Greater Syrian Diaspora at 78RPM: Leila Mazloom
If you collect or have any 78 RPM Arabic records in the United States, you’ve no doubt come across or seen records on the Maloof, Macksoud, or Alamphon labels. Much more rare, but not as valued by collectors, are records on the Mazloom label (there were likely only two discs ever released). We’ve done some digging after acquiring two Mazloom discs and here’s what we’ve uncovered…
Lillian “Leila” A. Mazloom was one of seven born May 7, 1927, to George and Rose Unis Mazloom in Wilkes-Barr, Pennsylvania. George and Rose immigrated separately from Greater Syria, now Lebanon. Rose came to the United States as an infant in 1892/93 and George arrived in 1902/03 almost ten years later, the couple married in 1909 and had four children before Lillian was born.
Lillian and her sister Rosanna took interest in music while they were young children and the girls’ parents quickly provided opportunities for the two girls to showcase their talents. In fact, as early as October 1938, Lillian and Rosanna performed at the Lebanese Syrian American Society Halloween Party where they sang in Arabic, their younger twin brothers, who were only five, performed a “Syrian dance number” at the same event.
Since the 1920s, the Mazlooms operated a Candy and Confectionery store. Both Lillian and Rosanna worked here baking fruit and nut bars and preparing coconut sweets. The Mazloom family kept their children busily involved with 4-H Clubs, where Lillian and Rosanna regularly participated in home economic demonstrations from how to make enough sandwiches for guests at large parties to how to make a bed properly.
George and Rose fell on tough times during the Depression but managed to keep the candy store afloat. With the outbreak of World War II, however, conditions forced the family to close the store. Lillian and Rosanna worked the family farm and continued their studies at G.A.R. Memorial High School. When Lillian graduated in 1945, the school yearbook noted, “Dark Hair, brown eyes, and a pleasing personality answer the description of none other than “Lil.” She possesses a liking for singing. Her future will be along the commercial line.”
Over the next three years, Lillian and Rosanna regularly performed, now as soloists, for Lebanese American clubs and associations in Roanoke and Richmond, Virginia, Newark and Trenton, New Jersey, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her star began to take off even more and by this time she sang as a soloist at an event honoring Lebanese politician Joseph Bey Karam attended by 600 people, at the Knights of Lebanon annual outing in July 1950, and the second annual “Mahrajan” at the Dream City Park.
By 1954, Lebanese American communities continually requested her presence at the haflas and mahrajans. In a surprise move, instead of going to Alamphon, Karawan, or one of the other Arab American record labels, the Mazlooms recorded on their own record label (likely a limited run personal pressing) – Mazloom Records. Recording as Leila Mazloom, Lillian cut two songs-four sides # CI-244-245 “Ah-Rif-Tek-Shif-Tek Yah-Ha-Raami” and #CB 246-247 “Cy-Fee-It-Libnan.” Sammy Shaheen, a rising star in his own right, accompanied Mazloom. On the roster for the 18 July 1954, Fifth Annual Mahrajan were Elia Baida, Joseph Francis, and Lillian Mazloom.
Initially, getting married to Monsour Kouri did not slow Lillian down and she still sang concerts at the local mahrajan up and down the eastern coast. As she and Monsour settled down, the couple had three daughters (Leila, Rose, and Nora); Lillian had less and less time to perform.
Lilian Mazloom Kouri aka Leila Mazloom died suddenly on 29 March 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. She was one of the three living 78 rpm musicians profiled in this series. Few know of her, anything about her past career, or the 78 RPM records she cut on the family-named label. Monsour passed on in 1998, one hundred years after his family settled in Virginia as some of its first Syrian Lebanese residents. Perhaps it’s most fitting that we honor Lily (the name she preferred) as we enter Summer Time in Lebanon and the United States.
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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