When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, Ladino, and their oral culture. These cherished Sephardic traditions have been kept alive by Virginian Flory Jagoda, who was born into the Sephardic community of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Through her “nona,” her mother’s mother, Flory learned songs that had been passed down among the Sephardi for generations, as well as absorbed the Balkan region's cultural traditions. Flory escaped the destruction of Sarajevo's Jewish community, eventually arriving in the United States after World War II. In 2001, Flory was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the United States bestows on a traditional artist. She has been recognized as a critically important carrier of a unique musical heritage and also as a composer and arranger of new Sephardic songs.
In 2002, Flory apprenticed gifted singer Susan Gaeta of Burke, Virginia, in the very first year of the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Susan’s apprenticeship with Flory blossomed into a lifelong friendship and musical partnership. Susan has since mastered the Sephardic singing style, performing traditional songs and Flory’s own compositions, making them her own while remaining faithful to their origins. In 2010, Susan formed her own group, Trio Sefardi, which has released two critically acclaimed recordings, Sefardic Celebration and Kaminos. Carrying on Flory’s legacy, Susan has begun apprenticing the beloved Charlottesville singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gina Sobel. Gina is virtuosic on flute and voice and just as expressive on saxophone and guitar, leading her own groups, Gina Sobel and the Mighty Fine, and a jazz group, the Sobel 4tet. Together Susan and Gina carry the flame of their own spiritual nona, the great Flory Jagoda.