Jamili Matouk: "They Hadn't Forgotten" Jamili

Jamili Matouk or Jameeleh Matouk or
Jamileh Matouk

(Musician, Dancer, Singer)
Jamili Matouk Deep, 1956

Next to Sana Kadaj, Jamileh Matouk or Jamili Matouk or Jameeleh Matouk (1911-1997) became one of Alamphon Records’ top-selling female vocalists in the late 1940s. Born in Tripoli, Lebanon 25 February 1911, we know very little about Matouk’s parents who seemed to have followed those members of the mahjar who immigrated to Brazil and Argentina. Matouk’s brothers Thomas, Anis, and Charles immigrated to the United States in 1912, 1920, and 1923 respectively.  Her sister, Najla, went to Canada. Anis married and settled down with his wife and worked as a tailor in Brooklyn. Thomas settled in Brooklyn, but divorced his wife, and Charles remained single for the time, but later married and moved to Florida. Jamileh arrived in the United States 24 November 1930 from Santos, Brazil after a stop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on what appears to have been a tourist visa.

Brooklyn was an expensive place for a single person to live alone and Jamileh took up residence with her brothers Thomas and Charles in Apartment 3 at 618 69th Street. Not long after her arrival, Jamileh married Antoine Joseph Deeb in a ceremony on Staten Island in July 1934. Jamileh and Joseph (the name her husband preferred) had four children and kept up a lively and busy social schedule.  Although married, Jamileh Matouk-Deeb used her birth name when she recorded several sides for Maloof’s Orient label, Arabic Records, Karawan Records, and Alamphon Records throughout the 1940s including #A-B 2002, #A-B 2004 Ani Sit, #A-B 2005 Yam Eloyoun, and  # A-B 2011 Yaalbi Rabbak.

Jamili Matouk's Alamphon #2001 and 2004 from the collection of Richard M. Breaux; https://soundcloud.com/user-356929609-75127210/jamili-matouk-ana-sit-alamphon-a2004-1-and-2

The Syrian Lebanese press kept close tabs on Jamileh and was careful to include both her Matouk and Deeb surnames in its reports so interested fans remembered who she was years after her successful recording artists career. She became a naturalized United States citizen 13 November 1951.

Despite her success and charity work, she stopped recording, but still occasionally sang at haflas, mahrajans, and special holiday or charity concerts. When attending the Labor Day Weekend Mahrajan sponsored by the Lebanon League of Progress in Brooklyn in 1953, a news report noted, “Jamileh Matouk happened to be there. Somebody spotted her. She obliged with a song and dance. The public responded with cheers and applause that proved they hadn’t forgotten Jamileh. How can they?”

Jamileh and Naim Karacand performed at the opening of George Deeb’s Al Kareem Club in Miami in April 1954.  Two months later, back up north, she performed for the Passaic County New Jersey Cerebral Palsy Center Grand banquet and charity dinner. She appeared on the program with Naim Karakand, Mohammed El-Bakkar, Fawzia Amir, and others. Then, of course, in March 1956, the Gala Hafli Emergency Flood Relief concert in Brooklyn featured Jamileh along with Philip Solomon, Mike Hamway, Elia Baida, Russell Bunai, Mohammed El Bakkar, Naim Karakand, and Eddie Kochak’s Orchestra. The concert benefited victims of the 1956 flood in Jamileh’s birthplace of Tripoli, Lebanon, and a small committee of volunteers that included Jamileh and Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church members, made sure all clothing, food, and cash donations made it to the victims.
Announcement for Gala Hafli Emergency Flood Relief Concert, The Caravan, 1 March 1956. Newspapers.com

After twenty-five years in the United States, Brooklyn had become the only place Jamileh knew well, yet in 1957 the Deebs moved to Miami, Florida. Previous to this time, the Deebs had visited St. Petersburg, Florida and Miami. It turns out, Jamileh’s brother Charles Matouk and George Deeb, her brother-in-law, started to do quite well as realtors in Florida.  From 1957 to 1958, Jamileh managed the Maxwell Hotel in Miami and worked as the main hostess. She continued to perform live at special events and in March 1958, she sang with Joe Budway and Karawan at the Syrian Lebanese American Club charity party in Miami.

Jamili Matouk, "Shouf Ya Ammi," Arabic Records, 2000 1 & 2. Courtesy of Richard M. Breaux collection.

Life in Florida seemed slightly more relaxed and the winters…fabulous. The Deebs, however, contemplated a return to Brooklyn because they missed their friends and community there. The family, but really only Jamileh and Joseph, bought a Brooklyn apartment and remained there until 1971, when Jamileh and Joseph moved to Orlando to be closer to their children. Matouk-Deeb attempted to settle into being a homemaker, but as someone who was always on the go and needed to be physically and mentally active, Matouk-Deeb joined Saint George Orthodox Church and the Syrian Lebanese Club of Orlando.

Joseph died in 1991 and Jamileh in 1997. Jamileh Matouk-Deeb’s career as a dancer, singer, and recording artist for Alamphon has been largely forgotten by her family. Most of her fans have faded with time. From time to time, however, a 78 RPM record collector will uncover a batch of Alamphon records and, on occasion, the uniquely, soulful alto voice of Jamileh Matouk-Deeb or “Jamili Matouk” calls to us listeners from the past via our modern turntables.

Richard M. Breaux

© Midwest Mahjar


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