PHILADELPHIA — On June 21, the Armenian kef music world bid a farewell to pioneering bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Henry “Hank” Mardigian. He was 93.
Born in Philadelphia on July 19, 1928, Mardigian was a bandleader and arranger who played saxophone, mandolin, banjo, and oud, as well as sang. Freely admitting that he was no virtuoso at any instrument, he was best known as the frontman of the Gomidas Band, one of the original Armenian-American dance bands of the 1950s and 60s, in which virtuoso oudist George Mgrdichian got his start.
Mardigian was a warm and genial figure who nurtured talents, highlighted his bandmates, and always gave tribute to those who had introduced him to the music scene, namely Sam Vosbikian and the Vosbikian Band, while always striving to differentiate his own music as well as pay it forward. As for George Mgrdichian, when asked who taught him to play the oud, the virtuoso used to joke that “Hank did!” It was an exaggeration, but the truth was that without Mardigian and his band, Mgrdichian may have never had the chance for his talents to flourish.
Mardigian led a life in music that touched on nearly every aspect of the mid-20th-century Armenian-American dance music scene and community life.
Philadelphia Kef Time
Mardigian’s early family life gave him a solid background in folk music. His father Nishan was a native of Malatia, while his mother Angeline (nee Ajemian) hailed from an “aristocratic family” from Constantinople.