Joseph Kobzon: “It upsets me very much that I am doing but little. I sleep five or six hours and still have not got enough time.”
Joseph Kobzon (www.ludi.ru, 03.03.2006)
A singer of nationwide fame, an MP, a patriot, a politician, a legislator, a patron of the arts, a philanthropist – all these things and more are embodied in a single man, Joseph Davydovich Kobzon.
Helping people is as natural an activity for Joseph Davydovich Kobzon as is living or breathing. He has after all been doing it all his life. When he sings, his powerful steady voice attuned to every shade of human feeling helps his audiences to set aside their troubles and worries, bringing them joy and a hope for the better. His participation in the life of his country has never been confined to concert performances – his civil conscience, a deeply felt sense of personal responsibility for the way his country fares would not let him. Kobzon is always there when justice needs to be restored, a victim’s rights defended, help offered, by word or by deed. No exhaustive list of Joseph Davydovich Kobzon’s contributions to the cultural and social spheres can be drawn up: he would never volunteer any information on his many good deeds and relevant details have gone missing due to the actor’s reticence.
Joseph Kobzon has won dozens of national and international contests, has chaired or sat on judges’ panels of many music competitions, including children’s and adults’ amateur talent competitions, Olympiads and festivals.
He has regularly, for many years, been an active contributor to public and government actions to celebrate national festive occasions, such as Victory Day, Independence Day, Moscow Day. He will go out of his way and squeeze his busy schedule to attend a benefit evening of one of his colleagues, eminent composers, musicians, singers, actors, poets.
His friendship with prominent public figures has been a record of joint initiatives to help those who most need it. Joseph Kobzon is never short of an excuse to give concerts, more often than not for charity, both in our country and in the near abroad. Over 3,000 songs, many of them in foreign languages, were performed and recorded by him while touring. Thousands of people, in our country and abroad, remember him with gratitude, his audiences and those to whom Joseph Kobzon has offered substantial help in the form of cash, medicines, food, construction materials, computers – you name it!
Joseph Kobzon was the first to go on concert tours to Komsomol top-priority construction sites, field camps and virgin-land projects. Having done his duty as a Soviet Army soldier in the past, he was a willing entertainer for the troops. He was always quick to turn up in hot spots, ignoring the danger, keenly aware of the importance of boosting the soldiers’ morale. He performed on Damansky Island, in Chernobyl, Grozny, Kaspiysk… In 1988, Joseph Kobzon led the first actors’ landing party to Armenia in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Starting from 1980, he went on nine concert tours performing for the international troops in Afghanistan, winning five Afghan medals and a People’s Friendship Order.
During the tragic hostage-taking episode at the Dubrovka Cultural Centre, Joseph Kobzon promptly volunteered to act as negotiator with the Chechen terrorists. His authority as a singer of nationwide fame was the deciding factor: some of Russia’s best people, Leonid Roshal among them, backed his initiative. Five hostages were freed thanks to Joseph Kobzon’s efforts. President Vladimir Putin personally pinned an Order of Merit for the Motherland, 2nd Degree, onto his lapel; he was also awarded the Action of the Year and Face of the City prizes and was thanked by the mayor of Moscow.
The People’s Artist of the USSR, State-Prize winner, Professor Joseph Kobzon has a stock of over three hundred government and public awards, orders, medals, diplomas, certificates and honourable mentions.
In 1984, Joseph Kobzon set up a faculty of pop music at the State Music Teachers’ Institute (now the Gnesins Russian Music Academy), of which he has been a professor since 1993. His students have included Irina Otiyeva, Valentina Legkostupova, Matina Khlebnikova and Valeria. In 1996, Joseph Davydovich Kobzon was elected a member of the Russian Academy of Humanities.
A patriot and a citizen with a keen sense of duty to and responsibility for his Motherland, Joseph Kobzon has grown into a symbol of good and justice for all the peoples of our country. He is trusted and turned to when a person’s honour and dignity needs to be defended, regarded as a guarantor that law will be done. “If Kobzon says something, he will do it.” This statement by the famous artist has long since embodied the ordinary people’s hope that justice will triumph.
Tellingly enough, Joseph Kobzon was elected people’s deputy to the USSR Parliament in 1989-1991, combining his career in the arts with public activities and offering practical help to his electorate with tackling housing, legal and social issues.
After winding up his active professional career, Joseph Kobzon refused to distance himself from the challenges facing his country. In 1997, he was for the first time elected to the Russian State Duma by Aginsk single member constituency, Buryatia, and he still remains their parliamentary representative. No other MP got more electoral votes than he did. 92.5% of the electorate voted for Kobzon the first time, 88.2% and 86.2%, the second and third times, respectively. Kobzon commented on these figures as follows: “No one in the district would have voted for me if people had not seen the positive results of my work. It makes me proud that our district is the most advanced in its development in the whole of Russia.”
Joseph Kobzon’s work as Chairman of the State Duma’s Cultural Committee (elected in 1993) occupies a special page in his social and political activities. Between 2004-2007 alone, the Committee tabled, the Duma passed and the President signed six major federal laws: On Copyright and Associated Rights, On Archive Business in the Russian Federation (2 laws), On the National Language of the Russian Federation, On Handing Books from the Sharoshpatak Reformation College Library Over to the Hungarian Republic (the draft was prepared pursuant to the Federal Law on Cultural Property Transferred to the Soviet Union Because of the Second World War), and On State Subsidies for the Film Industry of the Russian Federation.
Alongside his work at the State Duma, Joseph Kobzon has for many years been the Chairman of the Nationwide Movement for the Honour and Dignity of Citizens of Russia, President of the Humanitarian Initiatives Fund, member of Trustees’ Council of the Philanthropist Disabled Persons Aid Fund, and President of the Shield and Lyre Charity Foundation which helps the families of law enforcement officers who died or suffered injury while on duty. He is a long-standing Chairman of the Social Council at the Moscow Central Internal Affairs Directorate.
Charity concerts and events are an obligatory and permanent item on his agenda. He maintains a steady flow of aid to children of police officers who died in the course of duty, going to see them and bringing gifts of what they need most: equipment, clothes, books… Joseph Kobzon has been contributing on a regular basis and for many years to various charitable events and initiatives.
Donations for the restoration of religious heritage are a special part of Joseph Kobzon’s charitable activities. He was instrumental in the restoration of the St Ilya Church in Krasnodar and a cathedral in Chasov Yar. He donated two icons to the Resurrection of Christ Church in Podolsk and transferred significant funds for the restoration of the Christ the Saviour’s Cathedral. He contributed to the restoration of a Buddhist temple and of the St Nicholas Church in Aginsk, Buryat Autonomous Region, as well as having for many years supplied regular humanitarian aid to the entire region.
He never kept his Jewish origins a secret and has been constant in providing effective help to Jewish people. He took part in Jewish festivities in Siberia and contributed to the purchase of a prayer house at the Vagankovo Cemetery to hold burial services for Jews and also helped with obtaining land in Moscow for a Jewish cemetery. He has been on several concert tours in Israel and took teams of popular performers there. He was directly involved in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel. Year after year, he has been the organiser of Russian pop stars’ concert tours to celebrate the Day of Israel.
Joseph Kobzon has been literally keeping two orphanages since the 1980s. To quote Tatiana Alexeyeva, Director of the Yasnaya Polyana Orphanage: “Joseph Davydovich solves all our problems: renovation and new construction; he recently gave us a car as a present to use for our household needs. He buys flats for our school leavers and puts significant amounts on their bank accounts so they have something to make a start with; he knows all our children by name and follows their progress after they leave us. He pays our officers holiday allowances and sponsored a summer trip to Anapa for the entire orphanage. The children adore him, write songs for him and produce a special wall newspaper. This is not because they see and appraise, so to speak, his financial help, not really. He is like a strict and fair father who can demand an account from every one of them and talk heart to heart. He comes to visit us twice a year, bringing well-known artists along and throwing a brilliant party for the children. The main thing is that he always remembers what he has promised and always does as he says. I do not know how we would have survived without him….”
Yelena Proskurnova, Director of the orphanage in Tula, which is also sponsored by Joseph Kobzon, agrees with her colleague: “Joseph Davydovich’s help to us is absolutely disinterested, it follows his heart’s desire. Just being with this extraordinary man gives an immense boost to your own stamina and energy. He takes care of the children as though they were his own, down to every minute detail. Thanks to him, we have changed the old windows for state of the art double glazing so our house is warm in winter now, bought vacuum cleaners, washing machines, computers and scanners. Thanks to Joseph Davydovich, the children have been going to Anapa every summer for three years now and he comes for the New Year’s Party like Father Christmas, loaded with presents which are not just pretty but intelligent. When Joseph Davydovich visits us, he always brings along artistes and those who can help us in real terms, attracting thereby ever new donors. We are immensely grateful to him!”