Iosif Kobzon: people like this do not retire

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    Эта картина висит над рабочим столом в кабинете Кобзона
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On September 11 Iosif Kobzon turned 75. He is an epoch-making man: several generations of soviet citizens grew up on his songs. Kozbon is loved and respected all over the world – he is honorary citizen of 29 cities of Russia, Ukraine and other СIS countries. In his hometown of Chasov Yar in Donbass there is a street named after him and a museum, and in Donetsk there is a monument erected during his lifetime.

Kobzon can justly be called a moral authority – he supports orphanages and public funds and is a deputy of the State Duma. With such broad interests it is not surprising that waiting room of his office located in one of hotels of Moscow with a great view on the monument of Mayakovski is always crowded. In spite of all this Kobzon does not show any signs of stardom which often affects contemporary young artists – he is willing to talk and pay attention to everyone.

From the start the topic of the meeting was chosen by Kobzon. He immediately started his conversation with his observations of events in Ukraine. “Valentina Tereshkova and I (we share a building) watched a TV program where they showed the ukrainian deputies fight for the russian language in Supreme Rada and she says: listen, we need to send a message to our ukrainian brothers. I asked her how. And she said that we needed to deliver a speech at the plenary session in the State Duma in ukrainian and show that ukrainian is possible here and is perceived normally if required.”

Iosif Kobzon was born on September 11, 1937 in Chasov Yar of Donetsk oblast. In 1939 his family moved to Lviv and after the war broke out they evacuated to Uzbekistan. In 1944 Iosif Kobzon and his family returned to Ukraine, to Kramatorsk. At the end of 1940-s the Kobzons moved to Dnepropetrovsk.

It was here that creative life of Iosif began: at the age of 10 he won for the first time at the republican academic competition and was awarded his first prize – a trip to Moscow to the Exhibition of Economic Achievements of the USSR.

In Dnepropetrovsk Iosif studied in children’s music school No. 3. In 1956 he graduated from the Dnepropetrovsk secondary mining school. At the school’s stage he sang for the first time in front of an audience. For the first time he thought about professional singing carrier while serving in the army (from 1956 to 1959) where he was invited to the ensemble of singing and dancing of the Transcaucasian Military Command.

In 1958 Iosif Kobzon enrolled at the vocal department of the State Musical and Pedagogical Institute of the Gnesiny. As part of his entrance exams Iosif sang Ukrainian songs as well.

In 1961 Kobzon left for a creative assignment to Hungary, and in 1962 he started independent solo performances. Since 1960 Iosif Kobzon has been a permanent guest of the New Year show.

Today Iosif Kobzon’s repertoire includes above 1500 songs of diverse genres and comprising the song chronicle of the century.



How did you learn Ukrainian?

I (Iosif switches over to Ukrainian and we continue our discussion in Ukrainian – ed.) studied Ukrainian in Donetsk region. In 1945 I went to school in Kramatorsk. Therefore, I have not forgotten it. Every year I visit Ukraine, remember, I am honorary citizen of almost ten Ukrainian cities: Dneptopetrovsk, Poltava, Donetsk, etc.

Do you practice ukrainian only during your trips to Ukraine? Or are there other opportunities to speak ukrainian with your friends here in Moscow?

Here – no, in spite of the fact that we have a big Donetsk diaspora. It was the first in Russia and in Moscow but we all speak Russian here. Although when we get together we sing in Ukrainian.


Besides, there is constant talk about the need to open a Ukrainian school in Moscow. What do You think about this initiative?

You know (switching to Russian – ed.), I want to tell you the following: it should all be voluntary.


They are trying to make Ukraine a part of the “Russian world” – a project supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. Can this idea have a practical implementation?

I would not call this project “Russian world,” I would call it Slavic. In the broad sense the Slavs (and not only Belorassians, Ukrainians and Russians), but also the Bulgarians, Baltic Slavs, i.e. Slavic peoples that existed in the Soviet Union, – should join together. Based on religion alone? I think not. If, according to Kirill, religion should

unite the Russians, what should Ukrainians do? I am for unification of all Slavs, we do not have to unite Russians alone – there will be too few.

Russia and a large part of Ukraine share clerical management. Can orthodox church become a basis for Ukraine and Russia getting closer?

Only for the believers, for the countries – no.



You have celebrated your 75th anniversary. What does this holiday mean to you?

Nothing. Unfortunately, I understand that this is the age after which one should not go to stage anymore. For the last time at this age the stage was entered episodically by Leonid Osipovitch Utesov. And I want to work well until the end of the year.


Have you planned you tour in Ukraine? How do they take you in Ukraine?

Normally, as always, as a true Ukrainian I do not see the difference between Russian and Ukrainian audience. Because the songs are the same. My cities: Kyiv – capital of my Ukraine; Donetsk is the city where I was born and grew up, Dnepropetrovsk –  the city where I studied, graduated from school and mining school and from where I left to the army. These are three of my favorite cities, although I love visiting other cities of Ukraine as well.


When will you finally tour in the USA?

They do not let me in (laughs). I filed an application with the European court that this offends my dignity and violates my right of free travel. Indeed, I have Schengen visas in all countries of Europe; I have a British visa for five years. I have no restrictions apart from the USA.


Iosif Davidovitch, what are your plans for retirement?

First, I do not want to hear anything about retirement. As soon as I approached the retirement age, my assistants persuaded me to start getting pension benefits. I did so, but made the payments go to my orphanages: I support two orphanages: in Tula and Yasnaya Polyana. And I do not know what a pension is: I do not know even how much it is.


All right, what are you going to do off stage?

What do you mean? I am people’s deputy of the State Duma! Also, I run two charity funds “Shield and Lire” and “Kuznetskiy Bridge.” I have seven grandsons. I have children, I have family. I am constantly approached by businessmen who I have to collaborate with. I have too much work.


Creative work, politics, social work, charity – you are a very active person. Where do you get the strength and energy for all this?

I do not think about it – as soon as I do, I will lose both strength and energy. You have to work all the time – wake up, see the light in the window and go on. The worst thing, especially for the elderly – is the bed addiction: to stay in bed late, to take one’s ease, to read…This is not for me. Yuri Nokolaevitch Grigorovicth said very well about people like me: “such people do not retire, they are like trees – fall in motion”.


Iosif Davidovitch, you will be bringing us joy for many years to come. You have strong roots …

Roots? Praise be to God! My mother lived not so long – 82 years. My God, she brought up five of us kids – four sons and a daughter. And I have five granddaughters and two grandsons, which is also nice. I am a happy man.


Do you like Ukrainian cuisine?

I love Ukrainian cuisine. My mother was a very strong cook, she cooked traditional Ukrainian dishes fantastically: vareniki and borsch. I like Georgian cuisine, too. I cannot stand the oriental cuisines: Thai, Chinese or Japanese: never eat them.


What do you like your vareniki with?

(switches over to Ukrainian) with potatoes or cherries.


What Ukrainian dishes are cooked in your family?

Borsch. At all times they cook me borsch.


Do you like cooking yourself, what exactly do you cook?

No. I can only make fried potatoes. And all my family loves it when I make this treat, especially my daughter who says: “Daddy, make some fried potatoes.” Because I cook it in a special manner: cook it my way with eggs on top which results in a very interesting dish. I do it seldom, naturally, mostly I have fast breakfasts. And when I come

back from work hungry and they push food into me I tell my wife: “Nelya, I need to lose at least 3-5 kilos.” And she says: “You cannot lose weight, you have a serious condition.” But I am under constant observation and do not pay attention to it.

Unfortunately, I learned only too late that Bordan Stupka had the same illness. But he was treated the wrong way and I learned of it too late. I called him and said: “Bogdan, why didn’t you tell me?” – “Well, I felt uncomfortable calling about it.” And now he is gone, due to feeling uncomfortable. But this illness requires very careful treatment and attention.


Iosif Davidovitch, we wish you strength, energy and longevity!

Thank you!

Life of Iosif Kobzon is a series of exceptional facts:

  • He took part in children’s Olympic Games in front of Stalin.
  • He recorder about 3000 songs.
  • He delivered a record number of concerts per day — 12.
  • He performed 9 concerts in Afghanistan.
  • The longest concert (farewell concert) of Iosif Kobzon started at 7 PM and ended at 7:40 A.M.
  • Iosif Kobzon was the first to start negotiating with terrorists in Nord-Ost.
  • He was the first to perform in Chechnya after the war.
  • In his hometown of Chasov Yar in Donbass there is a street named after him and a museum, and in Donetsk there is a monument erected during his lifetime
  • During his stage life Iosif Kobzon performed in more than 100 countries.
  • Iosif Kobzon makes above 40 flights per month.

 text: Anastasiya Solovey

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