A Greek couple married for seventy years that has lived the American Dream has recently returned to their village near Kozani in northern Greece. This is where they first met and fell in love.
Mike Daniel (Michalis Daniil), ninety-five years old, 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. This was also where they 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,” he said. “How Eleni kept me, I don’t know.”
Ever since he was young, 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,” said Kostas Tsonis, an educator in Morphi Voiou. “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.”
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. However, the money he earned was too little. In 1954, he married his beloved Eleni.
“We were married for two years,” he said. “I [said] 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
Hence in 1956 in search of a better life, Daniel and Eleni made the decision and with the violin under their arms and fifty dollars in their pockets, they left for America. They settled 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. He was offered a job playing the accordion there.
“Since then, for seventy years, I have never been without a job,” he tells AMNA.
After two years at Britannia, he was hired by the Egyptian Gardens, a famous nightclub in New York. He also played 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 twelve to sixteen musicians with a repertoire of European, American, Greek traditional, and folk music.
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 forty-year successful career for one of the most beloved orchestras of the Greek-American community. The band, which was at its peak in the ’70’s and ’80’s, worked non-stop with an average of five to nine gigs per week. “I used to close the job for 6,500 to 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, and 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 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. This year was possibly the last summer they returned to the village where they fell in love, as their children say 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, which would be eighty years after his first musical appearance in the village. He had appeared at a dance festival with the small band he had set up with his friends at the time.