Remembering Flory Jagoda, Who Preserved Sephardic Jewish Music And Language Born in Sarajevo, Flory Jagoda celebrated the music and language of her ancestors who had been expelled from Spain in 1492. She died Jan. 29 at age 97.
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Remembering Flory Jagoda, Who Preserved Sephardic Jewish Music And Language

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Remembering Flory Jagoda, Who Preserved Sephardic Jewish Music And Language

Remembering Flory Jagoda, Who Preserved Sephardic Jewish Music And Language

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Flory Jagoda worked hard to preserve the music and language she inherited from her Sephardic Jewish ancestors in Europe. She was best known for writing a Hanukkah song that became a favorite around the world, which I actually recorded with the band Pink Martini.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCHO KANDELIKAS")

PINK MARTINI: (Singing in non-English language).

SHAPIRO: Flory Jagoda died last month at age 97 in Alexandria, Va. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has this remembrance.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Flory Jagoda was born in Sarajevo, where her family had lived for generations. They were descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. At home, she spoke Ladino, the language of their Sephardic Jewish community. She sang and played accordion and learned music from her grandmother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLORY JAGODA: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: Flory Jagoda was a teenager when World War II began. Her stepfather put her on a train to Italy under a false Christian name. He told her to play her accordion as a distraction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACCORDION MUSIC)

TSIOULCAS: She enchanted the conductor so much that he failed to ask for her ticket. Later, she was sure that the music had saved her life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ACCORDION MUSIC)

TSIOULCAS: She fell in love with an American soldier and moved to the U.S. Decades later, she learned that most of her family in Bosnia had died together near their home, as she told the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in a 1995 interview. Her family was thrown into a mass grave, including her grandmother, her beloved nona.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAGODA: All of them - 42 people. Nona, the daughters, the grandchildren, the babies - all of them. All the songs, the culture.

TSIOULCAS: In the United States, she performed and taught, and later she mentored other musicians, like Susan Gaeta. But for a long time, Gaeta says, there was no Sephardic music or Ladino in Flory Jagoda's life. Jagoda's parents, who had survived the Holocaust, had also moved to the United States, and her mother couldn't bear to be reminded of the past.

SUSAN GAETA: She didn't want to sing a Sephardic song until her mother and father passed away.

TSIOULCAS: But when Flory Jagoda decided to share her traditions again, there was no stopping her. As she told the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, all the songs she wrote and performed were for the family she had lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAGODA: Every song that I have written about holidays, it's all about them. They're with me. They're with my children. They're with my audiences.

TSIOULCAS: That was Flory Jagoda's legacy.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCHO KANDELIKAS")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

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