Born blind, Hrant Kenkulian (b. 1901; d. Aug. 29, 1979) was one of the most innovative, influential, and virtuosic oudists of the 20th century. Armenian, he was born in Adapazari in the Marmara region of north-west Turkey. During the Armenian genocide, his family fled to Konya from 1915-18 but returned to Adapazari before settling in Istanbul.
His youth was further marked with sorrow as he lived in poverty, felt passionate unrequited love, and had attempts at surgical restoration of his sight in Vienna fail. Even so, he began to record in the late 20s, and his renown as a performer grew. In 1937, he married the love of his life. In 1950, he was gifted a trip to the United States, where his recordings had been available for over a decade, for another medical procedure to restore his sight. Although it was not successful, his performances were more than well received.
The broadcaster and autodidact ethnomusicologist Leo Sarkisian remembers that at Hrant’s New York City debut, Hrant was led on stage, sat down, and began to play only with his left hand, hammering-on and pulling-off the strings, without even having plucked a note before the largely Armenian audience began to shed tears at the depth and beauty of his playing, just in the first few minutes of his performance.
Hrant left an indelible mark on American oudists, teaching and performing widely and recording along side jazz players including Johnny Griffin throughout the decade. In the early 60s, he performed in Greece, Lebanon, France, and Armenia. He continued to perform until just a few months before his death in Istanbul.
Harold Hagopian, the son of one of Hrant’s key students Richard Hagopian, issued nearly four hours of Hrant’s music about a decade ago. This collection seeks to expand on his collections by re-releasing another hour heart-rendingly beautiful material recorded by Hrant during his time in the U.S. for the Aris, Near East, Hrant, Smyrnaphon, and Yildiz labels (in order of appearance). Only two of these 20 performances seem to have been available since they were originally issued about 60 years ago.
Many thanks to Harry Kezelian for his English translations of the song titles.
released July 25, 2016
Transfer & restoration by Ian Nagoski.
Title translations by Harry Kezelian.