Flory Jagoda

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Flory Jagoda
Flora Papo

(1923-12-21) December 21, 1923 (age 97)
OccupationMusician, singer-songwriter
Spouse(s)Harry Jagoda
ChildrenBetty, Andy, Elliott, Lori
Musical career
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals, accordion
Associated acts
  • Ramon Tasat
  • Susan Gaeta
  • Trio Sefardi
  • Aviva Chernik

Flory Jagoda (born Flora Papo on December 21, 1923) is a Bosnian-Jewish–born American guitarist, composer and singer-songwriter. She is known for her composition and interpretation of Sephardic songs, Judeo-Espanyol (Ladino) songs and the Bosnian folk ballads, sevdalinka.[1]


Born Flora Papo to a Bosnian Jewish family in 1923, she grew up in the Bosnian towns of Vlasenica and her birth city of Sarajevo.[2] She was raised in the Sephardic tradition in the musical Altaras family. Her mother, Rosa Altarac (or Altarasa) left her first husband and returned to the town of Vlasenica. There she met and married Michael Kabilio, and they settled in Zagreb, Croatia, where Kabilio owned a tie-making business.

When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, her step-father (whom Flory referred to as her father) put 16-year-old Flory on a train to Split using false identity papers and removing the Jewish star from her coat. On the train she played her accordion ("hamoniku" in Serbo-Croatian) all the way to Split (at that time controlled by the Italians), with other passengers and even the conductor singing along; she was never asked for her ticket. Her parents joined her in Split several days later, and after a brief sojourn there they and other Jews who had escaped the Nazis were moved to various islands off the Croatian coast. Flory and her parents were sent to the island of Korcula, where they lived until fall 1943.[2] Following the Italian capitulation the Jews on Korcula went by fishing boats to Bari, Italy, which had recently been liberated by the British army.[3] While in Italy, she met and fell in love with an American soldier named Harry Jagoda.[2] She arrived in the USA as a war bride in 1946, going first to Harry's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, and later moving to Northern Virginia where she still lives.

The Sephardic community of Sarajevo and its surrounding communities were nearly obliterated during World War II.[4]

Jagoda's recording Kantikas Di Mi Nona (Songs of My Grandmother) consists of songs her grandmother, a Sephardic folksinger, taught her as a young girl. Following the release of her second recording, Memories of Sarajevo, she recorded La Nona Kanta (The Grandmother Sings), songs she herself wrote for her grandchildren.

Now in her 90s, Flory has stated that Arvoliko: The Little Tree, released in 2006, will be her final solo recording. The tree, located in Bosnia, is said to be the only marker of the mass grave of 42 massacred members of the Altaras family. She refers to her four recordings as representing the four musical stages of her life. In 2006 she also released a series of duets with Ramón Tasat, Kantikas de amor i vida: Sephardic Duets.[5]

Ladino, or Judeo-Espanyol, the language of the Sephardim, is in danger of extinction but it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, especially in music. Jagoda is a leader in this revival.[6][7]

In 2002 she received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her efforts in passing on the tradition of Sephardic songs sung in Ladino.[8] In 2002, Ankica Petrovic produced a documentary film about Flory and her story. In the fall of 2013 a gala celebration concert honoring Flory's 90th birthday was held in Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Flory was joined on stage by more than twenty of her students, colleagues, and family members. The concert was filmed by JEMGLO, which used portions of the concert interspersed with interviews with Flory, her family members, and several of her disciples and musical colleagues for the documentary "Flory's Flame." Her music is known and sung by many musicians around the world, but especially by her apprentice, Susan Gaeta, as a soloist and with Trio Sefardi (Gaeta, Tina Chancey, Howard Bass), and her student, Aviva Chernick.

Now in her mid-90s, Jagoda has dementia and is no longer able to sing.[2] Flory and her husband Harry Jagoda had four children.[2]



  • Kantikas Di Mi Nona
  • Memories of Sarajevo
  • La Nona Kanta (1992)
  • Arvoliko (2006)
  • Kantikas de amor i vida: Sephardic Duets (2006) Duets with Ramón Tasat


  • The Key From Spain: The Songs and Stories of Flory Jagoda (2002) A documentary film by Ankica Petrovic
  • Flory's Flame" (2014) A documentary film by Curt Fissel and Ellen Friedland.


The Flory Jagoda Songbook: Memories of Sarajevo. New York: Tara Publications (1993).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Showcase celebrates Virginian artisans". Cavalier Daily. September 25, 2014. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Ivanović, Tea (August 22, 2019). "Flory Jagoda: The Sarajevo-born Diva of Sephardic Music". Oslobođenje (in Bosnian). Retrieved December 27, 2019.
  3. ^ "Painstakingly restored accordion saved young girl's life in World War II and launched her calling in music preservation". Daily Progress. October 5, 2014. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  4. ^ Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia, "Yugoslavia"
  5. ^ "Two new albums by Flory Jagoda" by Judith Cohen, Klezmershack, February 10, 2006]
  6. ^ VOA News (March 27, 2007). "Musician Embraces Ancient Musical Roots". VOA News. Voice of America. Archived from the original on November 17, 2008. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  7. ^ Philadelphia CityPaper, 30 March 2000. Archived January 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Flory Jagoda: Sephardic musician/composer". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. n.d. Retrieved January 1, 2021.

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