Roza Eshkenazy was a cafe singer and prolific recording artist in the 1930’s. Known as the Queen of Rebetiko, her long career continued through the 1970’s. She died in December, 1980 in her mid 80’s, confused by Alzheimer disease. Her music continues even today to influence and inspire Israeli, Greek, and Turkish artists.
Born in the late 1890’s to Sephardi Jewish parents, she grew up near Thessaloniki. She survived World War II with a forged baptismal certificate and a love affair with a German officer. After the war she toured frequently in the USA and even considered living there. However, the love of her life remained in Greece. By the late 1950’s she had returned to Greece where she lived until the end of her life.
Rebetiko, or “Greek blues”, is the name given to urban-Greek folk music and Ottoman cafe music based on Turkish modes and traditional Greek and Anatolian dance rhythms. Lyrics discussed themes of urban life and hardship, including the urban drug culture. It is accompanied by traditional stringed instruments, finger cymbals, and sometimes an accordion or hammered dulcimer like instrument.