She stunned the world with the voice of an angel, videoed by a cop as she lived homeless in Los Angeles.
Now DailyMailTV can reveal that the subway soprano’s journey in life is as dramatic as the Punccini aria which she was captured singing, spanning poverty, adoption, religious oppression in the Soviet Union, an abusive marriage, and an American dream which soured.
But now there is hope of another act in her life, with friends from her home country offering the 52-year-old classically-trained musician the chance to come back and teach music.
Emily Zamourka is the youngest of nine siblings born in 1967 into grinding poverty in the Soviet republic of Moldova, now Europe’s poorest nation, squeezed between Ukraine and Romania.
Her name was Liudmila Grekova and her family were Seventh Day Adventists – a religion forbidden by the Communists – who remained devout worshipers despite the intrusive attention of the KGB and police.
But it was when she was just two and a half that her life changed fundamentally, with her mother forced to give her up for adoption because of heart problems.
DailyMailTV can disclose how Emily:
- was raised by adoptive parents ‘who loved but also beat her’ according to a close childhood friend;
- was recognized as a musical prodigy, a violinist and singer who also played the piano, but never managed to realize her dreams;
- discovered she was adopted and was reunited with the four sisters and four brothers she had been taken from as an infant;
- married then divorced a Ukrainian man who beat her, then came to the U.S. in pursuit of a dream of being a music teacher;
- recorded a CD but saw no success from it then battled homelessness and eviction as she lived across three states, and once spent Christmas in jail;
- suffered fresh loss this month when her birth mother died aged 94, just as her youngest daughter’s extraordinary talents were recognized.
Aged two and half, her mother’s health problems were proving too much, and Emily – or Mila to her family – was passed to a childless Seventh Day Adventist couple, Ivan and Ioana Zamorca in another city, Leova.
Viral moment: Emily Zamourka’s extraordinary voice was caught by a passing LAPD cop at the Wilshire/Normandie station on the Purple Line of the Los Angeles Metro. Her rendition of O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini gained millions of views – but her true story is as moving as the aria
Soviet childhood: Emily Zamourka was born and brought up in Communism. Her birth parents and her adoptive parents were Seventh Day Adventists, practicing despite KGB and police intrusion. But she endured a tug-of-love in her teenage years between her birth and adoptive families
Loved daughter: Ivan and Ioana Zamorca brought up Emily – then Liudmila – from the age of two and a half. Ioana, now a widower but then a collective farm worker, wept as she told DailyMailTV of her love for the ‘subway soprano’ and her prodigious musical ability
Birth family: Emily Zamourka’s parents Ilya (circled, left) and Ekaterina (right) gave her away aged two and a half because of her mother’s heart problems. Tragically, Ekaterina passed away this month, just as her daughter’s talent was revealed to the world
Soviet childhood: How Emily Zamourka’s childhood and teenage years spanned what is now two different countries, with a tug-of-love between her adoptive and birth families after she discovered when she was 12 that she was adopted
Their surnames vary in spelling because after the collapse of the Soviet Union Moldova changed from writing in Cyrillic script to Latin, with Emily using a different Westernized spelling to her adoptive parents.
Her adoptive mother – a retired collective farm worker now aged 85 – told DailyMailTV: ‘Her brothers and sisters were upset that their parents gave her away.
‘I remember how the Grekov children were at the window crying when we left with Liuda [Emily]. The parents were crying too.’
Speaking from her home close to the Moldovan border with Romania, Ioana said: ‘We decided to take her for one year and see how it went. If she cried for her parents and her family, we would bring her back.’
She claimed that her new – and gifted – child did not cry when she was removed from her loving siblings.
‘She was only a child and didn’t understand who was her pfarent,’ Ioana said.
‘One year later we made the adoption official. The only thing that the official asked us was: do you take her for a short period of time or forever?’ They replied: ‘Forever.’
Emily’s real parents ‘knew that we were good people’, she said: ‘They gave her to us as if we were their relatives.
‘They preferred to give her to a family from the same church rather than strangers. They asked us not to lie to her about being her real parents.
‘But we don’t have the right to lie in our church. We asked them to give her to us and they agreed. We had no children.’
As a Liuda – the shortened form of Liudmila her adoptive parents used as a childhood nickname – sang and played music, sharing a natural talent with many of the siblings from her birth family, who are very musical.
Despite their poverty, the Zamorcas bought a piano for their daughter, and a violin.
‘We did not play much music, because of our religion, but she was playing violin at school concerts,’ said Ioana.
‘She had another friend visiting and they would play together. Emily would play violin and her friend would play the piano. It was very beautiful. I liked it a lot.’
Family: Emily’s adoptive mother Ioana Zamorca, who spoke to DailyMailTV at her home in Leova, Moldova and told of her talented musical childhood and how she had helped her late adoptive father when he was ill
Poverty stricken: Leova, where Emily was brought up is now in Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. Her adoptive mother Ioana told DailyMailTV there was nothing for her to come back for
Childhood home: Emily’s childhood friend and teenage sweetheart Valeriu Davnii now lives in the house in Leova where she was brought up. ‘She was very happy and smiled all the time,’ he said. ‘We used to listen to disco music together. I only heard her play piano and violin.’
Musical talent: Emily was part of this music school in Leova as a child, with her family and teachers recognizing her brilliance. She is not seen in this picture, taken at the time she was a student
But later, in her early teens, school friends would reveal to her that she was adopted.
She went home and confronted Ioana who told DailyMailTV: ‘She came home and asked me why the other children are telling her this. I told her that she was adopted. She cried.’
Her best friend at university, Paulina Zavatin, 51, said Emily was haunted by being adopted, although offered an alternative account of how she found out about her birth family.
Aged around 12, she had seen a photo of herself with a boy who looked just like her – her real brother – and had quizzed her mother on whether she was adopted.
After making the discovery about her birth family, something extraordinary happened.
Emily went to Sochi in Russia – where her birth family had moved when she was around four – and was reunited with them. Although in Moldova she spoke Romanian, Soviet children were also taught in Russian, so she would have had little difficulty with the move.
After this she spent a few years flitting between one family and the other, seemingly never quite knowing where she belonged.
There was even a tug of love which must have led to stresses for the teenage girl.
‘Her brother came to us. We were in good relations with them. They said that they would take her to study music in Sochi.
‘I told them to leave her here, because we had music in Leova as well. Why take her? I didn’t want her to leave me. But she left.
Emily would play violin and her friend would play the piano. It was very beautiful. I liked it a lot
Ionaa Zamorca, Emily’s adoptive mother
‘Then one year later she came back. She told them that she she wanted to study in Leova – “I can’t stay in Sochi.”‘
She added: ‘She was a very good girl. She would listen to us, up until she left our home.’
The home where her adoptive parents raised her is now occupied by Valeriu Davnii, her childhood friend – and first date. The last time he saw her was around 30 years ago, when she came home for a visit.
He told DailyMailTV how he recalled a New Year visit throwing seeds on the ground – a Moldovan tradition – and how they became teenage sweethearts.
‘She was very happy and smiled all the time,’ he said.
‘We used to listen to disco music together. I only heard her play piano and violin. I never heard her sing. She was beautiful and sexy.
‘We used to be very close. We became a couple for a bit but it was nothing serious. We were very young.’
There was what in retrospect might seem a troubling sign of her relationship with her adoptive parents.
‘Love from real parents is different from love from the people that are not your real parents,’ said Davnii – agreeing that they hit her, adding: ‘But it doesn’t mean they were bad people.
‘She was very happy. I don’t think it was traumatizing for her.’
In 1984, aged 17, Emily was admitted to the Faculty of Music and Music Pedagogy in Balti.
It was the year before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin ushering in changes that later would allow Emily to go with all her birth siblings to America.
But behind the Iron Curtain, that would have seemed impossible.
It was already clear in 1984 that she was exceptional as a musician and singer, and her records still exist at what is now the Alecu Russo Balti State University, the second largest in Moldova.
Friends: Emily Zamourka as a student at Faculty of Music and Music Pedagogy in Balti. Her close friend Paulina Zavatin, 51, told DailyMailTV that she was extraordinarily talented and completely devoted to her music
Friendship: Emily Zamourka (circled) at a wedding in Moldova before she left for the U.S. Her own marriage to a Russian man when she was 22 was unhappy and abusive
With friends: Emily Zamourka (circled) with friends as a student in Moldova. ‘She was friendly, but if someone treated her badly, she would withdraw and build a wall around her,’ said Paulina Zavatin
Relaxing: Emily Zamourka was fiercely driven as a student. ‘She played the violin in the university’s orchestra. She sang solo in the choir. She had a special voice that was different from all the other voices,’ said Paulina Zavatin
She was brilliant, recalled Paulina, who knew her as Mila, her birth family’s nickname.
‘She played the violin in the university’s orchestra. She sang solo in the choir. She had a special voice that was different from all the other voices,’ she told DailyMailTV.
‘It was very difficult for her to sing in the choir because of her voice. She was always singing. She would keep singing between lessons.
‘She could not sleep at nights. She played the piano. She was very talented. She liked jazz. Her fingers would slide on the piano, she would press two keys at a time.
‘She was very talented but sad. She was blessed. She was very artistic. She seemed out of this world when she listened to or played music.’
Paulina said: ‘They had a singing professor from Irkutsk, Russia, who had worked in an opera theater.
‘When Mila sang, the professor would say: ‘This is not according to the rules, there is a certain way to do music!’
‘Then Mila answered: ‘Why do I care about your rules? Isn’t it beautiful my way?’
Paulina explained: ‘The music Mila was composing was difficult to write down. It was very complicated.’
Another classmate, Nicolae Brashoveanu said: ‘Mila was very good at playing music and singing based on hearing. Not many people can do that.’
To fund her studies she cleaned floors at the university, and collected bottles to collect the refunds; hard work was the reality for everyone in an especially poverty-stricken area of the crumbling Soviet Union.
‘She never asked for help. She was very proud. She did many things alone, without asking for help from anyone,’ Paulina said. ‘If I suggested to help her, even to feed her, she would categorically refuse.’
But her personal life was trickier.
‘She has a complex character,’ Paulina told DailyMailTV.
‘She was friendly, but if someone treated her badly, she would withdraw and build a wall around her.’
‘Be strong.’ EMily Zamourka’s closest friend in Moldova Paulina Zavatin told DailyMailTV she had feared for the worst after they lost touch, and was amazed to see her on TV. Now she wants her to get in touch again
Emily shunned male attention to concentrate on her studies yet there was also sadness.
‘She didn’t date with anyone during her student years,’ she said.
‘There were boys, who liked her, but Liudmila [Emily] was completely in the music world and didn’t want to have any relationship.’
But as her university years ended, Emily’s life changed and she married – in the Russian city of Sochi – a man called Anatolii Murga.
It was not a happy marriage; Murga, a Ukrainian, beat her and broke her nose, said Pauline.
He later died but after the collapse of their marriage she rejoined her birth family who – with the Soviet Union collapsing – gradually moved to the United States.
They now live in and around Los Angeles; her older brother Elijah – born Ilya – is a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, while her niece Zlata is a brilliant violinist who plays with the Monterey Symphony Orchestra in California. The family declined to comment for this article.
By 1994, aged 27, she too was in California, and two years later, living in the tiny town of Franklin, Missouri, half-way between Kansas City and St. Louis. She worked for what is now part of Hostess brands and later moved to Vancouver, Washington, setting up her own music teaching business and working as a waitress.
Her friends in Movdova say that she had a relationship with an older man in the U.S. – whose identity they do not know – but they did not wed.
She also wrote music for a group, but it did not lead to her dream of success in America.
‘She didn’t tell me the names. They were not too famous, she said. She said she composed a whole CD for them.’
In 2004, Emily returned briefly from the U.S. and surprised her friend Paulina at her parents’ home.
American dream: Emily Zamourka taught music when she came to the U.S., working in Missouri and Vancouver, WA, where she was also a waitress. But when she moved back to California, close to her birth family, she began to struggle with health issues and poverty
At school she had always had a very stylish short haircut. By now her hair long and at first Paulina couldn’t recognize her.
She had her back towards Paulina, then twirled around, spread her arms and said: ‘It’s me!’ laughing.
Despite her biological family all being in the U.S., Emily stayed close to those she had left behind in the former Soviet Union.
Ioana and her husband went to America and lived for a year with her. ‘When I visited her in the U.S. I would ask her to play the violin to me,’ she said.
When her adoptive father – a former shop worker – became ill, Emily sent medicines back to Moldova for him.
But by 2005, Emily moved to Los Angeles, closer to her siblings who live in and around the city.
She was running into health problems of her own, with a series of illnesses which left her hospitalized, and large medical bills.
When I visited her in the U.S. I would ask her to play the violin to me
Ioana Zamorca, Emily’s adoptive mother
One thing that remained a constant for Emily was her love of music – something that she shares with her violinist niece Zlata, 32, who now plays with the Monterey Symphony Orchestra on California’s central coast.
But although it was her voice that propelled her to viral fame, her former landlord David Franklin, 72, said he remembered her best for piano.
He said: ‘I was so surprised when on the news I saw her singing. I had no idea she could sing. I would get complaints from the neighbors about her playing her piano at 11.30pm at night, I said “Emily, you can’t do that,” and she said “that’s when I’m inspired.”
‘She’s somewhat eccentric, she appears when she’s interviewed to be very demure but like all geniuses she has a quirky side.’
Recent years have seen that eccentric side make her life more difficult.
Court records show she has three convictions for petty theft and one for grand theft. The offenses, all misdemeanors, happened between 2011 and 2013 and told to stay away from Target in Glendale Galleria mall, Topanga Plaza Mall and a nearby Ralph’s supermarket.
She served 35 days in Lynwood Women’s jail in Los Angeles, beginning her stint on December 5, 2014, and also carried out 200 hours community service.
A series of fines she received went unpaid and were eventually waived.
At the same time she fell out of sight of the Seventh Day Adventist community, of which her family remain members; one of her brothers, Elijah, 59, is a pastor in Yucaipa, California.
Leif Lind, pastor of Glendale City Church, told DailyMailTV that she had combined her faith with her love of music, teaching piano at the church before ‘falling off the radar’ in 2013.
‘Quirky side’: Emily Zamourka is devoted to pigeons, her former landlord and ex-boyfriend told DailyMailTV, something which has made her life more complicated and resulted in her eviction
Support: Emi;y’s ex-boyfriend Steve Thornton told DailyMailTV: ‘She’s a great lady, for everything that we’ve been through together. She has the chance to change her life around if she will understand this moment.’
Music teaching: Emily stayed part of the Seventh Day Adventist community by teaching music at Glendale City Church, but ‘fell off the radar’ at the same time as she started struggling with health and the law
Eviction: Emily lived in this apartment building in Glendale, Los Angeles, for most of a decade but was forced to leave when her landlord became concerned at how she was keeping pigeons in her apartment. He told DailyMailTV he had been left with little choice
He said via email: ‘The church did help her with a considerable amount over time, but she basically fell off the radar in 2013.
‘We certainly hope she can manage to piece together her life from now onwards.’
And although former boyfriend Steve Thornton, 52, says she remains close to her family, Emily has been living on the street since 2017 after being evicted from her Glendale apartment.
Franklin, her landlord, said he had been left with little choice; Emily was sharing the apartment with pigeons she had taken home with her.
She’s a great lady, for everything that we’ve been through together. She has the chance to change her life around if she will understand this moment
Former boyfriend, Steve Thornton
He said: ‘They took up every square inch of her apartment. I don’t know how many there were, 50 or maybe more. It was a hoarder’s nightmare.
‘Her story was that they were injured, I don’t necessarily buy that. She would take a normal-sized cardboard box, put the lid on it and cut holes too small for them to get out. How she cleaned them, if she ever did, I don’t know.’
Thornton confirmed the story, telling DailyMailTV: ‘She feeds them and catches them to try to get them help, she’ll rescue them, she just loves them, that’s her thing. She would rather feed them than pay the rent.
‘Most people they’ll lose their place because of drugs, alcohol or gambling whatever the normal stuff, but no not Emily, it’s just one of those things. I always say that she could be doing worse things of course!’
The pigeons have also come between Emily and her family who have repeatedly said that they are prepared to offer her a home but not her beloved birds.
Thornton said: ‘The only reason she’s not with them is because everything Emily does is about those birds, if they can’t come then she won’t come.
‘She doesn’t choose to be homeless, but just imagine a woman who has children and you tell her you can come but your kids can’t come, what do you think a mom’s going to do?’
While on the streets, Emily has endured the challenges of homelessness, perhaps none worse than the violin she valued at $10,000 being stolen.
Family: Emily’s oldest brother Elijah Grekov is pastor of Yucaipa Seventh Day Adventist church, and lives with his wife Lydia
Family: Emiy’s oldest siblings are twins Kirstina (left) and Olga (right), seen with her nephew Alen
Her discovery on the platform at the Wilshire/Normandie Purple Line Metro station in Koreatown, Los Angeles, may finally bring a happy ending; but it coincided with the death of her 94-year-old mother who passed away on October 8 at a Los Angeles hospital.
Family members have asked for privacy while they mourn the matriarch, whose funeral took place last week.
Emily herself is thought to be staying with a friend and has been offered a place in a women’s shelter, as well as a music contract although she is understood to have declined all offers so far.
Grammy-nominated producer Joel Diamond announced he wanted to sign a record deal with her and she has performed once in public, at the grand opening of a made-over Los Angeles’ Little Italy district, performing the Puccini aria which made her famous.
Thornton is thrilled about the uptick in Emily’s fortunes, telling DailyMailTV that he is ‘excited’ for her and hopes she will grab the opportunity.
He said: ‘I’m so happy for her that her life is going to change, and it was so unexpected and so random and I’m just really excited for her.
‘She’s not a street person by any means, she’s out there with all those drug addicts and now she’s going to have another problem because everybody’s going to be trying to get next to her and get her money, so now her problems are going to change.
‘She’s a great lady, for everything that we’ve been through together. She has the chance to change her life around if she will understand this moment.’
In Moldova, Emily’s re-appearance has shocked her friends and moved her adoptive mother.
Paulina had last heard from Emily a decade ago, and feared her close friend was dead, until on Moldovan TV she saw the clip of her old friend singing in the subway.
‘It was evening, I finished serving dinner and took the dishes from the table,’ she said. ‘I wanted to clean the table. The TV is right next to the table where we have dinner.
‘I looked up because I heard someone say ‘Emily Zamourka.’
‘It was as if I was struck by lightning. I looked up and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen until the interview was over.
‘She still sings and sings very well. The voice usually starts rattling, but her voice is crystal clear. And she looks good.
‘I was shocked because I thought… because I had lost contact with her… I thought something had happened to her.’
She added ‘I thought she was dead because when I last spoke to her, she told me she felt bad. She has some health problems.And I was afraid that something might have happened to her.
‘When I saw her, I cried for half a day.’
Path to hope: Emily Zamourka’s viral fame seems to offer her a way out of homelessness. She has been offered a contract by a producer
Public performance: Emily Zamourka performed – shyly – at the grand opening of Los Angeles’ revamped Little Italy, a sign of how her music has resonated
Offer: In Leova where she was raised, Olga Lozan, the director of the town’s Fine Arts School, tsaid: ‘Liudmila, if you wish, come back to your hometown, to the city of Leova. Come and teach, come and show the children and teach the children what you know.’
Her dramatic reappearance has prompted different reactions in Moldova, an impoverished country where huge numbers of young people have moved to richer European Union member countries to find work.
Emily’s adoptive mother – who had not heard from her only child for two years – cried as she said: ‘I’m sorry that she would end up like this.I never thought you would end up like this….
‘ I love her…. How she ended up like this, I don’t know.
‘She has nothing to come back to,’ she said sadly. ‘What would she do here?
‘I’m alive today, but I might die tomorrow. Leova is a horrible place. Everybody is running away from here. All my neighbors have left to Italy for work.’
But in Leova where she was raised, Olga Lozan, the director of the town’s Fine Arts School, the local music academy, said: ‘Liudmila, if you wish, come back to your hometown, to the city of Leova.
You’ve always been strong and powerful. Fight. Everything will be all right. We wish you luck. We love you very much
Paulina Zavatin, Emily’s friend since she was 17
‘Come and teach, come and show the children and teach the children what you know. We are kindly waiting for you at Leova’s School of Arts.’
Paulina, who thought she had lost Emily, told DailyMailTV that she would welcome her with open arms.
The soprano is ‘broken by the fact that she never became the singer she was destined to,’ she said; the American dream did not work out.
Even at a distance of 6,500 miles, Paulina sensed that negativity towards Mila’s homelessness may have made her afraid to reach out. DailyMailTV has passed her friend’s contact details to Emily’s friends in Los Angeles.
‘I would like to tell everyone that you don’t have to speak about the person just based on what you see,’ said Paulina.
‘You have to know the person before you can say whether she’s a good or a bad person. I read a lot of negative comments.
‘They say that it’s a show, it’s a theater to make money. It is not true, she is sincere and she is very good. There have been many challenges, but she’s a fighter.’
And in a moving message in Romanian she addressed Emily directly. DailyMailTV has passed her contact details to Emily.
Paulina told her oldest friend: ‘When I saw you on TV, I told all my colleagues about this and they all support you.
‘I greet you, hold on, you are strong. You’ve always been strong and powerful.
‘Fight. Everything will be all right. We wish you luck. We love you very much. I care about you very much.
‘And if you have any chance, contact me.’