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Greek Couple Return to their Roots after Living the American Dream

Greek couple American dream
Mike Daniel (Michalis Daniil) and his wife Eleni Nanopoulou. Credit: AMNA

A Greek couple married for 70 years that has lived the American Dream has recently returned to their village near Kozani, northern Greece, the place where they first met and fell in love.

95-year-old Mike Daniel (Michalis Daniil) and his wife Eleni Nanopoulou returned to the village of Morphi Voiou where they were welcomed as stars. After all, Daniel is the founder of the legendary “Mike Daniel’s Orchestra”, the band that thrived for decades, entertaining the Greek-American community seven days a week.

Daniel was honored by the Cultural Association of the village for his contribution to culture and performed a song he wrote and sang to his future wife for the first time in 1953, outside the door of his grandmother’s house, where he confessed his love to her and shared their first kiss.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA) Daniel says that he has two loves in his life: Eleni and music. “It was really tough to be away from home almost every night for 70 years. How Eleni kept me, I don’t know.”

Greek couple American dream
The photo of their wedding just before leaving for America. Credit: AMNA

From a young age, Daniel had a great passion for music. “During the German occupation, Michael hid in a water collection tank in the cistern to practice the violin. After the occupation, in the rocky years of the civil war, he fled to Tsotili, where he studied privately with a Greek-American music teacher”, said Kostas Tsonis, an educator in Morphi Voiou.

In 1949, Daniel went to Thessaloniki to study at the Conservatory and spent two years working in nightclubs. The demands of the job forced him to leave the violin and switch to a more popular instrument, the accordion. But, the money he earned was too little. In 1954 he married his beloved Eleni.

“We were married for two years. I say to Eleni, aren’t we going to America? We have no life here. My father-in-law and son-in-law were also there. Of course, we didn’t know what to expect. There was fear. I spoke little English, but there was no other choice, we couldn’t live in Greece.”

Greek couple lives the American Dream

So, in search of a better life, in 1956 Daniel and Eleni made the decision and with the violin under their arms and 50 dollars in their pockets, they left for America settling in Astoria.

Eleni, an accomplished seamstress, got a job sewing in a New York factory. There Daniel met a young woman whose husband worked in a nightclub on New York’s 8th Avenue called Britannia where he was offered a job playing the accordion.

“Since then, for seventy years, I have never been without a job,” he tells AMNA.

Greek couple American dream
Mike Daniel (Michalis Daniil) and his wife Eleni Nanaopoulou look at their music collection. Credit: AMNA

After two years at “Britannia” he was hired by the “Egyptian Gardens”, a famous nightclub in New York. He also used to play at weddings and baptisms in the Greek-American community.

In 1963, Daniel formed Mike Daniel’s Orchestra. Following the popular Big-Band Era style of the 1940s and 1950s, the first version of the band had 12-16 musicians with a repertoire of European, American, Greek traditional, and later, folk repertoire.

As the demands of Greek music changed in the late 60s, Daniel left the accordion and took up the then-dominant instrument, the bouzouki.

It was the beginning of a 40-year successful career for one of the most beloved orchestras of the Greek-American community. The band at its peak in the 70’s and 80’s worked non-stop with an average of 5-9 gigs each week. “I used to close the job for 6,500-7,000 dollars,” recalls the 95-year-old.

Mike Daniel and his orchestra accompanied many great artists, such as Nana Mouskouri, Jeni Vanou, Giorgos Zambetas, Yiannis Papaioannou, Nikos Gounaris, Andreas Barkoulis, Doukissa, Michalis Violaris — among many others.

He also developed a close friendship with bouzouki virtuoso Manolis Chiotis, with whom he worked for a while at several venues.

A big moment for Daniel was when he was hired to play for Nana Mouskouri in her first show with the legendary American singer Harry Belafonte. In 1967 he recorded his first LP, which was a huge success. Soon after, he and his orchestra were regulars for many years on Maria Papadatou’s Greek TV show on Channel 47 in New York.

During the summers at the Catskill Mountain resorts of New York, Daniel’s orchestra was in demand. The local Greek communities of all the surrounding states flocked to the Monte Carlo, Starlight, Nea Olympia, Kallithea and other nightclubs where he performed.

Until the coronavirus pandemic, he continued to work in the summers, on cruise ships, taking advantage of the opportunity to travel to beautiful places with his beloved Eleni.

Today, Mike and Eleni live in Bergen County, New Jersey. They think that maybe this year was the last summer that they returned to the village they fell in love, as their children say that they will not allow them to make the long and tiring journey from the USA to Greece again.

Mike’s fellow villagers, however, continue to hope for an anniversary celebration in the square of the village in 2025, 80 years after his first musical appearance in the village, at a dance festival with the small band he had set up with his friends.

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