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Dave Apollon was born in Kiev, Russia, in 1897. Originally a student of the violin, he became acquainted with the mandolin through an old bowl-backed model his father had lying about the house. By the young age of 14, he was performing on the instrument in theaters throughout Kiev, but a stint as a soldier during the Russian Revolution stalled his burgeoning career. After the war, Apollon moved to the Philippines, where he continued playing his mandolin and dancing. After a brief stop in Japan, he headed for America. In 1919, Apollon landed in New York and began working in vaudeville. 1932 saw the release of his first recorded material, a mélange of American ragtime rhythms and Russian folk music on which Apollon was accompanied by a troupe of Philippine string musicians. It was also around this time that Apollon began his movie career, dancing and playing the mandolin in a series of "soundies" based on his vaudeville routines.
In 1937, Apollon married Danzi Goodell. He also opened a nightclub — Club Casanova — on Manhattan's Upper East Side. While the mandolin was still a part of his life, only a few singles were released during this period. He appeared in the 1938 Universal feature Merry Go Round and began a stint on Broadway with comedian Ed Wynn. He then recorded a series of performances for the Decca label, accompanied by piano and guitar. These recordings remain the best examples of his virtuosic talent on his chosen instrument. In 1946, Apollon jammed with guitarist Django Reinhardt, who was in New York with Duke Ellington's band.
Apollon moved to California in the early '50s and self-released Lots of Love in 1956. The album led to a performance contract with the Desert Inn in Las Vegas that would last until 1963. Billing himself as the World's Greatest Mandolin Virtuoso, Apollon's dancing and playing were a big hit with the swinging Vegas audiences. The exposure landed a deal with the Coral label, which released three Apollon albums throughout the late '50s and early '60s. His Vegas experiences were the last performances of his colorful life. Apollon passed away at home in 1972. Noted mandolin players such as David Grisman regularly list him as a significant influence.