Rebetiko Music from Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs, a small town in Southwest Florida with the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the U.S., was recently named Florida’s first Traditional Cultural Property as recognized by the National Park Service. Greek immigrants began arriving at Tarpon Springs in the 1880s. They worked in the booming sponge diving industry, bringing with them rich cultural traditions that shaped their community into one of the most unique cities in Florida.

Nick Mastras plays a laouto – Tarpon Springs, Florida

One thriving cultural tradition in Tarpon Springs is rebetiko music. Rebetiko (plural rebetika), a catch-all term for Greek folk music, became popular during the folk revival in the 1960s and 70s. Many Greek musicians living in Tarpon Springs playing a diverse range of instruments, including the tsabouna and bouzouki, went on to have illustrious careers playing rebetiko.

Nikitas Tsimouris, a notable Greek American tsabouna performer, came from a family of sponge divers and learned songs from around the world on his sailing expeditions. Tsimouris participated in the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program, passing down the tsabouna tradition to his grand-nephew, Nikitas Kavouklis. In 1991, Tsimouris received the National Heritage Fellowship in recognition of his ability to build and play the instrument.

Greek bagpipe player Nikitas Tsimouris, right, plays the practice chanter, accompanied by his apprentice and grand-nephew Nikitas Kavouklis on the tsabouna – Tarpon Springs, Florida

The tsabouna originates from the Dodecanese islands, and is a bagpipe-like instrument made out of goatskin. Some believe the instrument was created by herdsman as a way to pass the time. It has two chanters, pipes with finger holes in them, so two lines of melody can be played at the same time and harmonize with each other, creating an interesting accompaniment for a singer. Typically, a chanter is passed down from father to son, and Tsimouris’ chanter was made out of olive wood  and bamboo reeds by his father.

Greek bagpiper Nikitas Tsimouris of Tarpon Springs performing at the 1985 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

Nikitas Tsimouris playing the tsabouna, a Greek Bagpipe

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Another popular instrument used in rebetiko is the bouzouki. The bouzouki is a 3 or 4-stringed instrument that originated in Asia Minor and was brought to Greece in the early 1900s. It is a pear-shaped instrument, usually inlaid with designs made from mother-of-pearl.

Spiros Skordilis, center, and apprentices playing Greek bouzouki music at the 1987 Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, Florida

Close-up view of a bouzouki being made by Dimitris Adamopoulos at the Hollywood Music Shop – Hollywood, Florida

Spiros Skordilis was an accomplished composer and performer of the bouzouki. He recorded many hit songs while living in America, including Your Mini Dress, which was banned by Greek dictator Georgios Papadopoulos in 1967 as part of his widespread ban on mini skirts. Skordilis was also a dedicated teacher, participating in the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program and teaching bouzouki at Tarpon Springs Elementary School.

To hear more rebetika from Tarpon Springs, check out the additional tracks below, or listen to the podcast “Greek Music Traditions  in Tarpon Springs.”

Cretan wedding music – Kostas Maris and Nick Mastras

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I Yerakina – Grecian Islanders of Tarpon Springs

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Greek Music Traditions in Tarpon Springs

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Have You Seen the King?

It was a hot Friday afternoon in August, 1956. Elvis Presley had come to town, and Miami’s Olympia Theater was buzzing with chatter from an expectant teenage crowd. The Miami News reported that the first Elvis fan had arrived shortly after midnight for the 3:30pm opening show, followed by thousands of young people, some bringing their breakfast and lunch along for the wait.

The adults weren’t quite so enthusiastic. The News remarked that “Every delinquent kid in town – plus many who aren’t delinquents but are fascinated by a duck-tailed hair-do playing guitar and squirming his hips” would be on hand to catch one of Elvis’ seven stage shows that weekend. Indeed, many a parent criticized what they saw as the crudeness of “Elvis the Pelvis,” but they were powerless to stop their sons and daughters from falling in love with his unique sound and unforgettable stage presence. As one young Miamian was dragged away from the stage after a near-riot following Elvis’ departure, she reportedly begged the policeman, “Just one more look at him, just one!”

Enthusiastic fans at one of seven August 1956 Elvis shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami. Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

Enthusiastic fans at one of seven August 1956 Elvis shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

The following photos were taken by photographer Don Wright during Elvis Presley’s August 1956 appearances in Miami, and are currently on loan to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is now expanding its research on Presley’s life and career. In these images, Wright managed to capture several fans’ faces, and some of the fans were holding cameras. Florida Memory and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are teaming up to see if any of our users can help identify the fans in these photos, or help us locate more photos or videos of Elvis performing in Florida.

Screaming for Elvis at one of his seven August 1956 shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami. Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

Screaming for Elvis at one of his seven August 1956 shows at the Olympia Theater in Miami (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright).

A close-up of the previous image from the front row at the Olympia Theater. Do you know this person? Let us know! (1956)

A close-up of the previous image from the front row at the Olympia Theater. Do you know this person? Let us know! (1956)

Wouldn't it be "swell" to have the movie caught on that camera? Olympia Theater (1956).

Wouldn’t it be “swell” to have the movie caught on that camera? Olympia Theater (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright – 1956).

 

A crowd of eager fans at the Olympia Theater in Miami, screaming for Elvis (1956).

A crowd of eager fans at the Olympia Theater in Miami, screaming for Elvis (Photo courtesy of Chris Kennedy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the original photographer, Don Wright – 1956).

If you or someone you know has photographs from one of the King’s performances in Florida, we’d love to know about it.  Use our Contact Us form to get in touch with us.