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The Undertaker's Picnic: Armenian Kef Music in Fresno, ca. 1940s​-​50s

by Oscar Kevorkian & Mesrob Takakjian

Darelolo 02:50
Moosh 02:53
Three in One 02:44
Kalalim 03:01
Euchehag 02:57
Gindavoori 03:04
Horom Horom 03:14
Chem Ou Chem 03:15
Gogon Vart 02:57
Shinana Yar 03:04
Tamzara 03:05
Henno, Henno 02:57


Label owner, bandleader, and musician Oscar (nee Asadour) Kevorkian was born in around Kharpert (aka Harput, in present-day Elâzığ Province, Turkey - likely in the village of Soursouri) in 1898. He arrived to the U.S. via Ellis Island in 1914 and by 1935 had settled in Fresno, California. (His sister and brother both settled in France.) In 1918, he married Araxie (Mary) Daorian with whom he had four children. After working a variety of jobs, he started the OK Taxi company in the late 20s and drove hearses for the West Side Undertakers and the Yost & Webb Mortuary. In 1936, he started working as a funeral director for Yost & Webb. He and a partner eventually bought the company around 1949. It's still in operation.

In 1929, Kevorkian and the clarinetist Mesrob Takakjian recorded four sides for the Columbia label in Los Angeles, and during the 1930s they and their cohorts were regular performers at Armenian gatherings and parties in the Fresno area. Takakjian and Kevorkian again found a recording opportunity with the newly established Rec-Art record label in Los Angeles. These recording sessions and a vibrant music community led to Oscar Kevorkian launching his own record label based in Fresno, initially called OK Records, named like his cab company from his initials, later changing the label’s name to Kevorkian.

A significant and influential clarinetist, Mersob Takakjian was born in either 1894 or 1896 in Palu (less than 50 miles from Kharpert) and arrived in Providence, Rhode Island Oct. 15, 1912. Takakjian was among the first wave of Armenian performers to have made discs for Columbia in the mid-1910s and continued to record in the early 20s for M.G. Parsekian and Vartan Margosian’s independent labels.

In the mid-20s, Takakjian loaned his instrument (mouthpiece, reed, and all) to another musician, resulting in Takakjian's contracting tuberculosis. For his health, he relocated to Fresno in 1926, where he got work as a record-buyer for the Nishkian Phonograph Store and went into business with his younger brother Sarkis selling novelties and candy. He met Oscar Kevorkian with whom he collaborated on music for more than twenty years. He was among the musicians recorded by ethnomusicologist Sidney Robertson Cowell for the WPA, University of California, and Library of Congress in 1939.

On July 5, 1959 Oscar Kevorkian had a heart attack while playing cards at the Highland Club in Fresno. He was dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.
Mesrob Takakjian survived until 1976. (A more complete life and times of Takakjian is currently in progress.)

The singers:
Mary Keteian was born Nov. 17, 1925 to immigrant parents in Detroit. The family relocated to Fresno, where at the age of 22 she married Grkikor Grisha “Kirk” Khanzadian with whom she had seven children. In 1949, she sang in Achoude Arzouni’s fantasy opera “Shepherd’s Dream;” her recording with Kevorkian may have been made around the same time.

Mike Krikorian was born in Fowler, California and relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked in the hotel business. He appears to have established the Yerchanig Records label in the early 1950s.

Virginia Hampartzoomian was also born in Detroit to immigrant parents with whom she relocated to Fresno. She worked as a stenographer before marrying Jack Murachanian of Pasadena in 1951. She was a wedding singer and member of the Holy Trinity Church Choir in Pasadena.


released July 13, 2021

Research and notes by Harout Arakelian
Compilation, editing, transfers, and restoration by Ian Nagoski

All tracks released on Oscar Kevorkian's label, which is known to have produced approximately 20 discs (40 songs), give or take.

Leadership (and presumed clarinet) is credited on the disc labels to:
tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11 15 Oscar Kevorkian
tracks 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17 Mesrob Takakjian
tracks 8-9 Mary Keteian & Oscar Kevorkian
tracks 12-13 Mike Krikorian & Virginia Hampartzoomian
tracks 14-15 Harry Belezarian
tracks 18-19 Manoug Janigian

Researcher Harry Kezelian has proposed that the accompanists are likely:
Charlie Kratlian. (b. Diyarbakir) - oud
Bedros Haroutunian - kanun
Hagop (Jack) Aslanian - violin

dumbeg may be played by one of several people including Manoog Janigian, who Kezelian points out, "was born in Palu in 1907. His father, Boghos went to America in 1913 leaving his wife Yeghsapet and children behind. Somehow, mother and children were able to survive the deportation of 1915, apparently by staying in nearby Harput (possibly at the American consulate or at a missionary institution) and made it to Marseille, France, from where they arrived at the port of Providence in May, 1925. Manoog Janigian was only 8 years old in 1915 and 17 when he arrived in America."

cover photo: Oscar Kevorkian from his July 9, 1959 obituary in the California Courrier

Earlier recordings by Kevorkian and Takakjian can be heard on the Canary albums Oh My Soul and Why I Came to America.

Thanks to Harry Kezelian
hat tip to Helene Ericksen.


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