Nana Mouskouri

Born : 13/10/1936 in Athens (Greece)
Country : Greece
Language : French / German / English
Category : Female Artist
Style of music : Chanson

Nana Mouskouri's distinctive black-rimmed glasses have become as famous as those of Elton John - and the Greek-born singer can certainly match Elton's world record sales as well ! Yet Ms. Mouskouri has chosen not to play in the pop league. Managing her career on the international 'variety' scene with the quiet persistence of a metronome, Nana Mouskouri has worked her way up from humble beginnings to become one of the world's most popular divas.

Nana Mouskouri's distinctive black-rimmed glasses have become as famous as those of Elton John - and the Greek-born singer can certainly match Elton's world record sales as well ! Yet Ms. Mouskouri has chosen not to play in the pop league. Managing her career on the international 'variety' scene with the quiet persistence of a metronome, Nana Mouskouri has worked her way up from humble beginnings to become one of the world's most popular divas.

Ioana (Nana to her friends and family) was born in October 1936 in Canée, Crete, where her father, Constantin, worked as a film projectionist. Her mother, Alice, worked in the same local cinema as her husband, employed as an usherette. The couple moved to Athens, soon after Nana's birth, where Constantin worked extremely hard in order to send Nana and her elder sister, Jenny, to the capital's prestigious Conservatoire. Nana had displayed exceptional musical talent from the age of 6, but her sister, Jenny, appeared to be more the more gifted of the two. In fact throughout her career Nana only had one vocal chord (rather than the normal two), a rare condition which would give her voice its particularly original timbre.  

Goodbye to classical music

The young Nana threw herself into classical music studies with a passion, perfecting her vocals with extraordinary self-discipline as well as taking piano and harmony classes. Yet, after 8 years’ of hard work at the Conservatoire, Nana was encouraged by her friends to get into jazz. She soon began singing with her friends’ jazz group and they even managed to get a radio slot. But when Nana’s professor at the Conservatoire found out about his pupil’s involvement with a genre of music he considered to be absolutely worthless, he flew into a fury and prevented Nana from sitting her end of year exams. The young girl’s dreams of becoming an opera singer were dashed in one fell swoop.

Once she overcame her disappointment, Nana decided to pursue her singing career in her own way. She began performing at the "Zaki", a club in Athens, and it was there that the young singer met the famous Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis. (Hadjidakis had not yet written the score for Jules Dassin’s film "Jamais le dimanche" but he was already a huge star in his homeland). Hadjidakis was immensely impressed by Nana’s original voice and immediately offered to write songs for her. It was Hadjidakis who helped Nana get her career off to a flying start with "La Procession" and "Le jeune cyprès", two songs which the singer performed at the Greek Song Contest in 1960. Needless to say, Nana Mouskouri was the out-and-out winner at this contest, outshining numerous other competitors. The following month Nana triumphed again, this time at the Mediterranean Song Festival in Barcelona. Following her incredible performances at these festivals, a number of European and American record companies were soon queuing up to sign the young singer. Nana was suddenly in demand, with calls rushing in from Italy, Germany and Scandinavia. Thanks to Louis Hazan, director of the Phonogram label, it was finally a French record company which succeeded in snapping up the fast-rising young star.

Nana’s début single "Weisse Rosen aus Athen", recorded in Germany, was phenomenally successful (selling over a million copies). After flying to the U.S. to record a second hit single, The Girl from Greece Sings", Nana went to London where she recorded an American ballad entitled "My Colouring Book". The record rocketed to the top of the British charts, turning Nana into an overnight star. The singer also proved a great hit in her homeland and, over the following years, Nana Mouskouri phenomenal success spread across national boundaries until she achieved international star status.

Nana arrives in Paris

In 1963 Nana went into a Paris studio to make her début album, recording it entirely in Greek. It was also in 63 that the singer decided to settle in Paris with her husband musician, Georges Petsilas (whom she had married in 1956). Nana was to receive her first French award that year, winning the prestigious "Grand Prix de l’Académie du disque".

The well-known French songwriter Michel Legrand began working with Nana in 1965, giving her two hits, ‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" and ‘L’Enfant au tambour". Nana also flew to the U.S. that year to record a new album entitled "Nana Sings".

By 1967 Philips, who had signed the young star after she had left her original record label, had already sold a staggering 8 million copies of Nana Mouskouri’s singles and albums worldwide. The world was literally at Nana’s feet when she embarked upon an extensive tour of America with the famous black crooner Harry Belafonte. The pair toured for several months, Nana’s records continuing to sell like hotcakes in the U.S.

Nana also proved a huge success in France. Indeed, her album "Le Jour où la colombe" (which produced a whole string of Mouskouri classics such as "Au coeur de septembre", "Adieu Angélina", and "Robe bleue robe blanche") went gold shortly after its release. Nana had already performed at the prestigious Olympia in Paris (as a support act to French chanson star Georges Brassens in 1966) but by the following year she had become an international star in her own right. When Nana returned to the Olympia in October 67 it was as the headlining act. Her mix of Greek folk songs, Hadjidakis compositions and French chanson classics (such as "Le temps des cerises") proved an enormous hit with the thousands of fans who had flocked to see her. Nana appeared on stage at the Olympia in a voluminous red gown - she was already expecting her first child, Nicolas (who was to be born in February 68). Two years later Nana gave birth to a daughter called Hélène.

Having achieved star status in France, Nana then set out to conquer the British market. Her début album in Britain "Over and over", recorded in 1969, proved an instant hit. Indeed, it retained a prime spot in the British charts for an incredible 102 weeks. In the space of just a few months, Nana Mouskouri's popularity reached amazing heights. When she performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London tickets for the show sold out within a few hours, and her ensuing tour of England met with exactly the same success.

Off to Switzerland

Nana, who had by this point settled in Geneva with her family, continued to tour the world, appearing in concert in Rome, Hamburg, Japan and the United States. Nana was one of those extremely rare artists who appeared to hold universal appeal, her albums transcending national and cultural barriers and selling millions of copies worldwide. The fact that Nana had learnt to sing in several different languages (including English, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese) brought the cosmopolitan star closer to her international audiences. With her crystal-clear voice, perfect diction and classical training, her fans considered her a younger version of La Callas. Meanwhile her detractors loved to criticise her boring 'goody two shoes' image.

By 1975, Nana Mouskouri had a staggering 35 gold discs to her name and concert promoters the world over falling at her feet. In 1977, she returned to Paris, after four years' absence from the capital, appearing at the Olympia for three weeks. Singing in French and Greek, accompanied by her group of 6 Greek, South African and French musicians, Nana brought the hose down. Two years later, while in the midst of an international mega-tour, Nana returned to the Olympia in October to give a special series of concerts, performing 20 shows to mark the 20th anniversary of her singing career. Her classics, "Angélina", "L'enfant au tambour" and songs from her new album, "Vivre au soleil", released in France that October, were met with thunderous applause.

In the early 80's Nana was back at the forefront of the international music scene with "Je chante avec toi Liberté", recorded in French, English, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Needless to say, the single rocketed straight to the top of the charts in numerous countries including France.

Nana goes back to her Greek roots

Throughout her career Nana continued to be an indefatigable globetrotter, recording and touring across five continents. But she always returned enthusiastically to Paris, her second home. In January and February 84 Nana returned to Paris to perform at the Palais des Congrès. Then later that year, on July 23rd, the singer returned to her homeland to perform in Greece for the first time in 22 years. The two concerts she gave at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens were highly emotional affairs, her father and her sister, Jenny, applauding from the front row. (Sadly, her mother did not live to see Nana's triumphant homecoming, having died in 1976). The Greek public gave Nana a resounding welcome, recognising in her not only a national heroine but also their most important cultural ambassador.

In 1988 Nana returned to her first love, recording a double album of classical music. The singer's famous renditions of "Norma", Albinoni's "Adagio" and Haendel's "Sarabande" were, by her own admission, "a way of getting back in touch with her youth". Yet, despite her evident love of the classical repertoire, Nana Mouskouri was not tempted to follow in the footsteps of Maria Callas or Jessye Norman. A career in opera was not on the cards. However, in October 1989, Nana did give a grandiose performance at the Zénith in Paris, accompanied on stage by 60 musicians from the Orchestre Colonne and a 40-strong choir

After paying tribute to the vast classical repertoire, Nana moved on to a new musical genre, gospel. In 1990 the singer recorded an entire album of gospel songs in English, entitled "Couleur Gospel". The following year she embarked upon an extensive tour of Germany (the country where she had first risen to fame) then gave a series of concerts in Eastern Europe and the United States. In 1993 Nana recorded a new album, "Hollywood", put together by the famous French pianist and composer Michel Legrand. "Hollywood", a collection of famous film songs, was not only a tribute to the world of cinema, but also, perhaps, a personal reference to childhood memories of sitting with her father in his projection room.

Nana - UNICEF ambassadress

In the midst of her busy international touring and recording schedule, Nana was appointed ambassador of UNICEF in December 93. Stepping into the shoes of the previous ambassador, actress Audrey Hepburn, Nana's first mission took her to Bosnia to draw attention to the plight of children affected by war. Nana, deeply moved by her experience there, went on to give a series of fund-raising concerts in Sweden and Belgium. Nana's role as a public figure did not end there - in June 94 the singer was elected member of the European Parliament, where she represents the right-wing Greek New Democracy Party. Nana's important new role requires her to deal with Third World problems as well as cultural policy issues. 

Despite her new roles as ambassador and politician, Nana has continued her singing career. She recorded a new album, "Dix mille ans encore", in November 94, working with a host of new collaborators including Graeme Allwright, Michel Fugain, and Canadian singer/songwriter Roch Voisine. In October 95 Nana triumphed at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, performing 6 concerts to a packed auditorium.

Bowing to pressure from thousands of committed Mouskouri fans around the world, Nana returned to the studio in 1997 to record no less than three new albums. The singer recorded "Return to Love" for the U.S. market, "Nana Latina" for release on the Latin American market and "Hommages" which was destined for release in France. "Hommages" featured Nana's own versions of a number of legendary French classics such as Jacques Brel's "Ne me quitte pas" and Mouloudji's "Un jour tu verras", as well as a memorable version of Lucio Dalla's "Caruso". In December 97 Nana Mouskouri gave four triumphant performances at the Olympia in Paris (December 11-14), to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her singing career.

For peace

In May 98, as a member of the European Parliament, Nana Mouskouri flew to Bosnia to organise the building of a school, which she financed thanks to a concert she had given in Germany on March 1st.

According to the American magazine, Billboard, she became number seven on the US World Music charts at the end of the summer with her album "Concert for the Peace" recorded at Saint John the Divine Church in New York on October, 25th 1997.

Later that year, Nana resigned from her mandate as a European MP explaining that, a fervent pacifist, she refused to back wars, and she went on with her activities as a singer, giving concerts and recording albums.

At the end of 99 she released a new opus soberly entitled "Classic" in which she did some covers of the genre. She then moved on to across Germany—where she is extremely popular—at the beginning of 2000; afterwards, she toured in France where she was accompanied by the Choeurs de France and continued in Northern Europe in autumn. She was in London to sing at the Royal Festival Hall on November the 6th.

Nana, the mega-box

During the summer of 2002, Nana went back to her jazz roots. 40 years after the recording of her legendary jazz album, “Nana Mouskouri in New York” (produced by Quincy Jones), the Greek icon brought the house down in Germany, performing at the “Jazzopen Festival” in Stuttgart. Nana gave a show-stopping rendition of a whole series of jazz classics.

Following her tour of the UK, Ireland and Germany, Nana kicked off 2003 with a major event in her personal life, marrying André Chapelle (her partner of thirty years). After the honeymoon, Nana was straight back on the road again, playing concerts in Scandinavia and Canada. On 15 April 2003, Nana received critical recognition in her homeland when she was presented with a special prize at the Arion Music Awards honouring her successful international career. Later that year, on 27 October, Nana clocked up her tenth year as a roving ambassador for UNICEF.

2004 was marked by the release (in France) of a mega-boxed set of Nana Mouskouri albums, celebrating forty years of the Greek singer's impressively polyglot career. The collection is made up of a staggering 34 CDs, 30 of which are Nana Mouskouri albums which have been released in France since 1961. However, the real interest in this mega-collection – apart from the 132-page accompanying booklet in which Nana recounts her life and career - lies in the 230 'bonus' tracks. These bonus tracks include live versions of Nana’s classics and songs she has recorded in half-a-dozen different languages over the years. But, make no mistake about it, the track list is not exhaustive. The 673 songs in this weighty boxed set represent only half of Nana's output to date!

On 13 October 2004, Nana Mouskouri celebrated her 70th birthday live on stage in Berlin, performing a special one-off concert with the Philharmonic Orchestra. It was on this occasion that the singer announced she would be bidding fans a final adieu after a mammoth farewell tour due to last over two years. Nana explained, "So long as I'm well enough and fit enough, I want to get out there and thank fans for having listened to my songs and loved me all these years!"

The singer kicked off her extensive international "Farewell Tour" in Denmark on 8 April 2005 and went on to play dates across Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Korea and Germany throughout the rest of the year. Nana's farewells continued in the Netherlands, Canada and the Dominican Republic throughout 2006. 2006 was also the year Nana Mouskouri won a number of prestigious awards. After carrying off the SACEM's "Grand prix" for French chanson abroad, the singer received the Légion d'honneur in July 2006.

2007: Nana, the autobiography

In 2007, Nana continued her hectic international farewell schedule, plane-hopping from the U.S. in April to Canada in June and across Europe (from September to November). During the same period, the singer performed a series of fund-raising concerts, donating proceeds from her shows to victims of the fires that had swept through Greece that summer. On 24 November 2007, Nana performed a special one-off show at the Opéra Garnier, in Paris, donating proceeds to the Fondation Hôpitaux de Paris - Hôpitaux de France.

On 15 October 2007, the singer published her autobiography, entitled "La fille de la chauve-souris." Besides exploring her passion for singing and her fascination with traditional songs, the book also delved into Nana's personal life, recounting the ups and downs of her turbulent love life. "La fille de la chauve-souris" also devoted in-depth sections to the singer's campaigning work on behalf of Unicef and her work as a European MP.

Nana Mouskouri's "Farewell Tour" continued in 2008, taking the singer across Asia, South America, Switzerland and Spain.

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In her international career, spanning almost 40 years, Nana has achieved phenomenal success world-wide (recording more than 1,350 songs and selling over 200 million records). While Nana's popularity has never really caught on with the younger generation, the bespectacled diva remains a veritable idol for millions of faithful fans around the world.

December 2007

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