Josif (Joseph) Davydovich Kobzon (11 September 1937 – 30 August 2018) was a Soviet and Russian singer, known for his crooner style.
Kobzon was born to Jewish parents in the mining town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
As a boy he demonstrated a talent for singing, winning numerous regional singing contests. He reached the national finals on two separate occasions, appearing in concerts dedicated to Joseph Stalin – a significant honour at the time.
Despite his talent for singing, Kobzon went on to technical school to study geology and mining in Dnipropetrovsk, as this was considered a lucrative vocation in the Soviet Union following the Second World War. However, in 1959, following his 1956–1959 contact with professional music instructors in the Soviet Army where he was a member of the armies song and dance ensemble, he decided that music would be his preferred vocation.
In 1958, Kobzon officially started his singing career in Moscow, and enrolled to study at the Gnessin Institute. In the next few years he made valuable contacts in Moscow's entertainment world, and was eventually given a chance by composer Arkady Ostrovsky to perform some of his music. Initially, he performed in a duet with the tenor Viktor Kokhno, but was eventually offered a solo repertoire by many of the outstanding composers of the time such as Mark Fradkin, Alexander Dolukhanian and Yan Frenkel.
In 1962, he recorded his first LP which included songs written by Aleksandra Pakhmutova.
In 1964, he triumphed at the International Song Contest in Sopot, Poland, and in the following year he took part in the "Friendship" contest held across six nations, winning first prize in Warsaw, Berlin and Budapest.
His popularity rose quickly, and demand for his singing saw him frequently performing two to three concerts a day. His most popular hit song at the time was titled "A u nas vo dvore".
During Leonid Brezhnev's time in office (1964–82), there was hardly an official concert where Kobzon did not take part, and in 1980 he was awarded the honour of People's Artist of the USSR.
His best-known song is "Instants" from the legendary Soviet TV series Seventeen Moments of Spring (1973).
In 1983, Kobzon was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and reprimanded for "political short sightedness," after he performed Jewish songs during an international friendship concert, which resulted in the Arab delegations leaving in protest. However, the following year, (1984) his reputation was restored, as he was honored with the USSR State Prize.
Joseph Kobzon has performed in solo concerts in most cities of the former USSR. He was also bestowed the rare honour of performing international concerts tours as a representative of USSR in United States, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina, Israel, Republic of the Congo, Zaire, Angola, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, (Germany), Greece, and Finland. Throughout his career, he has shared the stage with many Western superstars, including the likes of Liza Minnelli and Julio Iglesias.
Although he officially ended his international touring career in 1997, he continued to appear in regular concerts before audiences around the world, and was frequently seen on Russian television.
Kobzon has been married three times. In 1965, he married the singer, Veronika Kruglova [ru]; then in 1969 Kobzon married Lyudmila Gurchenko, one of the best known comic actresses of the Soviet cinema. In 1971, he married Ninel Drizina with whom he had two children.
On many occasions, Kobzon performed in disaster areas and military hot-spots such as Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, and Chechnya during the Chechen War.
In 1986, Kobzon was the first celebrity to visit and perform in the town of Chernobyl to cheer the nuclear reactor rescuers. Two years later, Kobzon was the first celebrity to visit and perform for victims of the 1988 Armenian earthquake.
Kobzon has been active in Russian politics since 1989. He is an experienced Russian MP, and enjoyed landslide election victories.
His first major political achievement (1989–1991) transpired when his promotion of Jewish culture in the USSR aided the establishment of diplomatic ties between USSR and Israel.
For many years, Kobzon has presided over numerous charitable organisations. Since 1989, he has been Chairman of The Movement for Honour and Dignity of Russian Citizens. He is also the president of the Humanitarian Initiatives Fund, and the president of a charitable fund known as ‘Shield and Lira" which is devoted to helping families of those killed and injured in action while on law enforcement duties.
He is Chairman of the Public Council of Moscow's Police Department, and leader of his political party "The Russian Party for Peace".
Since the early 1990s, Kobzon has personally funded numerous orphanages around the country.
In 2002, he risked his life as key negotiator in the Moscow theater hostage crisis. His involvement resulted in the release of a mother with three children and a British citizen.
Kobzon's innumerable contributions to culture, music, humanitarian and political life across the Commonwealth of Independent States saw a monument depicting Kobzon erected near his birthplace, in Donetsk, Ukraine in 2003.
Between 2005 and 2007, he was the head of the State Duma's culture committee.
In 2007, his name was entered into the Guinness Book of Records (Russian Edition) as the most decorated artist in the country's history.
In 2009, Kobzon became the 24th individual to be named Honorary Citizen of Moscow.
He has suffered from prostate cancer since 2005. He died on 30 August 2018.