By KATIE WATTS / Petaluma Towns Correspondent
“It’s 18 letters of alphabetical joy that roll off the tongue like a boulder,” says Glynnis Papageorgacopolous of her last name.
Although her ancestry is Swedish, Irish and Scots, she’s embraced her husband Ted’s Greek heritage and culture — they own Papa’s Taverna out on the Lakeville Highway. “You can go five miles out of town and be in another country,” she says of the restaurant, which offers not only Greek food, but singing and dancing on certain evenings.
By day, she’s a Safeway checker, polite and friendly, chatting as she rings up and bags customers’ carrots and coffee, cookies and canned tomatoes. At night, she transforms: in a glittery Aegean blue tunic, blonde hair shimmering, she picks up a microphone and sings in the restaurant.
Now 43, she’s worked for Safeway since she was 16. It’s a family business in a way: both parents worked there. “I love it. I love my customers,” she says. “I get to see a different person every two minutes. I’m the crazy checker.” She laughs. “I sing and dance. It’s my inner comedian. I figure, if they stand in line, they should have fun while they’re doing it – or at least I will.” She jokes that she gets to tell the same stories over and over again.
Papageorgacopolous grew up on the east side and attended Casa Grande High School, studying under longtime drama teacher Marvel Gardner. “I enjoyed acting,” she says. “And I always sang.”
During high school, she sang well enough to snag the lead role of Laurey in an intra-district musical production of “Oklahoma!” Later, she joined the choir at Santa Rosa Junior College. But she never thought about singing publicly until she and her husband bought the restaurant four years ago. And even then, it was her husband’s idea.
“They were the house band,” she says of the musicians who played, and still play, for the dancing. “But Ted said, ‘She’s going to sing with you.’”
She took the middle ground, telling the band, “Give me a couple of songs and I’ll learn them.” She knew she’d have to work on her accent because often, “an American singing Greek stuff can sound funky.
“If you don’t like me,” she said to the musicians, “no harm, no foul.”
But they clicked. Her voice is low and powerful. “I got some good advice when I was maybe 11,” she says. “One of my dad’s friends told me, ‘Honey, anyone can sing high but, if you want to interest people, you gotta have a lower range.’”
Papageorgacopolous says she learns best by doing and hearing. She sings the songs straight. “I don’t embellish the music. I think that’s annoying. I’m more focused on phrasing, putting the emphasis on the right words.”
The band works out of Los Angeles, “so we don’t get a lot of rehearsal time,” she says. “How lucky am I, that they’ll come all this way. They come in Saturday night, we play Saturday and Sunday and as soon as they’re done, they pack up. It’s like musical speed dating.”
She also enjoys singing country. She’s been invited to join Hot Grubb, fronted by local Gary Grubb. “I get to sing Emmylou Harris. How cool is that?”
Some of the other singers she admires are old school – classic crooners such as Dean Martin and Judy Garland. And then there’s that secret passion for Bing Crosby. “Anyone else who sings ‘White Christmas’ should be locked away.”
She says the North Bay has a “huge” music scene. “There are so many talented musicians – you don’t have to go to The City for good music.”
But, she adds seriously, “Musicians work hard and long: they make it look easy because of the practice.” It’s a hard business in which to be successful, she says of musicians and music venues. “People need to support local music.”
No matter what, though, she’ll keep on singing. “Music makes my heart fly. It taps into every emotion I’m feeling, everything I’ve experienced.”