Sotiria Bellou

Sotiria (meaning "Salvation") Bellou was born on August 29, 1921 in a village in Greece called Chalia, in Chalkis (now known as "Drossia"). She was named after her mother's father, Sotiris who was a priest.

She began singing at the age of three, and was soon making her own guitars out of wire and wood. She lived with her grandparents until she was ten, and then went to live with her parents. Her father owned a large grocery store and she began to work for him full time.

A turning point came when she went to see the movie "The little emigree" (I prosphygopoula) starring Sophia Vembo. From then on Sotiria would sing her songs all day. She told her parents that she wanted to be a singer when she grew up. Her mother wasn't very happy about that, but her father soon bought her a guitar and paid for private lessons.

When Sotiria was seventeen her father arranged a marriage for her, but it was over quickly. She soon decided to leave home at the age of nineteen and set off for Athens on October 28, 1940. This also happened to be the same day that Italy declared war on Greece at the beginning of the second world war. This was a difficult time for her as the German Occupation of Greece (1941- 1944) soon followed.

She found work as a maid, sold candy in the street and joined the Communist Party. Eventually she bought a guitar and began playing her music in taverns, singing Vembo's songs. But there were more difficult times ahead, as Greece entered a civil war (1944-1949). Sotiria was arrested a few times because she was a member of the Communist Resistance.

One evening while she was performing in a taverna she was discovered by the playwright Simon Kapetanakis. He introduced her to his friend Vassilis Tsitsanis, the famous rebetiko composer and Tsitsanis and Sotiria began practicing together.

He composed two songs for her, "When you're drinking at the taverna" and "The boy you used to date". Sotiria released her first album in 1947 and it was a huge success. She enjoyed trememdous popularity during the years 1948-1956, during the height of the rebetiko song's popularity. In addition to Tsitsanis, many other composers wrote songs for her, including Chiotis, Papaioannou, Mitsakis, Hatjichristos, Kaldaras, and Kaplanis. Her hits included "Be a little patient", "You're making a mistake", "I thought of wiping out my past" "The sailor" and many others. She performed at many well known clubs in Athens, including Fat Jimmy's Place and the Harama.

The rebetiko song lost popularity in the early sixties and her career suffered as a result. She did not want to change her style of music to suit current trends, so she did not perform publicly for a few years. Columbia, the record company she had been working with cast her aside. But soon Alekos Patsifas, the executive director of Lyra Records discovered her at the club The Isle of Hydra and she began recording again. By 1966 she began performing again in Athens and had a long lasting comeback. In the last twenty years, she has worked with many modern music artists such as Savvopoulos, Dimos Moutsis, and Helias Andrianopoulos.

Sotiria Bellou performing with Gerassimos, Rovertakis, Genitsaris, an unidentified boy and Anestos the gypsy, circa 1948
By Bonnie Steiglitz