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August 11, 2020

Manolis Chiotis

The legend of rebetiko in a few words.

Manolis Chiotis (Greek: Μανώλης Χιώτης; March 21, 1921, Thessaloniki – March 20, 1970, Athens) was a Greek rebetiko and laiko composer, singer, and bouzouki player. He is considered one of the greatest bouzouki soloists of all time. He popularised the four-course bouzouki (tetrachordo) and introduced the guitar-like tuning, who found it better suited to the kind of virtuoso playing he was famous for.

Chiotis had other successes. In the summer of 1961, he played for Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas, Prince Rainier III of Monaco and Grace Kelly. Journalist Dimitris Liberopoulos, Onassis’ biographer, writes in his book that when the two couples joined one of Chiotis’ shows in Athens, they asked to meet him in person to congratulate him.

Callas told Chiotis that she had been translating the lyrics of his songs to Princess Grace all night long and the American actress loved them because “she is a woman in love.” At that moment, Kelly asked Chiotis what the difference between a bouzouki and an electric guitar is. Chiotis’ answer was rather unexpected;

“Mrs. Callas, please explain to Princess Grace that the strings of an electric guitar vibrate due to electricity, while the strings of a bouzouki vibrate through the heart.”

In the 1960s, Manolis Chiotis was permanently included in a special panel of Greek artists of the ceremonial service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the proposed entertainment of the high visitors of the Country. Manolis Chiotis had sung in front of many rulers and other heads of state, while he was even invited to play in the White House on the birthday of President Lyndon Johnson.

Manolis Chiotis was a personality who changed the history and evolution of music in Greece. The innovation of the four-string bouzouki, which he either applied first or imposed, may have caused the menace of the traditional three-string, but the bouzouki was accepted all over Greece, since until then it was banned and characterized as "too popular" , but also known to the rest of the world.

It is said that the well-known guitarist Jimi Hendrix mentioned in a recital, in Chicago, "Manolis Chiotis is the world's greatest guitarist". 

The last five years of his life were also the most dramatic. He breaks up with Linda (which cost him a lot), makes failed collaborations and cancer begins to devour him. On March 21, 1970, on the day of his 50th birthday, Manolis Chiotis leaves his last breath. The day of his funeral, Jannis Karampesinis plays "Iliovasilemata" on his bouzouki and the crowd, in tears, sings along...

He remains one of the greatest arists in Greek history and we dare to say worldwide, as well.

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