Greater Syrian Diaspora at 78RPM: Rt. Rev. Agapios Golam
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, Rt. Rev. Agapios Golam.
Archimandrite Agapios Golam (1882-1946) was born Oct. 23 1881 or 1882 and immigrated to the US from Greater Syria in 1912 via passage on the S.S. Martha Washington. He first lived in New York’s Little Syria neighborhood and later moved to Brooklyn with hundreds of other Syrian-Lebanese and Syrian Americans. Golam spoke Arabic, Greek, and English. In August 1916, he accompanied Archbishop Germanos Shehadi on his travels around the United States. Among their stops were a few days spent in the Syrian-Lebanese Community in Williston, North Dakota. A significant number of emigrants from the Ottoman Diaspora settled in North Dakota in the early 1900s and took advantage of Homesteading policies.
The majority of people from Greater Syria who settled in North Dakota were from rural towns near Mount Lebanon, and this, in part, explains why they were attracted to farming in the equally rural Great Plains and Midwest. The majority were also Christian, although a small segment of the population was Muslim and later established a Mosque in Ross, North Dakota. The Williston Syrian-Lebanese community had not built or established an Orthodox Church yet, so the community attended and invited Shehadi and Golam to visit the Episcopal Church in town. During their stay, both men were hosted by the Munyer, Jermanos, and Forsley families. The most comprehensive study on these Arab American communities in North Dakota is Prairie Peddlers: The Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota by William C. Sherman, Paul Whitney, and John Guerrero.
Rev. Golam served as a minister at Saint Mary’s Syrian Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Brooklyn, New York in 1917. He’d also hold the position of parish minister from 1928 to 1936. The death of Archbishop Victor Abou-Assaley in 1935, led to an attempt to unite the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America; Rev. Agapios Golam along with Bishop Samuel David of Toledo and Antony Bashir of Detroit (Ananias Kassab withdrew from consideration) appeared final ballot. The Antiochian, however, remained divided Antony Bashir became Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America and Samuel David held the title of Metropolitan and Archbishop of Toledo and Dependencies.
According to travel documents, Golam visited the United States between 1912 and 1915 and again from 1915 to 1921. He traveled to and from Beirut several times throughout his life. While some of his family immigrated to Toronto and Montreal, Canada. Golam lived in Montreal for some time and he and his brothers eventually applied for naturalized US citizenship.
Agapios Golam and his brothers, Peter and Demetri Golam, became US citizens in 1920. Demetri ran a silk dresses manufacturing business and Peter worked as a bookkeeper for a grocery store in Brooklyn. Rev. Golam shared an apartment with Archbishop Germanos Shehadi at 117 Centenary Street in Brooklyn in 1920. Archbishop Shehadi became known among the faithful for his golden voice and recorded on Saidaphon and Baidaphon. No doubt Golam felt inspired by Shehadi to sing and record his own records.
During much of the 1920s and 1930s, Golam traveled to parishes across the United States officiating weddings, baptisms, funerals, and special services in Montana, Texas, Michigan, and Ohio. He also conducted special services in Kingston, Jamaica’s Anglican Church in 1928. Two years later, he lived with his two brothers, sister-in-law, and nephew at 143 Amity Street in Brooklyn.
For Easter, Demetri’s wife, Avgone, baked adas (Syrian Easter Bread) and ka’ak (made in the shape the crown Christ wore during his crucifixion) and some families practiced the tradition of “ta-hosh” or the egg tapping game.
Despite the presence of his name on the ballot as a candidate for Metropolitan and Archbishop of all North America, Golam continued the work of aiding local parishes around the country. In April 1936, Rev. Golam dedicated the new building for Saint Mary Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas. A year later, he served as pastor of the Hellenic Orthodox Holy Trinity Church in Waterbury, Connecticut; in 1940 he lived in nearby Ansonia, Connecticut. The circumstances that led him to Lorain, Ohio in 1942 remain unclear. Rev. Agapios Golam died in Brooklyn, New York, on 25 May 1946.
The Consolidated Recording Corporation’s Electric Recording Laboratories recorded eight sides and pressed four phonograph records by Agapios Golam on the Golam’s Hymns label in 1921 or 1922. The songs are Byzantine chants or hymns. Consolidated regularly made customized records for individuals or institutions that wished to produce limited run recordings. The double-headed eagle represents the Eastern Orthodox or Greek Orthodox Church and its Byzantine and Ancient Near East heritage. The sides included “Hymns of Jesus Birth” (#7169), “Christmas Hymn” (#2508), “Easter Hymns” (#7168), “Hymn of Mother of God” (#2508), “Glory to God In Highest” (#7166), “Today the Resurrection” (#35001), “O Holy God” (#53001), and “Hymns of Akathiston in Holy Lent” (#7167).
Hear Rt Rev. Agapios Golam, “Hymn of Jesus Birth” https://soundcloud.com/profbro/rev-agapios-golam-hymn-of-jesus-birth Hear Rt Rev. Agapios Golam, “Christmas Hymn” https://soundcloud.com/profbro/golams-hymns-christmas-hymn-2508a Hear Rt Rev. Agapios Golam,”Hymn of Mother of God” https://soundcloud.com/profbro/golams-hymns-hymn-of-mother-of-god-2508b
The 78 rpm records pictured here were located and purchased at estate sales in La Crosse and Janesville, Wisconsin. In La Crosse, the records came from the estate of Siad Addis and his daughter Elaine Addis. Siad Addis (1880-1978) emigrated from Rachaya Al Foukhar, Greater Syria (today Lebanon) and worked as a mill worker for most of his life in La Crosse.
He and his wife raised five sons and three daughters. His children took jobs as civil servants [postal carriers, firefighters, state health services employees] and teachers. Siad, like other residents of the Syrian-Lebanese community, became actively involved in Midwest Federation of American Syrian Lebanese Clubs, founded in 1936.
Since the building of Saint Elias Orthodox Church, Addis served as a congregational cantor. Sometimes this required him to stand for two and one-half hours. In 1973, five years before his passing, the local newspaper, The La Crosse Tribune, featured Addis in a story that included the photograph below. In Janesville, these were a part of the George and Joseph Melan estate.
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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