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Pappas – A Biographical Note
[Click for photo of Dino Pappas]
sincere thanks to Steve and Fonda Pappas, Dino’s sons in Detroit, and to Zora Tammer in Oakland, California, for their kind help in assembling this very brief
description of a remarkable man. His collection of recordings has greatly
increased our knowledge of the extent and details of rebetika music.
father came to America from Thessaly as a villager, without much education. His mother
was a mail-order bride, leaving Constantinople for America shortly after the 1914-1918 war. She was more
cosmopolitan, and was the spirit of the restaurant that they established in the
restaurant was a success, and had for entertainment a 1925 Brunswick phonograph and a pile of Greek, Turkish and Armenian
records. His father’s records were demotic, but his mother’s horizons were
wider, encompassing several different languages and styles of music which
graced the old culture of Constantinople. The restaurant flourished and the family prospered
until after the financial crash of 1929. Dino, born 1931, had an early interest
in music, and at age seven was already attempting to build a record player with
his Erector set. But the depression persisted until the end of the 1930s,
business declined, and the restaurant assets were sold off, furniture,
restaurant, all except the records and that Brunswick phonograph. The record collection suffered during those
unhappy years, save for some hidden under Dino’s bed. His father died in 1941,
leaving Dino at the age of ten.
19 he was drafted for the Army, but the Marines spotted him tall and slim at
the train station, and off he went with them
instead. In 1954 he entered the Detroit police academy and was on the force about 25 years
which included the riots of 1966. There he met his future wife Ann, and they married although Dino’s mother and Ann’s
parents apparently did not fully approve of the match. Dino and Ann did well
together despite the adversities they faced, and the kids came, but after some
years Ann contracted multiple sclerosis and began requiring increasingly close
support in her daily life. Dino then retired early from the police and took
charge at home of caring for Ann and the kids.
burdens weighed on Dino, who retreated in his free hours to the basement with
his increasing collection of records, built on the sixty he had saved as a boy.
As a policeman in the Greek districts of Detroit, he developed a wide circle of acquaintances, and
expanded the collection as older generations died off and their offspring
disposed of unfamiliar or unpopular old music. His sons Steve and Fonda lived
at home through the early 1980s, sympathetic with Dino’s music but naturally
diverging in taste.
became acquainted with others who shared his musical interests, among them Joe
Graziosi, Jim Stoyanoff, Sandra Layman, Zora Tammer, Martin Schwartz and many
other collectors. He eagerly acquired records of all sorts and traded
constantly, swapping Puerto Rican or Serbian records for Greek or Turkish ones,
duplicate copies for rare singles. His mother remained a ready resource for
explaining the cultural background of the music, and survived into the 1980s. With regular expenses for postage and
telephone calls, the collection grew well into the 1990s, and he was able to
visit Greece itself to visit and trade with collectors
there. He learned by constant discussion
the history and personnel of the recording sessions, and would expound long
anecdotes of the players and singers, in a blunt and salty style refreshingly
unlike the reverent tones employed by the fine-arts crowd. A phone call with
Dino was simultaneously a sparring match and creative insult contest, combined
with warm sociability and the excitement of new discoveries. This style was not
uncommon among the generations of the 1940s and 50s.
We west coasters discovered him via
Martin Schwartz, and found him open and generous with time and shared recordings.
More than generous – despite serious arthritis in his hands, his pages of
hand-written descriptive notes, accompanying tapes in response to questions
about Iovan Tsaous or legions of other artists, increased over the years to a
significant archive. In this way he became, to a number of grateful friends, a
one-man university of early twentieth-century laika and dimotika music of Greece
and Asia Minor.
friendship with Zora Tammer, and her enthusiasm for the music, brought him to California a few times to talk of it and to preside over
gatherings of folks, almost none Greek, to whom rebetiko meant great
inspirations. A visit to him in 1995 gave us, in addition to a reverent visit
to that awesome basement, a tour of downtown Detroit and the sad ruins of his old Greek neighborhood,
practically obliterated following the unrest and arson of the late 1960s. We
reciprocated when possible, snuffling through junk stores for old 78s in
unfamiliar languages and scales, learning from Dino that piles of fragile 78s
were practically indestructible when close-packed into shipping boxes. His
relations with others were sometimes prickly, particularly if he felt exploited
or deprived of proper credit for archival generosity. But without the help and enthusiasm
of Dino Pappas, and the breathtaking resources of his collection of recordings,
we who play music described as rebetiko would suffer a far greater share of
ignorance and oblivion.
Bradley, January 2003.