Meet Emily Zamourka — The Homeless L.A. Woman Whose Subway Opera Singing Landed Her A Record Deal

Photo: Instagram
Who Is Emily Zamourka? Details On The Homeless Woman Singing Opera In The LAPD's Viral Video On Twitter
Entertainment And News

Less than two weeks ago, LAPD police officer Alex Frazier heard a homeless woman singing in an L.A. Metro station and asked if he could take a video of her.

A few days later, the Los Angeles Police Department shared the video of Emily Zamourka singing "O mio babbino caroaria" (Italian for "Oh my dear papa"), an aria from Puccini opera Gianni Schicchi, on their official Twitter account — and she became a viral star.

People all over the world were struck by the beauty of the as-of-then unidentified woman's voice as she sang in Italian at a Metro Purple Line station in Koreatown.

Some simply wanted to listen and appreciate her music. Others, like an LA City Council Member, wanted to find out if she would accept help to get her off the streets.

She shared parts of her story with local news, but who is Emily Zamourka?

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Read on for all the news about the homeless Russian woman whose life has turned completely around since an LAPD officer filmed her singing opera in an LA subway station.

1. The viral video clip

On September 26, the LAPD tweeted a video of Zamourka standing on an LA Metro platform, beautifully singing Puccini.

The tweet said, "4 million people call LA home. 4 million stories. 4 million voices... sometimes you just have to stop and listen to one, to hear something beautiful."

Emily Zamourka singing opera.

The clip began spreading all over social media and suddenly everyone wanted to know the story of the woman in the video. All the police officer who took the video knew was that she appeared to be homeless.

Local reporters began searching for her, hoping to share her story. After subway riders began recognizing her, she was finally identified her as Emily Zamourka, a 52-year-old Russian immigrant and musician who lost everything due to a combination of health problems and violent crimes against her.

2. From Russia to America

Zamourka grew up in Russia, but she told the LA Times that she came to the United States when she was 24 years old.

While she had loved music as a child and knew how to play piano and violin, she didn't pursue that when she first came to the U.S.

When she arrived, she lived in Missouri for more than a decade, she said, and worked at a nursing home and restaurant. She loved her life there, saying: “I didn’t want to be dependent on anybody. I was having fun. I was learning English.”

3. Rediscovering music in Vancouver

In the early 2000s, Zamourka moved to Vancouver, Washington and began teaching piano lessons as a way to earn money. She recalled having about 60 students, whom she very much enjoyed teaching.

“The students were happy,” she reminisced. “I was happy with their success.”

But her time in Vancouver came to an end in 2007 when she was diagnosed with liver and pancreatic failure and had to move to Los Angeles for treatment. She applied for and received political asylum in 2008, and friends helped her pay for an apartment.

When she recovered from her medical problems, she returned to teaching music but never attracted as many students as she had had in Washington, the LA Times reports.

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4. Oh, my violin!

Perhaps the most heartbreaking chapter of Zamourka's story is the loss of her precious — and valuable — violin.

In 2008, to supplement her income from teaching music, she turned to playing violin as a street performer. She was earning enough money to get by until two years ago, when a man stole the $10,000 violin outside a restaurant where she'd playing.

Whitney Smith, a friend of Zamourka's who was there listening to the music, saw what was happening and shared the story of what happened with ABC7.

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"All of a sudden I just hear her scream and I look up, and that's when I pick up my phone and a guy that had been watching her, he just grabbed her violin and ran down the street and these two young men ran after him," Smith said. "And I was standing there with her, saying 'Don't worry about it, they're going to get him.' Well, they did catch up to him, but the guy threw the violin down violently, which broke it."

Smith recalls Zamourka sobbing over her shattered instrument, saying "Oh, my violin!"

"It was my treasure, and it was my income, too. It was everything," says Zamourka. She got an electric violin after that and played it for several years but eventually, a wrist injury put an end to her playing.

5. Homeless in L.A.

Nowadays, Zamourka gets about $400 per month in aid payments but that isn't enough to pay for housing.

She was hesitant to tell reporters about what her life is like now, only saying to the LA Times that she often rides the subway at night and spends her days walking around Glendale, Hollywood and Koreatown.

Fortunately, many people now want to help her.

6. Politicians and others trying to help

It wasn't only reporters who wanted to know who Zamourka was.

Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino (D) assigned one of his staff to try and talk to her, partly to invite her to perform at an upcoming event and partly to see if they could find a permanent home for her, the Washington Post reports.

Buscaino's spokesman Branimir Kvartuc started looking for her, driving around Los Angeles in the hopes of spotting her.

At the same time, political consultant Michael Trujillo was so moved by the LAPD video of Zamourka he started a GoFundMe for Zamourka, ​which has raised more than $65,000 as of the time of this writing. and was working with the Downtown Women’s Center to find her permanent housing.

A second GoFundMe campaign launched by a man named David Tweet has raised an additional $34,655 raised of its $75,000 target.

Zamourka says she has not given up on life.

“My dreams are always there, of course,” Zamourka told the LA Times. “Maybe it’ll come true this time.”

7. A new lease on life

When asked by the LAPD what they could do for her, Zamourka's only request was that she be able to meet Officer Frazier again so he could thank him in person, which she did.

But the universe obviously didn't think that was enough, as now a Grammy nominated music producer had offered her a recording contract!

Joel Diamond told ABC7: "I actually wrote a deal memo to her. I don't even know her. I've never done that in my entire life, it's crazy."

"I've actually recorded the tracks and I have them ready to go. It's a classical crossover with EDM," Diamond said when he also spoke with CBS. "Nobody's done it yet. That's the direction I'm going to take her."

Zamourka appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday morning and spoke about how she's trying to process it all.

"I'm overwhelmed and I'm ready to be a working artist," Zamourka said.

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.