The fragile incandescent light of fame gleams only briefly for most people, sometimes barely a flicker, until it goes out completely. There are those rare ones, however on whom it glimmers longingly, more than once. Eduard Khil became known world-wide not only for his distinctive baritone but his charisma and charm. He had his niche style of performance that would usually be a mix of immaculate vocals, an amiable smile, and soft dancing movements. Powered by his impeccable talent, he managed to win hearts in multiple waves across the globe until his final days.
Table of Contents
Origin and Early Life
Eduard Anatolyevich Khil/Gil was born on September 4, 1934, in Smolensk, an ordinary child amidst the tension that engulfed Soviet Russia at the time. He claimed to have been born in 1933, however, the documents were lost during excavation and he became a year younger in official papers. His Belarusian father Anatoly Vasilievich Khil was a mechanic and mother Elena Pavlovna Kalugina was an accountant. The parents divorced while he was still young and he was brought up by his mother. The origin of the name Khil is debated and while some argue that it is of Spanish descent, others believe it to be Belarusian given Khil’s patronage.
Childhood at war
Eduard’s childhood years were faced with the vagaries of the Second World War. Still residing in Smolensk, the children were evacuated an hour and a half before the Germans captured the city and Eduard found himself separated from his family, in an orphanage in the village of Raevsky near Ufa. Despite the miserable living conditions, he put up musical performances for the wounded soldiers at a nearby hospital. Food rations were scarce as each of the children received less than the prescribed portions and he was reunited with his family in 1943, malnourished and dystrophic.
Eduard had a flair for drawing and hoped to enroll into the Leningrad Vera Mukhina School of Art and Design (now the St Petersburg Art and Industry Academy). He moved to Leningrad in 1949 to stay with his uncle but soon had to give up his initial dream when he found out that he would have to study for seven years which he said would have been difficult for his uncle who was providing him with a living space. Instead, he became a student at the Leningrad PolygraphicCollege. While there, he became interested in music and attended concerts, bought records of his beloved singer Feodor Chaliapin, and went to the Mariinsky Theatre. He even took lessons in an opera studio at the Kirov Palace of Culture, worked in an offset printing factory, and received musical education in an evening school. In 1960, he graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov Leningrad State Conservatory (the singing class of Yevgeny Olkhovsky and Zoya Lodyi) and became the leading soloist of the Lenconsert. He performed many leading parts at the Conservatory’s opera studio, including in TheWedding of Figaro, Barber of Seville, Eugene Onegin, and Queen of Spades among others. And soon became a laureate of the Leningrad White Nights festival for his role of Count Elfort in the opera Black Domino. He even took acting lessons to appear more confident on stage.
Marriage and Personal Life
He married Zoe Alexandrovna Pravdina, a ballerina whom he first met while performing at the Leningrad Conservatory. They had a son together Dimitri, who in turn later named his own son Edward after his father, and both of them inherited Khil’s musical talent. The three even performed together as a trio. Sources claim that initially Zoe was harassed by Khil’s fans who even attacked her by throwing stones through her window.
First Rise to Fame
Khil’s first big and successful performance took place in 1962 when he was invited to sing at a concert in the Moscow Central House of Artists where he was introduced by the musician Leonid Utyosov. He became a laureate of the Second All-Russian Pop Art Competition and began to actively perform on stage, becoming one of the most sought-after and popular performers. Soon he entered the international arena, winning many music competitions and his first record was released in 1963. In 1965 he appeared in the Soviet Song Festival and received the Golden Rooster Brazilian Music Award for his performance of People Go to Sea in 1966. In 1969, he was a jury member at the song contest where debuted the likes of Lev Leshchenko and others. His song About a Friend and Winter were readily played on radio and television. He gave voice to the romantic song Moonstone by the poet Inna Kashezheva and several other hits followed including How ships are escorted, Ah, sea, sea, What the Motherland begins with, Lumberjacks, Aman left the house and many more. In the next couple of decades, he toured widely to over 80 countries singing at concerts in Japan, Sweden, and Latin America. In 1973 he performed at the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin and a year later received the title People’s Artist of the RSFSR. In 1977 he began teaching at the Leningrad State Institute of Theatre, Music, and Cinema (renamed Russian State Institute of Performing Arts) and one of his students was the famous Oleg Pogudin. He sang duets alongside several accomplished artists and in 1975 won the LeninKomsomol Prize. Once at a concert, he was requested to sing How Good it is to be a General which offended the Russian generals present and only later was it clarified that the song was in fact about the Italian. Eduard also became a host for the television program By the Fireplace where he invited other performers and also sang himself.
There and Back Again
In 1990 Lenconcert was shutdown and Khil was forced to move abroad with his family. He stayed in France for a while where he worked in Parisian cafes and nightclubs and sang in the Rasputin Cabaret. Khil’s performances gathered public attention and were attended by some of the most well-known French artists including Mireille Mathieu and Charles Aznavour. His first CD entitled Le Temps de L’Amour (The Time for Love) was released in Paris. He returned to his home country in 1994. In 1996, his son introduced him to the Prepinaki group whose style was different from what Khil was used to. Wary of them first, he decided to give them a chance and they ended up putting out some of the best compositions that were appreciated by both the young and old. Their songs became highly popular and they even toured together.
The Russian Rickroll
Around 2010, there was a surge in Khil’s international popularity when his song I Am Very Glad, As I’m Finally Returning Back Home went viral on the internet. The song which originally had lyrics was released in 1976 without any words, yet accompanied by Eduards’s unique baritone voice. While being essentially meaningless, onomatopoeically he appeared to be singing ‘Trololo’, which amused the West and it became a sensation over-night. It was made the background music for trolling, adding to which was the taunting vibe and Khil’s silly grin. The reason behind why the song was released without lyrics is uncertain as some claim it was due to creative differences, while others say it would have been considered vulgar in Soviet Russia due to its western connotations. Several parodies of the song came up including one by the Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and it also appeared in films and shows like Cell (movie) and Family Guy. Many on YouTube created their renditions of the song with lyrics that are a treat to watch.
Death and Legacy
In 2004, a concert was held to commemorate his 70th birthday at St. Petersburg Theatre of Musical Comedy. Khil sang romantic, patriotic, and humorous compositions, often with a playful touch to his performance. He continued to perform and participate in competitions as part of the jury until his final days when he suffered a stroke and became seriously ill. He passed away on June 4, 2012, at the age of 77. The legacy he left behind has been carried forth by his son and grandson as Dimitri worked as a performer and composer, and Edward also attended the Glinka Choir College. Khil received many awards in his lifetime including the Golden Gramophone Award, the USSR State Prize and was a holder of the Order of theRed Banner of Labour and Order for Merit to the Fatherland “IV degree”.