Greater Syrian Diaspora at 78RPM: Gabriel S. Maloof
By: Richard Breaux/Arab America Contributing Writer
What do you do when you find several dozen 78 rpm records all in Arabic and you can neither read, nor speak the language? You research the musicians and record labels and write about them.…at least that’s what Arab America contributing writer, Richard Breaux did. The result is bound to teach you something about Arab American history and heritage in the first half of the 20th Century. Arab America highlights some of the well-known and lesser-known Arab American musicians profiled in this series. This week’s article features Arab American music legend, Gabriel S. Maloof.
Much of the research and writing on Arab Americans, Arab American music, and Arab American 78 RPM records has focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn’s “Little Syria” or the Detroit/Dearborn metropolitan area. Although Boston’s “Syrian town” neighborhood has received increasing attention with respect to its restaurants, churches, and businesses, these same sources, say very little specifically about the role of music and record shops in Boston’s “Little Syria” even though we know that by the late 1920s and early 1930s there was at least one well-known record seller in Boston’s neighborhood that centered around Hudson Street, Tyler, Harrison Avenue, Oliver Place, and the area adjacent to Boston’s Chinatown – Gabran S. or Gabriel S. Maloof. We first learned about Gabran or Gabriel S. Maloof when we came across his dealer stamp on one of the 78 RPM phonograph records in our collection. Gabran or Gabriel Maloof, unlike A. J. Macksoud or the better-known musician Alexander Maloof in New York, seemed to have a dealer ink stamp and dealer stickers. He was primarily a seller and did not have his own record label.
Immigration from Greater Syria (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan) began to Boston in the 1880s and already by 1899 there were an estimated 500 Syrians in Boston alone. Within two years these numbers tripled to 1500. Some Syrian immigrants opened storefront shops to sell food, groceries, linens, clothes, shoes, and a host of other knick-knacks like candles, thread, laces, dry goods, and so-called notions. Among the many peddlers who sold their wares and notions in the 1910s was Beirut-born Gabran Maloof. Maloof was born 1 January 1891 according to his Declaration of Intention to Naturalize or in 1890 or 1888 if we rely on other government documents. He immigrated to the United States via Naples, Italy, around February 1915. Whether he was any relation to Gabriel Maloof, the peddler fined in Newton, Massachusetts, seven years before this reported arrival or the same person using his anglicized name remains unclear. We know, however, with greater certainty that he Maloof married his Homs, Syria-born wife, Schuckriye, on 19 May 1914.
The Maloofs took up residence in Utica, New York, where a small Syrian community put down roots and many of their descendants remain to this day. Within months of their arrival in the United States, the couple had their first child, Samuel, in May 1915, and a second child, Philip, in September 1917. The family relocated to Boston’s Little Syria living first at 127 Hudson Street and Gabran, now using the more anglicized Gabriel, labored as an Iron Worker for an iron foundry in South Boston. Most of the Maloof family’s immediate neighbors hailed from Greater Syria and many arrived around 1909 or 1913, just before Maloof arrived, but a few of his neighbors were old settlers who’d arrived in 1899, 1902, and 1903
Old settlers and the institutions they founded in Boston gained the attention of Boston’s mainstream press not long after the earliest immigrants from Greater Syria arrived. One of the first churches highlighted in the Boston Globe was Our Lady of the Cedars of Lebanon Maronite Church. Established in Boston in 1893, by 1899 Father Joseph Yazbeck served as the priest with the blessing of Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Williams (today Our Lady of Cedars stands in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts). Among those featured in the Boston Globe within a year of its establishment was Saint George Orthodox Church founded in 1900. Father George Maloof held Saint George’s first services in his home at 6 Oxford Street. Today, Saint George is in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. In the late 1890s and early 1900, their parishioners were peddlers, shoemakers, textile workers, opportunities for work expanded as Syrian/Lebanese immigrants created social and cultural groups and organizations.
By 1920, few worked as peddlers and instead toiled as machinists or machine operators, seamstresses, tailors, chauffeurs, finishers in the garment industry and shoe repair people.
The 1920s brought new national phonograph record labels Maloof and A. J. Macksoud to Manhattan’s Little Syria. Maloof recruited former Columbia and Victor recording artist Louis Wardiny, Constantine Souss, and others musicians who played on the label’s trio and orchestra recordings. Maloof also introduced Salim Doumani, Anthony Shaptini, Braheen Abdo, and Lateefy Abdou to Arab American music audiences. Macksoud also hired Wardiny and Doumani, but launched the careers of Assad Dakroub, Andrew Mekanna, and Anton Aneed. At least Macksoud, and likely Maloof, regularly employed veteran, violin virtuoso Naim Karacand.
Schuckriye gave birth to their last and final son, Edward, in 1921, while Gabriel tried his hand at restaurant work before operating his own record shop. Schuckriye also sometimes called Jucria had her hands full with three boys under ten. Fortunately, all the children were US-born because immigration laws began changing by the time their second and third-born children entered the world.
Changes to immigration law in 1917, 1921 and 1924 had a negative impact on the growth of Arab American communities, not just in Boston, but across the United States, as the Johnson-Reed Act became law, thus reducing immigrants from Syria to 100 per year. Yet the Arab American record industry expanded as Arab Americans took to the literary, visual, and performing arts. This flurry of artistic expression propelled Khalil Gibran to leave Boston for New York City. Just as these restrictions took hold, Gabriel received notice that his citizenship application had been accepted. Gabriel gained citizenship in 1927, but curiously Schuckriye did not become a citizen until after 1941, despite having arrived with her husband in 1915.
The large volume of phonograph records released by Maloof Phonograph Records, A.J. Macksoud’s record company, on international labels like Baidaphon, Odeon, and His Master’s Voice provided an abundance of inventory for Gabriel Maloof to open his own record shop in Boston. It is unclear if he bought his Baidaphon stock directly from Lebanon or if A.J. Macksoud in Manhattan served as a wholesaler. No doubt, he bought his Maloof and Macksoud inventory directly from Alexander Maloof and Abraham J. Macksoud. The 1930 U.S. Census clearly lists Gabriel Maloof as the proprietor of a music store in Boston suggesting an occupational move from iron worker or general laborer. We also know that the Maloofs moved from 49 Hudson Street to 107 Harrison between the late 1920s and mid-1930s. The Gabriel S. Maloof Syrian & Oriental Records shop operated at 93A Hudson Street. Guess who lived just a few buildings down and across the street from Maloof’s Oriental Record Shop in 1930? The recently widowed- Ramza Abdelahad and her children Evelyn, Charles, and Anton Abdelahad.
Beyond phonograph records, members of Boston’s Syrian community along with Jews, Italians, and Greeks in Boston protested the passage of the 1924 and 1929 immigration laws that restricted immigrants from the respective homelands of these communities. Syrian immigrants were limited to 100 to 125 per year. Congress considered a complete ban in 1930.
Anton Abdelahad would, of course, become a widely-known and respected oudist and record label owner in the 1940s. Although Abdelahad recalled that his father, Assad, who died in 1927, used to order records from Beirut, Assad likely ordered them with the help of Gabriel S. Maloof.
Sometime in November 1932, a truck owned by the Express Railway Company of Delaware, injured the Maloof’s eldest son, Samuel. Gabriel attempt to sued the company in Federal Court for $10,000 in damages, but Judge Hugh McLellan dismissed the jury and sent the case to the state courts. The resultant proceedings did not seem to garnered the same press attention.
The Maloofs continued to appear in the city directory through the late-1930s and the 1940 US Census. Gabriel, however, did not list an occupation in the 1940 Census suggesting he had retired or taken ill. We know with certainty that both Maloof and A.J. Macksoud phonograph companies had closed by 1936. Macksoud died and Alexander Maloof moved to New Jersey and became a music instructor, professor, and continued to publish music compositions.
Gabriel S. Maloof died in 1941 leaving his wife and children behind. Schuckriye finally received naturalized citizenship in 1943. Phillip served in the army in North Africa during World War II where he was able to put his Arabic to use in adding his unit. The irony of the Maloofs and Abdelahads knowing one another and living near each other is that in 1948 and 1949, Anton Abdelahad and his brother, Charles Abdelahad, operated Abdelahad Records from G.S. Maloof’s former address at 93 Hudson Street in Boston.
Schuckriye Maloof lived to be eighty and died in June 1966. After World War II, Boston’s Little Syria spread south of Kneeland Street but would soon face urban renewal projects threatened the old neighborhood. Syrian and Lebanese families relocated to West Roxbury as newer waves of Arab immigrants, now mostly educated Muslims, settled in Quincy and Arab college students created their own communities. Left on Shawmut Street is an old Syrian American grocery store at 270 and the abandoned Sahara Syrian Restaurant building at 296 owned by the same family that operates the store.
Richard M. Breaux is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse from Oakland, California. His courses and research explore the social and cultural histories of African Americans and Arab Americans in the 20th Century.
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