Athanasios “Zervas” Philippou, Violinist, Monzaki, Greece
“The Left-Handed Violinist”
Athanasios Philipou was a Rebetiko, left-handed violin player known as “Zervas”. He arrived in America in 1912, at age 19, from the small town of Mouzaki in Thessaly, Greece. He americanized his name to Arthur Phillips and first settled in New Hampshire but relocated to New York City shortly afterward, with his wife Helen.
He was a well-known musician who played frequently at the Port Said Restaurant on 29th Street in New York City where his popularity brought together many different ethnicities, especially Greeks. His career peaked from the 1940’s through the 1950’s.
His hometown and region in Greece had many different immigrant communities, including “Roma/Gypsies,” which made him popular with that community here as well. He was self-taught, and all of his nine brothers and sister were musicians back in Greece. He played in many diaspora communities around the country including Philadelphia, where he was known to visit because of his family ties.
He recorded at many record labels including, Metropolitan Records and Balkan Records, and is rumored to have recorded in Camden, New Jersey at RCA Records. When Phillips arrived here, he was already a well-known musician back home in his town because of his family name. He was dubbed with the name “Zervas,” which means lefty, because of his left-handed violin playing. No other professional musician at that time played left handed.
He also played the Santouri. Phillips was an introverted man who spoke very little but loved his children. He was married and had two children, one that passed early in his life. He passed away in a New York City hospital, after becoming ill.