Manolis Chiotis is considered one of the greatest bouzouki players of all time. The musician, composer and singer revolutionized Greek music with his four-course bouzouki and made Greek music popular around the world, even in the White House.
Chiotis, born March 21, 1921 in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, was interested in music from an early age. The musician took lessons in Thessaloniki and quickly learned to play guitar, bouzouki and oud, a lute-like instrument from the Middle East and North Africa.
It was when Chiotis moved to Nafplio, a town in the Peloponnese, at the age of 15, that he started playing music professionally.
He then moved to the Greek capital, where he was supposed to study the violin. While in Athens, he was recruited by a friend to play bouzouki for his group Rebetiko.
Manolis Chiotis has developed a unique style on bouzouki
Chiotis recorded a few songs in the traditional style of rebetiko, but decided to shake up the Greek music scene when he popularized the four-course bouzouki in the 1950s.
It’s unclear who exactly created the version of the instrument as it began to appear on the scene in the 1950s, but Chiotis is considered the pioneer of the four-course bouzouki.
The bouzouki is Greece’s most emblematic instrument. The lute-like instrument, with a long neck, is traditionally three-course, or has three sets of strings. Chiotis decided to add another set of strings, making the instrument four courses.
His innovation enriched the sound of the iconic instrument, and Chiotis was known to play the traditional instrument almost as if it were a guitar.
Today, the four-course bouzouki is the most popular, but many rebetiko and traditionalist musicians still play the three-course version.
Chiotis started playing his bouzouki in upscale clubs in Athens, although the instrument was previously associated with more traditional venues.
The musician wrote songs inspired by popular genres of the time, including early mambo and rock n ‘roll, and added a Greek touch with his new bouzouki.
He quickly became one of the most popular musicians in all of Greece, a track that launched him on a journey to bring Greek music to the world.
Greek Musicians at the White House
The year 1960 was a great year for Chiotis. It was then that he traveled to the United States as part of the Greek Foreign Ministry’s goal to bring Greek culture to the world with his wife and longtime collaborator Mary Linda, who is featured on the Most of Chiotis’ greatest hits.
Chiotis and Linda performed at Greek clubs around Astoria, an enclave of Greeks and Greeks Americans in Queens, but word of their talent quickly spread outside the Greek realm.
The duo began performing at popular clubs in New York City and the United States, and made a name for themselves in the music world.
They were even invited to the White House by US President Lyndon B. Johnson to perform on his birthday, where Linda and Chiotis were offered green cards by the President, so they could live and work at the United States for as long as they want.
Manolis Chiotis charm Grace Kelly
In the summer of 1961, Chiotis performed for two of the most important couples of the time, the mogul Aristotle Onassis and the great opera Maria Callas, as well as Prince Rainier III of Monaco and actress Grace Kelly, in Athens.
Journalist Dimitris Liberopoulos, biographer of Onassis, writes in his book that the two couples, dazzled by his performance, asked to meet Chiotis in person after the show.
Callas told Chiotis that she spent the evening translating the lyrics of his songs to Princess Grace, who was in awe of the musician, and that the American actress loved the music “because she was in love”.
At this point, Kelly asked Chiotis what was the difference between a bouzouki and an electric guitar.
In typical Greek fashion, Chiotis gave a poetic response: “Mrs. Callas, please explain to Princess Grace that the strings of an electric guitar vibrate from electricity, while the strings of a bouzouki vibrate from electricity. through the heart.
Despite these well-recorded cases with presidents and stars, another connection between Chiotis and a celebrity remains the best known, although it is obscured by mystery.
Many Greeks have probably heard the story that Jimi Hendrix was a fan and frequent listener of Chiotis, and even cited him as a source of inspiration. Although this was later confirmed by Mary Linda to be true, many detectives on the Internet have doubted the veracity of the story, as they cannot find any trace of what was going on at the time.
Regardless of its accuracy, the story makes it clear that Chiotis made a name for himself in the US music scene with his bouzouki.
Chiotis died on his 49th birthday in 1970 after a period of rapid decline in his health due to heart problems. He had two children with his first wife, Zoi Nachi, and he and his musical partner Linda divorced in 1967.
A few months before his death, Chiotis, along with two other Greek musicians, performed music outside the prison where his friend Mikis Theodorakis, the greatest Greek composer, was held by the Greek junta. They performed the songs in solidarity with all the artists, musicians and thinkers who were detained and tortured under the far-right military regime at the time.