Leonid Utyosov – the voice and the heart of Odessa: a singer, an actor, an entertainer and a conductor of a jazz orchestra. The possessor of this real Odessan’s character, inexhaustible sense of humor, he became a legend during his lifetime and his legacy continues since then.
As the singer himself wrote in his memoirs:
"I was born in Odessa – do you think I'm showing off? But it's true. Many would like to be born in Odessa, but not everyone succeeds"
Ledya Weisbein (his real name) succeeded on March 21, 1895. He was born in the family of a small Odessa merchant Osip Kalmanovich Weisbein. The family lived in Triangular Lane, a few blocks from the famous Moldavanka (now the lane is named Utyosova). The father of the future singer wanted the children to become wealthy people with a respected profession, but Ledya grew up as a mischievous street boy, a difficult child, as they would say now.
"In our family, there were people like people, one I was a"hooligan". My parents, especially my elder brother and sisters, were picking me up, thought of me as a bad seed, saying that I wasn’t gonna be a doctor or a lawyer, even the jobs that Jewish families consider the worst - a dentist or a pharmacist - I couldn’t count on to get"
Ledya was too bored to study at the Fayga College of Commerce, so whenever he had a chance, he ran to the Nikolayevsky (Primorsky) boulevard, where the orchestra were playing, and admiringly watched the musicians, eagerly listened to the intricate melodies. Music soon became his main hobby. Ledya began performing on improvised scenes wherever he could, singing couplets and playing the guitar.
After exclusion from the school (for poor academic performance and discipline), he worked for some time as a gymnast in a circus, and in 1912 he settled in the Theater of Miniatures. Then was the time for the beginning artist to invent a pseudonym.
"I would’ve willingly became Skalov ("skala" means a rock), but in Odessa there was already an actor Skalov, then maybe Gorsky ("gora" means a mountain)? But there was also Gorsky in Odessa, there were Gorev and Gorin - what only didn’t exist in Odessa! But apart from the mountains and rocks, there must be some other elevations in the nature... What is still outstanding on the earth? So was I thinking, standing on Lanzheron beach and looking at the cliff with the fishing hut. My God, the cliffs, there are still cliffs!" ("Utyos" means a cliff)"
So that’s how Leonid Utyosov came to be.
Panorama: Utyosov monument
City garden/Deribasovskaya str.
Panorama: Utyosova lane, a yard
former Triangular lane
Young talent quickly gained popularity, traveled all over Ukraine with tours. In 1917, he was already in Moscow and collected a small orchestra, with which he performed in Hermitage garden. In 1919, Utesov made his debut in the movie "Lieutenant Schmidt, a freedom fighter." The film was shot in Odessa, the scenery was set up in Vorontsov Palace’s winter garden (unfortunately, this film didn’t survive).
At that time, Utyosov was already established as an Odessa celebrity, they say that his concerts were attended by the famous bandit, the Moldavanka’s king Mishka Yaponchik. He always listened attentively to the couplets performed by Utyosov, and one day the artist even turned to the gangster for help. On that day a tailcoat was stolen from Utyosov’s colleague, and by the order of an authoritative gangster, eighteen coats were returned to the artists, and eighteen coats more (they didn’t know were stolen) were returned to the actors. In the 1920s, Utyosov continued to play a lot in various theaters and to act in films. His repertoire was varied exceptionally - he performed romances, couplets, operetta duets, read comic stories, conducted a comic chorus, sometimes even performed his acrobat routines from the wandering circus days.
After visiting Paris and hearing the performance of the jazz band, Utyosov became obsessed with a new idea. In 1929, the first concert of the jazz orchestra "Thea Jazz" under his direction was held in Leningrad. The Western hits and their own improvisations were played, the composer Isaak Dunaevsky Utyosov’s friend, wrote for the orchestra as well.
Huge popularity of Utesov in the USSR and abroad lead to the creation of the film "Jolly Fellows", the first Soviet musical comedy, released in 1934. The whole orchestra of Utyosov was shot in the film, and the songs "Heart", "There’s a lot of nice girls" and "March of merry guys" became popularly popular. The singer became the main pop star of the country, his voice with the Odessa accent was recognized by everyone and everywhere. The king of jazz also had in the repertoire the popular ironically criminal subculture songs (street ballads, Blatnoy shanson): "From Odessa Kichman", "Gop with the Closure" ("Mugging off"), "Lemonchik" ("A Little Lemon"), which perfectly suited his image of the dashing Odessan. The forbidden "Odessa Kichman" song at one of the Utyosov’s concerts was allowed to sing personally by Stalin.
“At the Black Sea”
A special period in Utyosov’s life and legacy - the hard years of the Second World war. The jazz orchestra with him at the head visited all Soveit troops, gave more than 500 concerts. The fighting spirit of the Soviet soldiers was raised by the songs "Zemlyanka", "Mishka the Odessan", "The Road to Berlin" ("Bryanskaya Street"). Musicians gave the money they earned to manufacture several fighter planes, which were called "Jolly guys", by Utyosov’s idea.
In the postwar years, the popularity of Utesov continued to grow; in 1965 he became the first of the variety stars to become a People's Artist of the USSR. He continued to lead the orchestra, filmed a lot for television, wrote a memoirs book "Thank you, my heart"
The heart of Leonid Utyosov stopped March 9, 1982; the legendary Odessa citizen was in the middle of telling his last funny story ... That who he was – funny and bright, always full of life, a talented son of the happy southern city, a people's favorite, with a big loving heart and a singing soul.
In the house where Utesov was born, No. 11 in the former Triangular Lane, which now named after him, there’s a museum. The museum contains rare personal belongings of Leonid Osipovich, a lot of archival documents and photographs.