Mimi Spencer at the age of fifty-seven, passed away in her home in Point Richmond, California, after a prolonged and valiant battle with cancer. 

Virtuoso on the qanun (Middle Eastern Zither)
Talented vocalist in Arabic, Greek, Turkish and Armenian
Scintillating Belly Dancer
Educator Extraordinaire 

Mimi lived every aspect of her life with passion and compassion.  We in the Middle Eastern music and dance community throughout the country mourn the loss of our beloved sister.  She was my longtime musical partner.  She was my dear friend. 

Mary Ellen Donald


To hear the song click on Listen  

Mimi's Favorite Arabic Piece of Music
Gems of the Middle East Volume 1 - Toutah

Listen Listen

About Mimi Spencer

Mimi Spencer al-Khayyam performed Middle Eastern music and dance for more than 20 years. She had played the kanun since 1978, and sang in seven languages. With Vince Delgado and Devi-ja Delgado, she founded the ensemble Jazayer in 1973, one of the first American groups (with no member having any ethnic Middle Eastern ancestry) performing authentic classical, urban and folkloric music from the Middle East. The group still exists today and so far has published two LPs, six cassettes and three compact discs. 

Mimi’s devotion to Middle Eastern music began when she first listened to Vince Delgado's collection of old Arabic, Turkish, Armenian and Greek recordings on audio tape. Then she happened to take a lesson on the bağlama saz with Assyrian kanunist Ishmael. Shortly afterwards, Jazayer was formed and Mimi began transcribing music for the ensemble to play. A few years later, she decided to learn the qanun, and took a lesson with Ishmael on that instrument. Most of the Middle Eastern music she played was transcribed by herself from records, tapes, compact discs, and occasionally from live performances. Dr. Alt Jihad Racy contributed enormously to her knowledge of Arabic music, from their first meeting in the late 70's onwards; from him, she began learning the names of the maqams and the structure of the music she had transcribed. She gained invaluable experience in performing Arabic music while working at the Bagdad Cabaret in San Francisco in the early 80's and performing for many weddings and parties among the local Arab community. Since then she had performed regularly and irregularly at countless Middle Eastern and Greek restaurants, nightclubs, parties, festivals, and concerts. 

The author of five books in the field of Middle Eastern music, Mimi has also the president of Near Eastern Music West, Inc., a nonprofit educational corporation, and she edited the Near Eastern Music Calendar, a newsletter of Middle Eastern music events centered in northern California. 

In 1996, she arranged for the U.S. visit of Turkish National Conservatory musicians Necati Çelik, Sadrettin Özçimi, and Göksel Baktagir, under the sponsorship of Near Eastern Music West, as well as Necati's 1997 visit here. Mimi visited Istanbul in February 1997, where she appeared twice with the great udist Necati Çelik on Saman Yolu television and was a dinner guest of Necdet Yaşar, founder of the Turkish State Classical Music Ensemble, among other memorable experiences. She was an ud and makam student of Necati Çelik, and frequently performed with him (upon the kanun) when he visited the United States. Mimi also taught ud, kanun. Middle Eastern singing and makam both in classes and privately in the San Francisco area, and she taught kanun at the Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino. 

Mimi's playing, with the Jazayer ensemble, with Mary Ellen Donald, and with others, may be heard upon a number of compact discs and cassettes, many of which are listed on this website. 

Mimi also performed and taught "Oriental" or "belly" dance for many years under the name of "Mimika" ("meeMEEkah"), and was an enthusiastic practitioner of Greek folk dancing.

From Gems of the Middle East (Instrumental) by Mimi Spencer

Gilded Serpent Article


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