We’ve updated our Terms of Use to reflect our new entity name and address. You can review the changes here.
We’ve updated our Terms of Use. You can review the changes here.

America the Sweet: Arab​-​American Music, 1913​-​23 (& ca. 1950)

by Alexander Maloof

Al Jazayer 02:50
Tay Gae pt 1 02:58
Tay Gae pt 2 02:24
Pharoah 02:51


"Enjoy hybrid music, because that's all there is" - Lou Harrison

The composer, arranger, pianist, label owner, conductor, and teacher Alexander Maloof has fascinated several researchers, who have produced interesting critical and biographical writing about him. His story is among the most dazzling in terms of its breadth and depth of accomplishment among all of the immigrant musicians from the Ottoman Empire, and he was a deeply committed and very productive contributor to American music for over 50 years.

Central to his story is the question of what some immigrants have called the “one-point-seven” generation - that is, the people who were born in the old country but who lived much of their childhood in the new country. They and their parents were born “back home,” but they themselves are products of a combination of the “old country” language culture and of the here-and-now in a new country, a foot in both worlds. Almost all waves of immigration to America have dealt with that scenario one way or another. Very few musicians have expressed it in a personal complex of cross-pollinizations as prolifically and intensely as Alexander Maloof.

Researcher Beau Bothwell gives Maloof’s origin as Iskandar Rājī al-Mʿalūf, born January 23, 1884 in the town of Zahle in present-day northern Lebanon. His affluent and educated family relocated to Beirut in 1890. Along with a massive wave of emigration from Syria generally (about a sixth of the population) and Mount Lebanon in particular (a third of the population) during the end of the 19th century, Maloof travelled with his mother Hannah and five siblings to New York City in 1894 when he was ten years old.

His father Abraham attempted to sue Metropolitan Street Railway Company - a common use of the legal system among some immigrants to help establish themselves financially - but he lost he case. According to Linda K. Jacobs, he was listed as "retired"in 1900 at the age of 38. By the age of 20 Alexander, as he was then known, was giving lessons in piano, organ, voice, harmony, and composition lessons at Henius Music Studios in Brooklyn. Richard Breaux gives the date of his first publication of sheet music as 1901. He continued to publish songs and arrangements for the next five decades. On Nov. 10, 1909, Alexander Ragi Maloof filed his Declaration of Intent to become a naturalized American citizen, giving his occupation as “musician.”

The earliest available report of a performance of his was in a March 8, 1911 when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that at the Damascus Lodge F in the Johnson Building, a program was presented including a comedy juggler, black face songs and stories, and piano solos by Maloof. An auction of closed packages caused “much laughter […] by the revelations” including: live lobsters, eels, snakes, miniature steamboats, drums, and unmentionables […] as well as the ever-present lemon.“ The following year, he published an article (translated by Bothwell) that referred to music as a method of human expression in their longing to return to their true home in the Garden of Eden, a sentiment he echoed in a syndicated 1926 notice, saying “Hopelessness is the predominant quality of oriental music.” According to research by Bothwell, Maloof appears to have traveled to Europe in late 1912 and early 1913 to perform.

By April 1913, Maloof had composed “America the Beautiful” (aka “Amerika Ya Hilwa” and “For Thee, America”) and spent years advocating for it to become the U.S. national anthem. Its lyrics in English by Elizabeth Serbert Fried were published in newspapers around the U.S. in August 1913:

In lands that reach from sea to sea,
All hearts devout bow to thee,
In song exultant voices ring,
In tightly strain thy praises sing,

In accents deep, sincere,
We honor and revere,
We’ll stand or fall,
We’ll give our all,
For thee, our own America.

Full many a hero gave his life,
In battle hard and gory strife,
To make thee great, to make thee strong,
With bloodshed tried to right the wrong.

The brought thee longed-for peace
And made dire warfare cease,
They fought for thee,
They died for thee,
For thee our own America.

Now grand and peerless dost thou stand,
And peace doth reign throughout the land,
With ev’ry fiber, ev’ry nerve,
We’ll work for thee and gladly serve.

May peace forever be
Our boast, our pledge to thee,
We’ll strive with might,
To live aright
For thee, our own America.

His campaign resulted in the song being sung at many schools, but the “Star Spangled Banner” ultimately won out as the national anthem in 1929.

July 24, 1913, he recorded his first piano solo “Al Jazayer”, a somewhat Joplinesque arrangement of an Ottoman folk song that remained a staple of both Armenian dance bands in the U.S. and and party bands in southern Turkey through the rest of the 20th century, for the Victor Company. Company ledgers indicate that it was a test which was subsequently approved for release. (Dr. Edwin Seroussi of Hebrew University of Jerusalem once said that he thought that the performance was from Edmond Yafil's 1904 collection of piano transcriptions of Algerian tunes, Répertoire de musique arabe et maure. I have not attempted to confirm or deny this but leave it as an open question for future investigation.) Its B-side, the Maloof original “A Trip to Syria” (a journey he himself never made), was recorded several months later when Maloof was already about 29 years old. That disc was not marketed specifically to Arab-Americans but rather to the broader American public who had already embraced the song “The Streets of Cairo” more than a decade earlier and were interested in the exotic hoochie-koochie (bellydance) from the Holy Land of the Levant. Contemporary advertisements of Victor label releases list among popular and light classical releases. They were, in any case, the first commercial recordings made in the U.S. by an Arab-Armerican. Maloof’s audience at the time certainly included both Arab and native-born Americans , evidenced by his performance in November 1913 in benefit of the Syrian Church at Scranton, Pennsylvania’s Town Hall along with violinist Nagieb Fihani, an event that also included a duo playing “Turkish mandolins,” and eight singers who performed European and American classical repertoire.

Recording in the Arabic language in the U.S. began May 1914 with a handful of side produced by Rev. George Aziz shortly before the outset of World War I (and shortly after Columbia had produced its first series of reasonably successful commercial recordings in Turkish in Sept. - Oct. 1912). Maloof meanwhile presented concerts of his pupils in Brooklyn in April 1916, performing “For Thee America” and “Hail to Our Flag” on organ, and that same month four sides were recorded by Columbia, credited only as "Syrian Band" that we may have been an early incarnation of Maloof's group (or maybe not). He published a songbook title Music of the Orient in 1917 of his own transcriptions of Arab folk songs, and worked at the Mason & Hamlin piano company on 5th Avenue. “A Trip to Syria” was included among the pieces performed by the Russian-born ballet dancer Adolph Boml’s (b. 1884; d. 1951) company presented on tour in the Summer of 1917 with costumes and set design by the Hungarian-born illustrator Willy Pogony (b. 1882; d. 1955). Maloof’s “The Moon Flower” was also included among the pieces danced by Roshanara (Olive Craddock, b. 1894; d. 1926), a dancer with Bolm’s troupe, at Carnegie Hall in 1918, conducted by Victor Kolar (b. 1888, d. 1957). She performed to his “Berceuse Orientale” the following year.

The silent film star Alice Brady (b. 1892; d. 1939) sang Maloof’s “Moon Flower” during her 1920 concerts and appeared in the play "Anna Ascends," a story, according to Sarah Gaultieri, of Syrian immigrant assimilation, for which Maloof wrote the music. It was subsequently filmed in 1922, directed by Victor Fleming (b. 1889; d. 1949, who famously later directed Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.) Maloof meanwhile performed regularly through the late 10s and into the 1930s around New York and New Jersey, including a 1930 performance at the reception attended by Arturo Toscanini following a lecture by Albert Einstein and at a reception the following year at the Ritz Carlton in honor of both Einstein and Rabindranath Tagore. In 1931, Maloof accompanied the famous Kurdish-Jewish dancer Leyla Bedir Khan (b. ca. 1903; d. 1986). From 1924 onward, he began performing on the radio from WBBR, WEAF, WRNY, WGBS, and WOR. He also produced at least four piano rolls of his own playing - three of them self-released, and one, his “Berceuse Orientale” (later known as “The Desert Wail”) for the Aeolian Company.

The expiration of patents on disc manufacturing in the early 1920s saw a brief explosion of independent releases among immigrant musicians, including two labels on the Washington St. section of present-day Tribeca in Manhattan then home to a cluster of homes and business remembered as Little Syria: Macksoud, run by the youngest son of Syrian family of silk and real estate magnates, and Alexander Maloof’s own eponymous label . There was some overlap of performers between the two labels. While the Macksoud label produced primarily “traditional” songs or recordings that were referential to the “old world,” Maloof primarily produced discs referring to the present, often including his own band and and incorporating stylistic Americanisms. He also released “traditional” or homeward-looking Syrian music, including performances by the Aleppo-born violinist Naim Karacand, who had been recording for Columbia Records a few blocks away from Washington St., for several years, but he also made band recordings of Syrian tunes in the mold of Prince’s Band and the Sousa Band who had been the popular disc-makers for over a decade. Maloof used both forms of accompaniment the the local Syrian-American singers, including the popular Selim Doumani and Louis Wardini. Starting in 1920, Maloof recorded his label’s releases at the Gennett Company’s New York studios in spurts of activity for over a decade. His band also recorded six sides for Victor in on Feb. 15, 1926, five of which were issued. The last of the discs on Maloof’s own label appear to have been issued in 1932 and featured the soprano Fedora (Fadwa) Kurban (b. 1898; d. 1986, the subject of an interesting biographical essay by Richard Breaux syrianlebanesediasporasound.blogspot.com/2019/09/fedora-fadwa-kurban-defiant-daughter.html ). That year Maloof also produced a two series of pipe organ solos for the Gennett label - one of them marketed to skating rinks and the other, according to Richard Spottswood, apparently intended for use in funeral parlors.

In the depths of the Depression, around 1935, coincident with his move to Teaneck, New Jersey, Maloof turned his attention to the development of his music school. He he maintained a studio at Carnegie Hall since 1920 and opened another in Englewood, New Jersey, both of which were outfitted with disc cutting equipment for use during lessons so that students could study their own playing and his instruction at home. By 1937, his Carnegie School of Music, had a faculty of five teachers providing both individual lessons and classes in piano, voice, violin, and theory at rates of between $5 and $15 a month. Enrollment swelled through the following decade, and Maloof brought in more instructors, primarily graduates of Julliard. Through the 40s, he also continued to publish sheet music of his own compositions as well as arrangements of Grieg, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, etc,, and piano method instruction books, several of which he licensed to the publishers C.F. Fischer, Schroeder, and Gunther.

According to Richard Breaux, Maloof was commissioned to write the 1936 campaign theme song of Alf Landon for his failed presidential bid as the Republican nominee, titled “Let’s Land Landon in the White House.” Maloof continued to operate the school until his death at home in New Jersey on February 29, 1956, survived by his wife Edith, his brother Emile (a theraminist who apparently never recorded), and four sisters, Julia, Marie, Emma, and Adele. In 1963, Alexander Maloof’s name appeared on the front cover of an bargain-bin LP exploiting the popularity of the newly released film Lawrence of Arabia. The B-side of that record was derived from what we presume to be private recordings of an orchestral suite composed and conducted by Maloof, probably a decade or more earlier.


released May 10, 2022

Alexander Maloof - piano, arrangement, conducting throughout
Louis Wardiny - vocal tracks 7-10
Marie Bashian - vocal tracks 11-12
Selim Doumani - vocal, tracks 13-18
Rev. George Aziz - vocal, tracks 19-20
(likely) Naim Karacand - violin, tracks 9-16

Known recording dates:
Track 1 July 24, 1913
Track 2 Sept. 16, 1913
Tracks 3-6 ca. 1920
Tracks 7-8 1921
Tracks 9-12 ca. 1922
Tracks 13-14 Aug. 10, 1922
Tracks 15-16 Dec. 14, 1922
Tracks 17-22 April 25, 1923
Track 23 untraced ca. 1950
Tracks 24-25 April 1916

Transfers*, restorations, and note by Ian Nagoski
*Except tracks 15-16 transferred by Richard Breaux

Discographical data via Richard K. Spottswood, Ethnic Music on Records: Discography of Ethnic Recordings Produced in the United States, 1893 to 1942 (University of Illinois Press), Richard Spottswood's Columbia Record E Series 1908 - 1923 (Mainspring Press) 78records.files.wordpress.com/2020/05/msp-spottswood_col-e-series.pdf , and from the University of California Santa Barbara Database of American Historical Recordings adp.library.ucsb.edu

Many thanks to Beau Bothwell and Richard Breaux.
Cover photo: Alexander Maloof ca. 1935

References and further reading:
Beau Bothwell, “For Thee America! For Thee Syria?: Alexander Maloof, Orientalist Music, and the Politics of the Syrian Mahjar." Journal of the Society for American Music (2020), Volume 14, Number 4.

Richard Breaux, "Alexander Maloof: Guardian and Protector of Syrian Music in America" (2019) syrianlebanesediasporasound.blogspot.com/2019/06/alexander-maloof-guardian-and-protector.html

Stacy D. Fahrenthold, Between the Ottomans and the Etente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908-1925, Oxford (2019)

Sarah M.A. Gualtieri, Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian Diaspora, University of California Press (2009).

Linda K. Jacobs, Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900, Kalimah Press (2015).

Anne K. Rasmussen, "Individuality and Change in the Music of Arab-Americans" PhD. diss., University of California, Los Angeles (1991); also Anne K. Rasmussen, “Made in America: Historical and Contemporary Recordings of Middle Eastern Music in the United States,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 31, no. 2 (December 1997), Anne K. Rasmussen, notes to The Music of Arab Americans: A Retrospective Collection, Rounder Records CD (1997)


all rights reserved



Canary Records Baltimore, Maryland

early 20th century masterpieces (mostly) in languages other than English.

An hour in clamor and a quarter in rheum.

contact / help

Contact Canary Records

Streaming and
Download help

Redeem code

Report this album or account

Canary Records recommends:

If you like America the Sweet: Arab-American Music, 1913-23 (& ca. 1950), you may also like: