With more than 200 music albums in 12 different languages — including Mandarin Chinese and Corsican — Nana Mouskouri certainly has reason to celebrate 89 years of an extraordinary life.
Born in Chania, Crete on October 13, 1934, the singer is no doubt one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. Baptized Ioanna but called Nana from childhood, she demonstrated musical talent from the age of six. She began formal singing lessons at the age of 12.
Across a career of seven decades, Mouskouri has performed more than 10,000 shows at venues around the world, including the Royal Albert Hall, the Berlin Philharmonic and New York’s Lincoln Center.
Mouskouri Speaks to Greek Reporter
In 2018, when she released the album “Forever Young,” the iconic Greek singer spoke with Greek Reporter about the studio album and her career.
“I didn’t do a record for quite a long time. Honestly, only the younger artists can bring the music further. We, the older artists, we brought our music up to a point,” Mouskouri told Greek Reporter.
“I searched for songs from artists such as Bob Dylan, who was one of my favorites, and a few European singers as well. I tried to find songs that were not sad.
“As a Greek, I am always a very optimistic person, and even if a song is sad, you find a certain truth and you sing it, which is normal. I covered a song ‘Love Is a Losing Game’ by Amy Winehouse that speaks about love. We know that love can be a losing game, but it can also not be a losing game. The truth is emotional and very important.”
Mouskouri commented to Greek Reporter about how technology has changed performance. “Also, with the technology, we lose the basics, which is the identity: where a record comes from, where a singer comes from, and why the singer sings a certain way. It is tricky since it is diffused very easily. After all though, you can’t stop progress. As older artists, we cannot catch up as much.”
Last Performance in Athens at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Her last performance in Greece was in July 2018 at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens. A portion of the proceeds were donated to ELPIDA, the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer.
Mouskouri told Greek Reporter at the time: “Love and happiness is not something that you can have once in life, and put it in a pocket, and say that it’s there forever. You have to cultivate love. You have to care so they can care for you. You have to care for everything. It’s a philosophy. You respect your life, and you respect your audience and your singing as well. All this allowed me to survive for a long time.”
One Vocal Cord Attributed to Singer’s Range
Mouskouri and her sister Jenny attended the Athens Conservatoire, one of the oldest schools in Athens for the performing arts. Her sister initially appeared to be the more gifted sibling.
However, the family did not have the financial wherewithal for both girls’ studies. The family asked the tutor to recommend who 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 she actually only has one functioning vocal cord. The single vocal chord could account for her range — in her younger years a husky, dark alto which morphed to a coloratura mezzo. Her speaking voice is breathy and raspy.
In 1950, the now-renowned singer was accepted to the Conservatoire. She studied classical music with an emphasis on opera. After eight years at the Conservatoire, Mouskouri experimented with jazz as well. She began singing with her friends’ jazz group at night.
She had been scheduled to sing at the amphitheater at Epidauros with other students of the Conservatoire, but incredibly was barred from participating in the performance because of her interest in jazz. Mouskouri subsequently left the Conservatoire and began performing at the Zaki club in Athens.
Mouskouri then performed in jazz clubs with a preference toward the repertoire of Ella Fitzgerald. In 1957, she recorded her first song, “Fascination,” in both Greek and English for Odeon/EMI Greece. In 1958, while still performing at the Zaki, she met Greek composer Manos Hatzidakis.
Impressed by Mouskouri’s voice, he offered to write songs for her. In 1959 Mouskouri performed Hatzidakis’ “Kapou Eiparxei Agapi,” or “Somewhere my love exists.” The song, co written by poet Nikos Gatsos, was performed at the first Greek Song Festival and won first prize.
At the 1960 Greek Song Festival, Mouskouri performed two more Hadjidakis compositions, “Timoria” (Punishment) and “Kyparisaki” (Little Cypress) with both songs tying for first prize. Later that year, Mouskouri performed at the Mediterranean Song Festival in Barcelona with another first place win. The song was Kostas Yiannidis’ composition, “Xypna Agapi Mou” (Wake Up, My Love). She went on to sign a recording contract with the French studio Phillips-Fontana.
In 1961, Mouskouri performed the soundtrack for a German documentary about Greece. This resulted in the German-language single “White Roses from Athens.” The song was originally adapted by Hatzidakis from a folk melody. It became a success, selling more than 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.
Americans were introduced to Nana Mouskouri in the early 60s
In the early sixties, Mouskouri became well-known to American audiences. In 1962, she met Quincy Jones, who persuaded her to record an album of American jazz titled “The Girl from Greece Sings.” American singer Harry Belafonte heard and liked the album. Belafonte brought Mouskouri on tour with him through 1966. They teamed up 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.
On September 15, 1965, Mouskouri appeared for the first time on American television with Harry Belafonte on the “Danny Kaye Show.” She sang with Belafonte and Kaye.
Singer Appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
Mouskouri was appointed as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in October 1993. Her tenure followed the ambassadorship of Audrey Hepburn. Mouskouri’s first U.N. mission took her to Bosnia to draw attention to the plight of children affected by the Bosnian war. She went on to give a series of fund-raising concerts in Sweden and Belgium.
Mouskouri performed hundreds of concerts every year throughout her career, until 2008 when she attempted to retire from live performance. 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. She conducted a farewell tour from 2005 until 2008, across Europe, Australia and the United States.
On July 23 and 24, 2008, Mouskouri gave her two final ‘Farewell Concert’ performances at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater, in Athens before a packed amphitheater. Attendees included 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.
However, her retirement from performing did not last long. In late November of 2011 Mouskouri sang again at a single concert, with guests, in Berlin, commemorating the 50th anniversary of her hit single “The White Rose of Athens.” She followed with a concert tour in Germany in 2012. At 80, she embarked on a three-year Happy Birthday Tour and in 2018 had booked a five-month Forever Young Tour through parts of Europe and North America.
Her fans can follow her today on her Facebook page as well as enjoy her music through Youtube and Spotify.
Mouskouri has been married twice. At 25, she married Yorgos Petsilas, a guitarist in her band, “The Athenians.” They had two children, Nicolas Petsilas in 1968 and Hélène Petsilas in 1970. The couple divorced in 1973. Mouskouri began a relationship with her record producer André Chapelle in the mid-70s and they eventually married in 2003. Today Mouskouri lives in Switzerland with her husband.