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Come On Honey: Arab​-​American Women ca. 1943​-​58 from Independent 78rpm Discs

by Canary Records



Large-scale emigration from Greater Syria (territory now divided between Syria, Lebanon, part of Jordan, and Israel/Palestine) to the Americas began in the 1880s and swelled during the decades surrounding World War I. In 1926, an estimated 166,000 Syrians were living in the U.S. with another 40,000 in Canada and Mexico. Somewhat larger populations had settled in Argentina and Brazil. The U.S. government actively worked at retaining Syrian immigrants during the ‘10s and ‘20s, but with the immigration restrictions starting in 1924, only about 100 new immigrants could arrive per year from each of the nations of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Those restrictions lasted into the mid-1960s.

Arabic language disc recordings in the U.S. for the immigrant population during the 1910s-30s were largely imported from the homelands or recorded by Columbia and Victor during the period 1916-20 in New York City, with a few notable exceptions. (See the album Send Me The Bones canary-records.bandcamp.com/album/send-me-the-bones-from-the-earliest-arab-american-recordings-march-1915-feb-1920 ) The first independent Arab-American labels, specifically those run by A.J. Macksoud and Alexander Maloof (see the album America the Sweet canary-records.bandcamp.com/album/america-the-sweet-arab-american-music-1913-23-ca-1950) were established in Manhattan’s Little Syria in the early 20s.

During and after the Second World War, Arab-American music entrepreneurs flourished in Brooklyn. The Alamphon and Al Chark labels issued locally recorded material in tandem with many hundreds of pirates of imported Egyptian and Lebanese performances. Adding to their output, the Arabphon and Alkawakeb labels had a similar business model. Smaller, short-run vanity labels run by and for individual artists and their friends appeared in the 1950s, paving the way for the many labels that flourished during the microgroove era of the 1970s-80s.

This album presents a handful of the women who released discs for the 1940s-50s American labels during the period when immigration from Arabic-speaking countries was heavily restricted. Several had already achieved significant success before having arrived in the U.S. (Kahraman, Hanan, and Odette Kaddo). One, born in the U.S., became well-known in the Levant during her career (Fadwa Abded), while others (Marie Kabalan, Jamileh Matouk, Miss Nohad) remained more or less obscure perhaps the result of having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time to have been appreciated widely. They operated within a close-knit circle of performers for community gatherings, and in the notes below one will see the names of the instrumentalists who accompanied them repeated over and over.

Of the biographical information below for the eight singers presented in this collection, six have been researched by Prof. Richard Breaux whose syrianlebanesediasporasound.blogspot.com site has been a significant resource. Those singers have been marked with an asterix [*] and URLs for Breaux's associated texts are included after each of them. Where Breaux’s research has been derived from public records or newspaper accounts, I have made an effort to confirm or expand on his work, but some of his work has been drawn from interviews with the artists (Fadwa Abed, particularly) or family members, making it exceptionally valuable. Writing about this circle of immigrant performers is a relatively recent phenomenon with only a few people I’m aware of doing original research, of whom Prof. Breaux is the most prolific and dedicated. So, we present this collection with gratitude for his making his work available publicly.


Born Olga Agby on Dec. 21, 1926, in Ehden, present-day northern Lebanon. She and her older brother Naif (b. 1920) were signed in 1946 by a talent scout to perform in Egyptian films. About two years later, the siblings emigrated to Brooklyn. They performed around New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan from late 1949 through 1956 during which time, they recorded for the Cleopatra label (likely operated by Mohammed El Bakkar briefly in the mid-50s), the Alkawakeb label, and Naif’s own Sun label. Olga married Nat Sutton in 1955. In the first year of their marriage she announced her retirement to become a housewife, and she briefly penned a column reporting on events in Brooklyn for the English-language Caravan newspaper including the first U.S. appearance by the iconic Lebanese performer Sabah (b. 1927; d. 2014). Olga was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on Sept. 4, 1956, around the time that Ogla and Naif’s younger sister Jeanette immigrated. Olga’s time away from the stage was brief. Following trips to Europe and Florida with her family, and a visit from their mother, who ultimately settled in Michigan, Olga came back to the stage, performing relentlessly through 1957-61 across the eastern U.S. with her husband acting as her manager. April 1958 she released an LP titled Flame of Araby, comprised of songs composed by Naif, on the Des label (presumably a subsidiary of Sun, along with the E.S. and Metrophone imprints) including re-recordings of some material she’d previously issued on 78rpm discs, notably her English-Arabic hybrid performance “Come On, Honey,” first recorded at least five years earlier. That album was subsequently picked up by ABC-Paramount and reissued a few years later during the bellydance boom; Naif’s own LP El Debke: Music of the Middle East was issued by ABC-Paramount around the same time, followed by an LP for the Audio Fidelity label for whom their sometimes-collaborator Mohammed El Bakkar (b. 1913; d. Rhode Island 1959) was having enormous success by selling gaudily Orientalized packages. Both Olga and Naif prospered through the 1960s-80s. Naif died May 8, 1992 in Grosse Point, Michigan; Olga died Jan. 22, 2017 in Brooklyn.

Born March 3, 1935 in Los Angeles to second-generation parents (her father was born in Michigan, her mother in California), Fay Fadwa Abed spent a decade of her childhood in a suburb of Beirut, where she met Egyptian musicians including Riad Al Sunbati (b. 1906; d. 1981) who had already worked with Oum Kalsoum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Asmahan. Fadwa (whose surname is given in many variants on various documents) returned with her mother to the U.S. in 1946. She completed high school in Dearborn, Michigan, and was singing publicly by age 17. Very intelligent and attractive and already highly skilled as a singer in the contemporary style, she was immediately in demand as a performer. By the time she graduated, she had already worked alongside Naif Agby, Mohammed El Bakkar, Najeeba Morad, Elia Baida, Anton Abdelahad, Philip Solomon, Naim Karacand, Joe Budway, Tony Tawa, and many of the other luminaries of the Arab-American music community. Around that time, she recorded for the competing Brooklyn-based labels Al-Chark (run by Albert Rashid b. present-day Lebanon ca. 1905-08) and Alamphon (run by Fred Alam b. ca. 1907-13) and lent her name to advertisements for the Eastern Star Restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. The performances presented here were among six that she made for Rashid’s label when she was still a teenager. In early 1956 she enrolled in Henry Ford College in Dearborn, initially studying Music and Psychology, but her performing career during the period 1956-61 took her through Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Ottawa, Minnesota, and D.C. In the 60s, she collaborated with the musician and film star Farid al-Atrash (b. 1916; d. 1974) on a series of recordings and became a television and recording celebrity in Lebanon, but she maintained her home in Dearborn. Her career in Lebanon was curtailed by travel restrictions during the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90. In 2000, she married Tahir Mansour (b. 1936), an engineer and physicist; he died of cancer in 2018. After surviving cancer herself, she died January 14, 2022

Born May 20, 1907, in Syria and married to Joseph Kalil Kabalan (b. Syria, July 25, 1888; d. Feb. 10, 1988), a clothing and textile salesman, in Brooklyn in 1921. Their three children were born between 1923 and 1928 in New York and New Jersey. In 1935, the family relocated to St. Louis, MO. By 1940, they had moved again to St. Petersburg, FL, and by 1946 to Miami, where Joseph co-owned a shoe repair business. Coincidentally, the violinist Naim Karacand (b. Aleppo 1891; d. Brooklyn 1973) performed at the state convention of the Syrian-Lebanese Southern Federation in May 1943 in Florida with Mohammed El Bakkar. It is speculation on our part at this point that this disc was recorded around then and issued on the Karawan label that Karacand may have briefly operated in the ’40s. He had been a well-known performer in Brooklyn in the 1910s and ‘20s when the Kabalans were still living there, so it’s not out of the question that they had known each other for four decades before this record was made. Marie Kabalan died Feb. 10, 1988. The performance included here is a cover of Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s “Ya Naiman Raqadat Goufounou.” It is the only performance of hers we know to have been recorded and is one of the last recordings of an Arab-American singer of her generation.

Jamileh Matouk was born in Tripoli, Lebanon Feb. 25, 1911. Richard Breaux points out that her family gradually came through Brazil and Argentina to North America during the period 1912-23. She settled in Brooklyn and married Antoine Joseph Deeb in 1934; they had four children. Her first recording "Shouf Ya Ammi," appears to have been self-released in 1941. She recorded at least two discs for the Alampon label in the ’40s before recording "Sayer Enta Tkum Rebhan" ("You'll Be The Winner") and "Aheb Edalaa", a compositions by Naim Karacand for the Karawan label. In the late ‘50s, her family had a home in Florida but split their time with their home in Brooklyn. She died in 1997.

We have noticed documentation for about six men with the surnames Nohad or Nouhad who arrived to the U.S. from Egypt or Lebanon during the period 1930-52, and one woman born with the name in West Virginia in 1892. This young, amateur singer might be related to one of them, but at this point, that’s as far as we can speculate. The disc was issued on the Alkawakeb label run by Anthony M. Abraham (b. Aintourine, present-day northern Lebanon, 1893) of Newark, New Jersey who worked for decades as a crane operator at Crucible Steel Works and was a naturalized citizen as of 1928.

Born Jeanette Nehme Hayek on Nov. 8, 1929, in Beirut, Hanan was a trained singer. She traveled to Brazil and Argentina to perform in 1947 & ’48 and married Michel Harouni in Beirut in 1948. She appeared in the film The Bride of Lebanon in 1950 and toured South America, North Africa, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine in the early ‘50s. During that period she released discs on her own label in South America and collaborated on record in Lebanon with Fairouz (b. 1935). In the Fall of 1954, she commenced her first tour of the U.S. Over the next year, she performed widely at events in Brooklyn, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and Florida. Her daughter Claire was born in November 1955, and the family settled in the Prospect Park section of Brooklyn. From January through April of 1956, she was back on the road, performing in Miami, Detroit, Paterson, and Utica. Her son Joseph was born in November of 1956, but once again, she was back on the road by January, traveling with her husband and two infants through New England, upstate New York, and Michigan . Like Kahraman, with whom she often shared bills, she worked with a who’s-who of the Arab-American musical community, including Elia Baida, Eddie Kochak, Naim Karacand, Joe Budway, Sami Shaheen, etc. During that hectic period, she recorded in New York for the Alkawakeb (including the performance presented here) and Cleopatra labels (the latter in collaboration with Mohammed El Bakkar). An LP titled The Arabian Nightingale was issued in 1959 by the classical music label Period, followed by a half-dozen more albums and some 45s. She dedicated much of the 1960s to life as a mother but returned to Lebanon to perform and record prolifically in the early ‘70s. She performed periodically into the early 1990s during which time she was a care-taker to her ailing husband, who died in 1992. She subsequently moved to Staten Island where she died on Oct. 8, 2011.

Mary Morad was born in New York City on June 28, 1911, to parents from the village of Mradiyeh, present-day northern Lebanon. Her father was a musician. The eldest of fourteen children, she was raised in Boston where her father ran a grocery store and then a laundry. She worked at a shoe factory in early adulthood, began performing around 1933, and earned her high school diploma in her mid-20s. During WWII, she recorded some songs of American patriotism in Arabic for the small Petrophon label under the name Najeeba Morad. She married Toufic M. Karam in 1952 with whom she had four sons. The family settled in Buffalo, NY, and performed regularly in New England through 1953-1960 often accompanied by Russell Bunai, Philip Solomon, Joe Budway, Anton Abdelahad, Antoun Tawa, Mohammed El Bakkar, Elia Baida, Naim Karacand, and the Hamway brothers. Around 1958, she self-released a half-dozen discs. She continued to perform until about 1988. She died in Buffalo on July 22, 2004.

Born August 21, 1927 in Zgharta, present-day northern Lebanon, she was one of six children and began singing at the age of nine, influenced by Oum Kalsoum (b. 1898; d. 1975) and Asmahan (b. 1918; d. 1945). Along with her brother Nassir, she performed in Lebanon until the eminent composer and performer Mohammed Abdul Wahab encouraged her to relocate to Cairo, where she studied at the school of Farid Ghosn, who’d mentored Asmahan and her brother Farid Al Atrash, and began recording for the Baidaphon label in the 1940s. Some of those discs were issued in the U.S. by Naif Agby, who grew up in the same region that she did, on the E.S. (Eastern Star) label. Following a series of appearances in Paris, Agby sponsored a series of U.S. tours for Odette and Nassir Kaddo in 1955-56 performing in Detroit, upstate New York, Los Angeles, and Miami alongside Agby, Djamal Aslan, Philip Solomon, Mohammed El Bakkar, Anton Abdelahad, Mike Hamway, and others. During these tours, she met Philip Peters (b. Hasroun, present day northern Lebanon; d. 1978) in Detroit and married him on May 4, 1957 at a huge party with three bands including Naif Agby’s group. Their first child was born in Michigan in April 1958. King Hussein of Jordan came to visit her there in Detroit. In 1959-60, she recorded several 45s and an LP, The Voice of the Cedars, with Nagby. Several more LPs followed along with several more children, coinciding with the development of a family business making sausages. Although much admired, she performed only sporadically through the ‘60s. She became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1968; her mother and sister immigrated to Michigan shortly thereafter. On tour in Lebanon in 1970, she appeared on television and sang for president Sleiman Frangieh. She returned to more regular performing in the late 1980s and continued into the ‘90s, during which time her appearances were a point of connection between Christian Arabs from Detroit’s east side and Muslims from the west side. She died in Grosse Pointe, Michigan of cancer at the age of 70 on Sept. 1, 1997.
The performances presented here were recorded for Baidaphon in Cairo and issued in the U.S. by Naif Agby in the 1950s.


released April 15, 2023

Transfers, restorations, and notes by Ian Nagoski
Research derived from the work of Richard Breaux

Sun: 1, 3
Cleopatra: 2,4
Al Chark: 5, 6
Karawan: 7, 9, 10
Arabic 8
AlKawakeb: 11, 12
Morad: 13-15
E.S.: 16-18

All performances recorded in the U.S. except tracks 15-17 recorded in Cairo and subsequently issued in the U.S.

Hat tip to Anne K. Rasmussen.
Apologies to folks who contributed and whose correspondence I have lost.

Cover photo of Kahraman (Olga Agby)
Where transliterations appear on the original disc labels, they have been retained.


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