Flory Jagoda grew up in a musical family near Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. They were part of a vital Sephardic community, descendants of Jews driven out of Spain and Portugal during the fifteenth century because they refused to convert to Christianity. As a girl, she learned to play the accordion and sing. Her grandmother taught her songs in the Ladino language, a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish.
“My Nonna [grandmother] sang these songs, which she learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on,” Jagoda told NEA interviewer Mary K. Lee. “These songs were passed down from generation to generation with no written music of any kind. These were the treasures of my family. These songs have Spanish roots, but the rhythms are Balkan. The rhythms were adopted from the countries where they settled. Many of these songs sound Turkish or Greek. My songs sound Bosnian. They’re folk songs about daily life — nursery rhymes, romantic songs, love songs, wedding songs, dance songs and holiday songs. I have three recordings, and my holiday songs are mostly based on my memories of my family. They were all, all forty-two of them, thrown into a mass grave during World War II. They took all the songs with them. I started writing songs just to remember the life in my little mountain village. My family vanished, and they live with me through these songs.”
Jagoda escaped the Nazi destruction of her Sephardic community. While living in an American-operated relocation camp in Italy, she met Harry Jagoda, an Army Air Corps officer. They married and moved to northern Virginia, where they remained. She taught piano, accordion and guitar and raised three children, all of whom have performed with her for many years and passed the music along to their own children.
“I want the music to continue; it’s part of the heritage we’re trying preserve,” Jagoda said. “I don’t know how long this will go on. I actually find myself as a member of the last generation of Sephardin who left Spain or the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.”
Jagoda has passed the music along through The Flory Jagoda Songbook and through the apprenticeship program at the University of Virginia. She has worked with children in choirs, Sunday schools and nursery schools. “I don’t give them advice,” she said. “I keep it very simple. I just tell them the songs are the pages of our history and these are the songs of the Sephardin from six centuries back, of the ancestors who came from Spain. But they’re too young — I don’t go into the terrible scenes from our history. I’m there to teach them a song to perform, usually at their little school concerts. It’s a lot of fun. I usually teach holiday songs. Holiday songs are very popular.
“I’m just very happy that I’m being recognized as a composer and a singer of this kind of music. At my age, we don’t have any big plans for the future of traveling the world. I’ve traveled. We’ve done concerts in Yugoslavia. I’ve done Poland, and we have been in Spain. We have been in Austria, Canada. … I feel that I have accomplished in life what I wanted to accomplish. I’ve met some wonderful people in my life, wonderful musicians, talented people that I shared music with and who made my life very full. This sort of made up for every inch of that mess that I had gone through before coming to America. This country has given me inner peace.”
Cohen, Judith. “Sound Recording Reviews.” Journal of American Folklore (1999).
The Flory Jagoda Songbook: Memories of Sarajevo. New York; Tara Publications (1993).
Jagoda, Flory, et al. Flory Jagoda and Family; Judeo-Spanish Songs. Global Village CD 155.
_____. Memories of Sarajevo; Judeo-Spanish Songs from Bosnia. Global Village Music CD 143.
_____. Kantikas Di Mi Nona: Judeo-Spanish Songs from the Bosnian Tradition. Global Village CD 189.
Flory Jagoda, 2002 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Flory Jagoda in The Key from Spain -- The Songs and Stories of Flory Jagoda, a film by Ankica Petrovic, courtesy The National Center for Jewish Film, Brandeis University
Flory Jagoda answers the question 'Please talk about your childhood and growing up?' Arlington, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Flory Jagoda answers the question 'Could you talk a little about the music you sing? Do you remember the songs of your childhood?' Arlington, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Flory Jagoda answers the question 'And what was your childhood like?' Arlington, Virginia, interview by Alan Govenar
Flory Jagoda answers the question 'Are there other styles of singing?' Arlington, Virginia, 2002, interview by Alan Govenar
Flory Jagoda, 'Seven Sons Of Hannah,' Kantikas Di Mi Nona: Judeo-Spanish Songs from the Bosnian Tradition, 1995, Global Village CD 139
Flory Jagoda, 'Sleep Sleep,' Kantikas Di Mi Nona: Judeo-Spanish Songs from the Bosnian Tradition, 1995, Global Village CD 139
Flory Jagoda, 'Jo Parti Para la Gera (I Leave For the War),' La Nona Kanta, 1995, Global Village CD 155
Flory Jagoda, 'Non Komo Muestro Dyo (There is None Like Our God),' La Nona Kanta, 1995, Global Village CD 155
Flory Jagoda, 'Aseriko de Kindze Anjos (Aseriko at 15),' Memories of Sarajevo: Judeo-Spanish Songs from Bosnia, 1996, Global Village CD 143