Le Jour Où la Colombe, which featured much of the core of her French repertoire: "Au Coeur de Septembre," "Adieu Angélina," "Robe Bleue, Robe Blanche," and a cover of the French pop classic "Le Temps des Cerises," among others. Also scoring with a version of "Guantanamera," she made her first headlining appearance at Paris' legendary Olympia concert theater that year, with a repertoire blending French pop, Greek folk, and Manos Hadjidakis numbers. The following year, she turned her attention to the British market, hosting a variety series called Nana and Guests; in 1969, she released her first full-length British LP, Over and Over, a smash hit that spent almost two years on the charts. Already maintaining a heavy international touring schedule in the late '60s, Mouskouri spent much of the '70s on the road, broadening her worldwide popularity to levels rarely equaled. In France, she released a series of top-selling albums that included Comme un Soleil, Une Voix Qui Vient du Coeur, Vielles Chansons de France, and Quand Tu Chantes, among others; she also recorded a successful version of "Habanera," from Bizet's opera Carmen, in tandem with Serge Lama. Elsewhere, her 1975 album Sieben Schwarze Rosen was a significant success in Germany, and her English-language album Book of Songs sold millions of copies worldwide.
Mouskouri had another English-language triumph with 1979's Roses and Sunshine, which was particularly popular in Canada. She scored a worldwide hit with 1981's "Je Chante Avec Toi, Liberté," which was translated into several languages after its widespread success in France, and also helped boost her hit German album Meine Lieder Sind Meine Liebe. In 1984, Mouskouri returned to Greece for her first live performance in her homeland since 1962; from then on, she would record Greek-language albums for her home market. In 1986, Mouskouri recorded "Only Love," the theme song to a BBC TV series that went on to top the U.K. charts; it was also a hit in the French translation "L'Amour en Héritage." That same year, Mouskouri made a play for the Spanish-language market with the hit single "Con Todo el Alma," a major success in Spain, Argentina, and Chile. She released five albums in different languages in 1987, and the following year returned to her classical conservatory roots with the double LP The Classical Nana (aka Nana Classique), which featured some of her favorite opera excerpts.
Mouskouri's 1991 English-language compilation Only Love: The Best of Nana Mouskouri became her best-selling release in the United States, which had long been the toughest market for her to crack. She spent much of the '90s continuing her rigorous global touring schedule, while recording regularly in French, German, Spanish, English, and Greek. Among her early-'90s albums were the spirituals collection Gospel (1990), the Spanish-language Nuestras Canciones, the multilingual, Mediterranean-themed Côté Sud, Côté Coeur (1992), the self-explanatory Falling in Love Again: Great Songs From the Movies (which reunited her with Harry Belafonte on two songs), and the French Dix Mille Ans Encore. She also dedicated herself to public works, becoming a spokesperson for UNICEF in 1993 and gaining election to the European Parliament as a Greek representative from 1994-1999. She recorded several more albums over 1996-1997, including the Spanish-language Nana Latina (which featured duets with Julio Iglesias and Mercedes Sosa), the English-language Return to Love, and the French pop classics set Hommages. In 1997, she staged a high-profile Concert for Peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York; it was later released as an album, and aired as a TV special on PBS in America. Meanwhile, a number of Mouskouri retrospectives appeared overseas, including elaborate box sets in both France and Germany. She continued her extensive international touring into the new millennium.
Nana Mouskouri (Greek: Nάνα Μούσχουρη, pronounced [ˈnana ˈmusxuri]), born Iōánna Moúschouri (Greek: Ιωάννα Μούσχουρη [ioˈana ˈmusxuri]) on October 13, 1934, in Chania, Crete, Greece, is a Greek singer who sold more than 300 million records (vinyl, tape and CD). She was known as "Nána" to her friends and family as a child.
She has recorded songs in many languages, including Greek, French, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh, Mandarin Chinese, Corsican, and Turkish.
Nana Mouskouri's family lived in Chania, Crete, where her father, Constantine, worked as a film projectionist in a local cinema; her mother, Alice, worked in the same cinema as an usherette. When Mouskouri was three, her family moved to Athens.
Mouskouri's family sent her and her older sister Eugenía (Jenny) to the Athens Conservatoire. Although Mouskouri had displayed exceptional musical talent from age six, Jenny initially appeared to be the more gifted sibling. Financially unable to support both girls' studies, the parents asked their tutor which one should continue. The tutor conceded that Jenny had the better voice, but Nana was the one with the true inner need to sing. Mouskouri has said that a medical examination revealed a difference in her two vocal cords and this could well account for her remarkable singing voice (in her younger years ranging from a husky, dark alto, which she later dropped, to a ringing coloratura mezzo), as opposed to her breathy, raspy speaking voice.
Mouskouri's childhood was marked by the German Nazi occupation of Greece. Her father became part of the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Athens.
Mouskouri began singing lessons at age 12. As a child, she listened to radio broadcasts of singers such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Édith Piaf.
In 1950, she was accepted at the Conservatoire. She studied classical music with an emphasis on singing opera. After eight years at the Conservatoire, Mouskouri was encouraged by her friends to experiment with jazz music. She began singing with her friends' jazz group at night. However, when Mouskouri's Conservatory professor found out about Mouskouri's involvement with a genre of music that was not in keeping with her classical studies, he prevented her from sitting for her end-of-year exams. During an episode of "Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey", shown on the UK ITV channel in the autumn of 2011, Mouskouri told the actress Joanna Lumley of how she had been scheduled to sing at the amphitheatre at Epidauros with other students of the Conservatoire, when upon arrival at the amphitheatre word came through from the Conservatoire in Athens that she had just been barred from participating in the performance there due to her involvement in light music. Mouskouri subsequently left the Conservatoire and began performing at the Zaki club in Athens.
She began singing jazz in nightclubs with a bias towards Ella Fitzgerald repertoire. In 1957, she recorded her first song, Fascination, in both Greek and English for Odeon/EMI Greece. By 1958 while still performing at the Zaki, she met Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis. Hadjidakis was impressed by Nana’s voice and offered to write songs for her. In 1959 Mouskouri performed Hadjidakis' Kapou Iparchi I Agapi Mou (co-written with poet Nikos Gatsos) at the inaugural Greek Song Festival. The song won first prize, and Mouskouri began to be noticed.
At the 1960 Greek Song Festival, she performed two more Hadjidakis compositions, Timōría ("Punishment") and Kyparissáki ("Little cypress"). Both these songs tied for first prize. Mouskouri performed Kostas Yannidis' composition, Xypna Agapi Mou ("Wake up, my love"), at the Mediterranean Song Festival, held in Barcelona that year. The song won first prize, and she went on to sign a recording contract with Paris-based Philips-Fontana.
In 1961, Mouskouri performed the soundtrack of a German documentary about Greece. This resulted in the German-language single Weiße Rosen aus Athen ("White Roses from Athens"). The song was originally adapted by Hadjidakis from a folk melody. It became a success, selling over a million copies in Germany. The song was later translated into several languages and it went on to become one of Mouskouri's signature tunes."Nana Mouskouri bows out in style" (Grant Smithies' interview for stuff magazine, 2005-07-31)
Mouskouri has been married twice: firstly at 25, to Yorgos (George) Petsilas, a guitarist in her backing band (the trio "The Athenians") and the first man she'd kissed. They had two children (Nicolas Petsilas in 1968 and Hélène (Lénou) Petsilas (singer) in 1970) but divorced when Mouskouri was 39. Not long after that, she met her second husband, André Chapelle, then her sound technician, but they did not marry then because she "didn't want to bring another father into the family" and divorce was against her traditional Greek upbringing. They eventually married on 13 January 2003, and live primarily in Switzerland.Greek songs 'There is a sense of revolt. I feel it too' — The Guardian, 6 March 2010
Life outside Greece
In 1962, she met Quincy Jones, who persuaded her to travel to New York City to record an album of American jazz titled The Girl from Greece Sings. Following that she scored another hit in the United Kingdom with My Colouring Book.
In 1963, she left Greece to live in Paris, where she formed close friendships with the singer-songwriter Barbara and other leaders of French chanson. Mouskouri performed Luxembourg's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 1963 that year, "À force de prier". Although the song only achieved eighth place in the contest, it achieved commercial success, and helped win her the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque in France. Mouskouri soon attracted the attention of French composer Michel Legrand, who composed two songs which became major French hits for her: "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" (1964) and an arrangement of Katherine K. Davis's "Carol of the Drum", "L'Enfant au Tambour" (1965).
In 1965, she recorded her second English-language album to be released in the United States, entitled Nana Sings. American singer Harry Belafonte heard and liked the album. Belafonte brought Mouskouri on tour with him through 1966. They teamed for a duo album entitled An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri. During this tour, Belafonte suggested that Mouskouri remove her signature black-rimmed glasses when on stage. She was so unhappy with the request that she wanted to quit the show after only two days. Finally, Belafonte relented and respected her wish to perform while wearing glasses.
Mouskouri's 1967 French album Le Jour Où la Colombe raised her to super-stardom in France. This album featured many of her French songs, Au Cœur de Septembre, Adieu Angélina, Robe Bleue, Robe Blanche and the French pop classic Le Temps des Cerises. Mouskouri made her first appearance at Paris' legendary Olympia concert theatre the same year, singing French pop, Greek folk, and Hadjidakis numbers.
In 1968, five years after her appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest which had been produced by the BBC, Mouskouri was invited with her backing group, the Athenians, to host a BBC TV series called Presenting Nana Mouskouri. The next year she released a full-length British LP, Over and Over, which reached number 10 and spent almost two years in the UK album charts. This was the first of a series of English-language albums which sold extremely well in the UK and Ireland during the early 1970s, including The Exquisite Nana Mouskouri, Turn On The Sun, A Place In My Heart and Songs From Her TV Series. Her British TV series, which continued until 1976 (with various television specials until the early 1980s), featured many world music stars of the time, and it went on to be sold by the BBC to television stations around the world. This series, along with the fact that she was also regularly hosting her own shows on French and West German TV, certainly helped to increase her global profile. Throughout the 1970s, she expanded her concert tour to the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Japan and Australia, where she met Frank Hardy, who followed her to the south of France in 1976. Always a prolific recording artist, the mid- to late 1970s saw her record several LPs in German, including the hit album, Sieben schwarze Rosen, while in France, she released a series of top-selling records, such as Comme un Soleil, Une Voix Qui Vient du Cœur, Vieilles Chansons de France, and Quand Tu Chantes. Meanwhile, Passport, a compilation of her most popular songs in English, reached number 3 in the UK album charts in 1976 and won for her a gold disc. During the decade, she also recorded several Japanese songs for the Japanese market.December 13, 2011 (2011-12-13). "Why is Nana Mouskouri on classical BBC Radio 3?". Artsjournal.com. Retrieved 2012-04-17. Going out on a song: Nana Mouskouri sets off on farewell tour after 40-year career, Jonathan Brown, The Independent on Sunday, 26 October 2007 "Album artist 344 - Nana Mouskouri". Tsort.info. 2007-10-08. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
In 1979, Mouskouri released another English-language album named Roses and Sunshine. This album consisting largely of folk and country material, and included work from sources as Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and John Denver. It was well received in Canada, and one of the album's tracks, "Even Now" (not the same song as the 1978 Barry Manilow hit), became a staple on beautiful music radio stations in the United States. She scored a worldwide hit in 1981 with Je Chante Avec Toi, Liberté, which was translated into several languages after its success in France. The momentum from this album also helped boost her following German album, Meine Lieder sind mein Leben. In 1984, Mouskouri returned to Greece for her first live performance in her homeland since 1962.
In 1985, Mouskouri recorded Only Love, the theme song to the British TV series Mistral's Daughter — based upon the novel by Judith Krantz — which reached number 2 in the UK charts. The song was also a hit in its other versions: L'Amour en Héritage (French), Come un'eredità (Italian), La dicha del amor (Spanish), and Aber die Liebe bleibt (German). The German version was also recorded with an alternate set of lyrics under the title Der wilde Wein but was withdrawn in favour of Aber die Liebe bleibt.
That same year, Mouskouri made a play for the Spanish-language market with the hit single Con Toda el Alma. The song was a major success in Spain, Argentina and Chile.
She released five albums in different languages in 1987, and the following year returned to her classical conservatory roots with the double LP The Classical Nana (a.k.a. Nana Classique), which featured adaptations of classical songs and excerpts from opera. By the end of 1987, she had performed a series of concerts in Asia, including South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.
Later yearsNana Mouskouri, 2012
Mouskouri's 1991 English album, Only Love: The Best of Nana Mouskouri, became her best-selling release in the United States. She spent much of the 1990s touring the globe. Among her early 1990s albums were spiritual music, Gospel (1990), the Spanish-language Nuestras Canciones, the multilingual, Mediterranean-themed Côté Sud, Côté Coeur (1992), Dix Mille Ans Encore, Falling in Love Again: Great Songs From the Movies. Falling in Love featured two duets with Harry Belafonte.
In 1993, Mouskouri recorded the album Hollywood. Produced by Michel Legrand it was a collection of famous songs from films, and served not only as a tribute to the world of cinema, but also as a personal reference to childhood memories of sitting with her father in his projection room in Crete.
She recorded several more albums over 1996 and 1997, including the Spanish Nana Latina (which featured duets with Julio Iglesias and Mercedes Sosa), the English-language Return to Love, and the French pop classics, Hommages. In 1997, she staged a high-profile Concert for Peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. This concert was later released as an album, and aired as a TV special on PBS in the United States.
On 30 May 2013, Mouskouri was awarded an honorary degree by McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.McGill University (13 March 2013). "Mouskouri and Barré-Sinoussi among McGill 2013 honorary degree recipients". Press Release. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
UNICEF and politics
Mouskouri was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in October 1993. She took over from the previous ambassador, the recently deceased actress Audrey Hepburn. Mouskouri's first U.N. mission took her to Bosnia to draw attention to the plight of children affected by Bosnian war. She went on to give a series of fund-raising concerts in Sweden and Belgium.
She was a Member of the European Parliament through the New Democracy party from 1994 until 1999, when she resigned from her position as an MEP. Several reasons have been given for this, one being her pacifism, and another being that she felt ill-equipped for the day-to-day work of a politician."UNICEF People — Nana Mouskouri". UNICEF. Retrieved 2008-02-19. "European Parliament: Your MEPs: Nana MOUSKOURI". European Parliament Correspondence with Citizens Unit. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
21st century and retirement
Mouskouri lives in Switzerland with Chapelle, and, until her final performance in 2008, performed hundreds of concerts every year throughout her career. In 2004, her French record company released a 34-CD box set of more than 600 of Mouskouri's mostly French songs. In 2006 she made a guest appearance at that year's Eurovision Song Contest which was held, for the first time ever, in her native Greece.
In the same year, she announced her plans to retire. From 2005 until 2008, she conducted a farewell concert tour of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, South America, the United States, and Canada. On July 23 and 24, 2008, Mouskouri gave her two final 'Farewell Concert' performances at the ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, in Athens, Greece, before a packed stadium, including Greece's Prime Minister and Athens mayor, plus the mayors of Berlin, Paris and Luxembourg, along with fans from around the world and thousands of her Athenian admirers.
Although Nana Mouskouri was presented with a plaque representing 350 million in sales at her final concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009 by her record company, the actual figure is uncertain as record sales need to be supported by at least 20% in certified units. She is therefore not included in Wikipedia's list of best selling music artists (a fate she shares with Cliff Richard, Diana Ross, Charles Aznavour, Bing Crosby, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Tom Jones, the Jackson 5, Dionne Warwick, the Andrews Sisters, Luciano Pavarotti and others). As a comparison her sales in France, are "only" 15 million, ranking her the 15th biggest seller here.
In 2010, in response to the financial situation in Greece caused by excessive deficit, Mouskouri announced that she would forgo her pension to contribute to the country's recovery. She commented: "Everywhere I see stories about my country going bankrupt. And people are aggressive about it. It's frightening. And it's painful for me. Nobody wants their country to be treated badly. It's frustrating and very sad."
In late 2011, Mouskouri released two newly recorded CDs, the first featuring songs of the Greek Islands, recorded with other Greek singers, and the second featuring duets with French contemporaries. In late November 2011 Mouskouri sang again at single one-off concert, with guests, in Berlin, commemorating the 50th anniversary of her hit single "The White Rose of Athens". Dates of a multi-city tour of Germany in early 2012 have also been announced.The EU economic situation and Greece – ECFIN – European Commission, "the [European] Council decided in April 2009 that Greece was in excessive deficit" Cite error: The named reference guardian2010 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). November 10, 2011 (2011-11-10). "Greece’s greatest living legend is returning to the stage". Artsjournal.com. Retrieved 2012-04-17.
The British comedian Benny Hill impersonated Mouskouri on The Benny Hill Show. Wearing a long dress, large glasses and long black hair, he talked and sang with a slow and quiet voice. He introduced a song with a long translation into English of all the events supposedly mentioned in the song... and then sang just a single line of "Greek".
This sketch from 1972 was later used as part of the 1974 compilation movie The Best of Benny Hill.
Andrea Martin played Mouskouri in a sketch, 'The Nana Mouskouri Story', during the 1981-1982 season of SCTV (later included in a DVD compilation.)Season 3, Episode 3: Episode #3.3 IMDb.com, The Benny Hill Show (1969), Episode list.