Nana Mouskouri (Greek: Nάνα Μούσχουρη), born Ioánna Moúschouri (Greek: Ιωάννα Μούσχουρη) on October 13, 1934, in Chania, Crete, Greece, is a singer who is confirmed to have sold between 200 and 300 million records worldwide in a career spanning over five decades, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time.. She was known as Nána to her friends and family as a child. (Note that in Greek her surname is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable – MOOS-hoo-ree – rather than the second.) She has recorded songs in many different languages, including Greek, English, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh and Maori.
Nana Mouskouri’s family lived in Chania, Crete, where her father, Constantine, worked as a film projectionist in a local cinema. Her mother, Alice also worked in the same local cinema as an usherette. When Mouskouri was three, her father moved the family to Athens.
Mouskouri’s family worked extremely hard in order to send Nana and her elder sister, Jenny, to the prestigious Athens Conservatoire. Mouskouri had displayed exceptional musical talent from the age of 6. However, her sister, Jennie, initially appeared to be the more gifted of the two. Financially unable to support both girls’ studies, the parents eventually asked their tutor which one should continue. The tutor conceded that Jennie had the better voice, but Nana was the one with the true inner need to sing. Mouskouri has said that a medical examination revealed a difference in her two vocal cords and this could well account for her remarkable singing voice (in her younger years ranging from a husky, dark alto, which she later dropped, to a ringing coloratura mezzo), as opposed to her breathy, raspy speaking voice.
Mouskouri’s childhood was stamped by the German Nazi occupation of Greece. Her father became part of the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Athens. Mouskouri began singing lessons at age 12. As a child, she listened to radio broadcasts of singers such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Édith Piaf.
In 1950, she was accepted at the Conservatoire. She studied classical music with an emphasis on singing opera. After eight years at the Conservatoire, Mouskouri was encouraged by her friends to experiment with jazz music. She soon began singing with her friends’ jazz group at night and they even managed to get a radio slot. However, when Mouskouri’s Conservatory professor found out about Mouskouri’s involvement with a genre of music that was not in keeping with her classical studies, he prevented her from sitting for her end-of-year exams. Mouskouri left the Conservatoire and began performing at the Zaki club in Athens.
She began singing jazz in nightclubs with a bias towards Ella Fitzgerald repertoire. In 1957, she recorded her first song, Fascination, in both Greek and English for Odeon/EMI Greece. By 1958 while still performing at the Zaki, she met Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis. Hadjidakis was immensely impressed by Nana’s phenomenal voice and immediately offered to write songs for her. In 1959 Mouskouri performed Hadjidakis’ Kapou Iparchi I Agapi Mou (co-written with poet Nikos Gatsos) at the inaugural Greek Song Festival. The song won first prize, and Mouskouri began to be noticed.
“Love Changes Everything”
At the 1960 Greek Song Festival, she performed two more Hadjidakis compositions, Timoria and Kiparissaki. Both these songs tied for first prize. Mouskouri performed Kostas Yannidis‘ composition, Xypna Agapi Mou, at the Mediterranean Song Festival, held in Barcelona that year. The song won first prize, and she went on to sign a recording contract with Paris-based Philips-Fontana.
In 1961, Mouskouri performed the soundtrack of a German documentary about Greece. This resulted in the German-language single Weiße Rosen aus Athen (“White Roses from Athens”). The song was originally adapted from a folk melody by Hadjidakis. It became a success, selling over a million copies in Germany. The song was later translated into several different languages and it went on to become one of Mouskouri’s signature tunes.
Mouskouri married Yorgos (“George”) Petsilas in 1961. Mouskouri and Petsilas had two children, a son, Nicolas, born on 13 February 1968 and a daughter, Hélène, nicknamed Lénou, born on 6 July 1970. In 1974, Mouskouri and Petsilas separated and in 1975 were officially divorced.
Mouskouri currently lives primarily in Switzerland, with her second husband, André Chapelle, whom she married on 13 January 2003.
In 1962, she met Quincy Jones, who persuaded her to travel to New York City to record an album of American jazz titled The Girl From Greece Sings. Following that she scored another hit in the United Kingdom with My Colouring Book.
“The White Rose of Athens”
In 1963 she left Greece to live in Paris. Mouskouri performed Luxembourg‘s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 1963 that year, À Force de Prier. The song achieved success, and helped win her the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque in France. Mouskouri soon attracted the attention of French composer Michel Legrand, who composed for her two major French hits Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) and an arrangement of Katherine K. Davis‘ Carol of the Drum, L’Enfant au Tambour (1965).
In 1965 she recorded her second English-language album to be released in the United States, entitled Nana Sings. American calypso musician Harry Belafonte heard and liked the album. Belafonte brought Mouskouri on tour with him through 1966. They teamed for a live 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 wishes to perform while wearing glasses.
Mouskouri’s 1967 French album Le Jour Où la Colombe raised her to super-stardom in France. This album featured many of her French songs, Au Cœur de Septembre, Adieu Angélina, Robe Bleue, Robe Blanche and the French pop classic Le Temps des Cerises. Mouskouri made her first appearance at Paris’ legendary Olympia concert theatre the same year, singing French pop, Greek folk, and Hadjidakis numbers.
In 1968, Mouskouri was invited to host a BBC TV series called Presenting Nana Mouskouri. The next year she released a full-length British LP, Over and Over. It became a smash hit that spent almost two years on the UK charts. She expanded her concert tour to Australia (where she met Frank Hardy, who followed her to the south of France in 1976), New Zealand and Japan. She recorded several Japanese songs for the Japanese market.
In France, she released a series of top-selling albums that included Comme un Soleil, Une Voix Qui Vient du Cœur, Vielles Chansons de France, and Quand Tu Chantes!.
In 1979, Mouskouri released another English-language album named Roses and Sunshine. This album consisting largely of folk and country material, and included work from such diverse sources as Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and John Denver. It was very well received in Canada, and one of the album’s tracks, “Even Now” (not the same song as the 1978 Barry Manilow hit), became a staple on beautiful music radio stations in the United States. She scored a worldwide hit in 1981 with Je Chante Avec Toi, Liberté, which was translated into several languages after its widespread success in France. The momentum from this album also helped boost her following German album, Mein Lieder sind mein Leben. In 1984, Mouskouri returned to Greece for her first live performance in her homeland since 1962.
In 1985, Mouskouri recorded Only Love, the theme song to the BBC TV series Mistral’s Daughter — based upon the novel by Judith Krantz — that reached #2 in the UK charts. The song was also a hit in its foreign language versions: L’Amour en Héritage (French), Come un’eredità (Italian), La dicha del almor (Spanish), and Aber die Liebe bleibt (German). The German version was also recorded with an alternate set of lyrics under the title Der wilde Wein but was withdrawn in favour of Aber die Liebe bleibt.
“Parlez Moi d’Amour”
She released five albums in different languages in 1987, and the following year returned to her classical conservatory roots with the double LP The Classical Nana (aka Nana Classique), which featured adaptations of classical songs and excerpts from opera. By the end of 1987, she had performed a series of concerts in Asia, including South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.
A French language autobiography appeared in 1989 titled “Chanter ma vie” (Singing my life).
In 2006, Greek publisher A.A. Livanis published a biography in Greek titled “To onoma mou ine Nana” (My name is Nana). In autumn 2007, the French and English versions of this biography appeared under the titles “Nana Mouskouri — Memoires — La fille de la Chauve-souris” (XO publishers) and “Nana Mouskouri — Memoirs” (Orion Publishing Group).
Mouskouri’s 1991 English album, Only Love: The Best of Nana Mouskouri became her best-selling release in the United States. She spent much of the 1990s touring the globe. Among her early 1990s albums were spiritual music, Gospel (1990), the Spanish-language Nuestras Canciones, the multilingual, Mediterranean-themed Côté Sud, Côté Coeur (1992), Dix Mille Ans Encore, Falling in Love Again: Great Songs From the Movies. Falling in Love featured two duets with Harry Belafonte.
She recorded several more albums over 1996 and 1997, including the Spanish Nana Latina (which featured duets with Julio Iglesias and Mercedes Sosa), the English-language Return to Love, and the French pop classics, Hommages. In 1997, she staged a high-profile Concert for Peace at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. This concert was later released as an album, and aired as a TV special on PBS in the U.S.
In 1993, Mouskouri recorded the album, Hollywood. Produced by Michel Legrand it was a collection of famous songs from films, and served not only as a tribute to the world of cinema, but also as a .personal reference to childhood memories of sitting with her father in his projection room in Crete
Mouskouri was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in October 1993. She took over from the previous ambassador, the recently deceased actress Audrey Hepburn. Mouskouri’s first U.N. mission took her to Bosnia to draw attention to the plight of children affected by Bosnian war. She went on to give a series of fund-raising concerts in Sweden and Belgium.
She was elected a Member of the European Parliament from 1994 until 1999, when she resigned from her position as an MEP. Several reasons have been given for this, one being her pacifism, and another being that she felt ill-equipped for the day-to-day work of a politician. Mouskouri currently lives in Switzerland with Chapelle, and up until her final performance in 2008 performed hundreds of concerts every year throughout her career. In 2004, her French record company released an unprecedented 34-CD box set of more than 600 of Mouskouri’s mostly-French songs. 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. In the same year, she announced her plans to retire. From 2006 until 2008, she conducted a farewell concert tour of Europe, Australia, Asia, South America, the United States, and Canada. On July 23, 2008, Mouskouri gave her final ‘Farewell Concert’ performance at the ancient Herodes Atticus Theatre, in Athens, Greece, before a packed stadium, including 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.
Universal Music Group, which has over the decades come to acquire virtually all the labels under which Mouskouri recorded, claims that Nana Mouskouri has sold more than 300 million discs worldwide, recording about 1,500 songs in 15 languages on 450 albums. She has more than 230 gold and platinum albums worldwide, making her a candidate for the best-selling female recording artist of all time.
Sources: wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com