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Sotiria Bellou

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Sotiria Bellou was one of the most influential singers of rembetika tragoudi, a style of song known as "Greek blues." "Discovered" by late Greek composer Vassilis Tsitsánis in 1945, Bellou continued to sing professionally for nearly five decades. Supporting herself during rembetika's popularity lull of the 1950s by selling cassettes on the street, she regained her former status during the rembetika revival that extended from the mid-'60s until the early '80s. A native of Drosia (now Haila), a small village near Halkida, Bellou sang as a child in a church choir led by her grandfather, a parish priest. Although she was briefly married in the late '30s, the marriage broke down after she reached her boiling point after months of abuse and threw acid into her husband's face. Arrested and tried in court, she was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Released after serving four months, she relocated to Athens shortly before the onset of World War II. She supported herself, through the war years, as a street musician and took an active role in the Greek resistance, selling copies of a Communist newspaper Rizospastis. Arrested on several occasions, she was repeatedly beaten and imprisoned for her political beliefs. Discovered by Tsitsánis in 1945, Bellou began appearing in Greek nightclubs with Tsitsánis accompanying her singing on piano. She continued to collaborate with Tsitsánis until his death in 1984. Bellou, who recorded the first of many 78 rpm recordings in 1948, struggled during the repressive era of the Greek junta in 1950s and early '60s. Her music, however, remained popular with students and record collectors. Beginning with a series of recordings for the Lyra label in 1966, Bellou reassumed her role as one of Greece's best-loved artists. In 1975, she began working with such top-notch Greek composers as Dionysios Savopoulos. Despite the popularity she enjoyed as a singer, Bellou continued to struggle in her private life. A passionate gambler, she lost several fortunes at secret dice games. Nearly impoverished in her later years, she was aided by the Greek government, which brought her financial relief and helped pay for her extensive medical expenses. Succumbing to throat cancer two days before her 76th birthday, Bellou was provided a State funeral on August 29, 1997. ~ Craig Harris

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