Edward Anatolevich Hill

Our own Justin E. H. Smith has unearthed much information about yesterday's video. From Justin's blog:

The man singing is Edward Hill, also known as Eduard Khil', or, better yet, Эдуард Хиль. According to his Russian Wikipedia page, Hill was born in Smolensk in 1934, and finished his studies at the Leningrad Conservatory in 1960. By 1974 he had been named a People's Artist of the USSR, and in 1981 he was awarded the Order of the Friendship of Peoples. He is best known for his interpretations of the songs of the Soviet composer, Arkadii Ostrovskii. As for the peculiar name, I could find no information, but imagine that he is descended from the English elite that had established itself in western Russian cities by the 17th century. He is not a defector of the Lee Harvey Oswald generation. He is entirely Russian.

The song he is interpreting, “I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home,” is an Ostrovskii composition, and it is meant to be sung in the vokaliz style, that is to say sung, but without words. I have seen a number of comments online, ever since a flurry of interest in Hill began just a few days ago, to the effect that this routine must have been meant as a critique of Soviet censorship, but in fact vokaliz was a well established genre, one that seems close in certain respects to pantomime.

Recent interest in Hill has to do with the perceived strangeness, the uncanniness, the surreal character of this performance. There is indeed something uncanny about a lip-synch to a song with no words, and his waxed face and hair helmet certainly do not carry over well. But once one does a bit of research, one learns that the number was not conceived out of some desire to cater to the so-bad-it's-good tastes of the Western YouTube generation, but in fact was meant to please –to genuinely please– Soviet audiences who were capable of placing this routine, this man, and this song into a familiar context. The audiences would recognize, for example, that the same number had been performed by the Azerbaidzhani singer Muslim Magomaev in a film from the early 1960s, The Blue Spark:

More here.

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