14 December 1915|
Tbilisi, Russian Empire
9 June 1989 (aged 73)|
Rashid Behbudov was born in Tbilisi, in 1915. His father, Majid Behbudov, was a singer as well. From 1938 to 1944, Rashid moved to Armenia and worked at Yerevan State Philharmonia and Opera House, and in 1945, upon the invitation of Tofig Guliyev, Rashid Behbudov moved to Baku. In the same year, he was assigned the main role of Asgar in the film "Arshin Mal Alan" The Cloth Peddler, based on a play by Uzeyir Hajibeyov. His role in this film combined with his vocal skills brought him fame throughout Azerbaijan.
In a short time, Behbudov became also prominent Azerbaijani pop singer. His combination of vocal masterpieces ranged from classical performances to lyrical songs. Behbudov's rare vocal talent gave him opportunity to travel beyond the "Iron Curtain" of the Soviet Union, and as a singer he toured with concert performances in several countries of the world, including Iran, Turkey, China, India, Japan, Argentina, and many other countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
In 1966, he created the State Song Theater, which still carries his name, and became its soloist and artistic manager.
The Cloth Peddler (Arshin Mal Alan)
Rashid was almost 30 years old when he was chosen to perform the lead role of Asgar. It was the third time a film had been made The Cloth Peddler ("Arshin Mal Alan"), based on the music comedy by Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885–1948). Asgar was the rich merchant, who disguised himself as a cloth peddler just to get the chance to enter the courtyards of homes so that he could catch a glimpse of all the pretty young women and choose one for his bride.
This version of the movie came at the end of World War II and was so successful that it not only made Rashid famous, but it won Hajibeyov the coveted Stalin Prize.
When the directors were getting ready to cast the film, one of them, Rza Tahmasib, had thought he would offer Rashid the role of Vali, Asgar's servant. Vali's character was comical, a trait which came naturally for Rashid. However, during the audition, Tahmasib heard Rashid sing an aria written for Asgar and decided to give him the lead role instead. The film turned out to be so successful that it was shown in more than 25 countries.
Iran and Turkey
Rashid often performed in the Near East. In Iran, he was accompanied by the pianist Chingiz Sadikhov and tar player Ahsan Dadashov. He gained a lot of popularity in Iran (particularly Iranian Azerbaijan region) because Iran's second major ethnic group is Azerbaijani. They were so popular that their two-week tour in Iran stretched into two months.
His first concert in Turkey took place in 1961 with the talented violin player Azad Aliyev. The concerts in Ankara and Istanbul were extremely successful as well. As Azad Sharifov reports: I was lucky enough to see one of his concerts in Ankara in 1966. At that time, I was a correspondent for the newspaper "Izvestiya." It was his tenth concert on that tour. The concert hall was sold out, but I decided to try to go anyway. Fortunately, Rashid's manager saw me and motioned for me to follow him backstage. There I found Rashid pacing the floor. The manager cautioned me, "He's getting ready to go on stagebetter not disturb him right now." I stood silently as if frozen. Suddenly, Rashid looked up, recognized me and came and hugged me. "Where have you been for so long?" he asked. "If you only knew how much I miss Baku and my daughter. Thank God, I'll be flying back tomorrow. So good of you to come. After the concert, let's have dinner together." I remember that the Turkish audience that night knew all of Rashid's repertoire by heart and sang along with him.
Rashid was a sociable person; he loved getting together with friends. In the meetings in Moscow in the Artists' Union, Rashid used to meet friends like composer Zakir Bagirov, artist Toghrul Narimanbeyov and artist Tahir Salahov.
At these gatherings, Rashid used to tell stories about his South American tours 56 flights and landings in total. Some concerts were even held at extremely high altitudes (4,200 meters above sea level). During intermission, they used to offer him an oxygen tank, instead of the usual cup of tea.
Rashid wrote home to his wife, Jeyran, that the concerts in Chile were especially difficult because of the ongoing political crisis there: "My dear ones, this is the tenth day of our dangerous tour. Wherever we go by bus, we are accompanied by soldiers. Sometimes we can hear shooting in the distance. I'm rushing off to a concert which will take place at the Opera Theater which is the same building in which Russian singer Fedor Shalyapin, Russian composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein and American violinist Menuhin have all given concerts. At each of these concerts we have taken the audience by storm. Each has been a success. I'm so happy to get the chance to pave a way for Azerbaijani songs. But I want to see you. All the best. Kissing you, especially my little Rada. Your father, Rashid. August 5, 1973."
Rashid was also very popular in India and gave six concerts there. His first appearance was in 1952. Rashid sang Azerbaijani songs and then several songs in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. It was a sensation. Members of the audience told him that he sang Indian songs just like a native. In India, he toured Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay) and Calcutta. It was in India that he first met the great Indian actor Raj Kapoor and the actress Nargis. They remained friends for the rest of their lives. Later, Rashid wrote a book about his trip to India entitled "In Far India."
A year later in 1953, Rashid went back to India with a group of famous Soviet musicians. This time he returned as a familiar face. Many people throughout the country knew him. At each concert, he was asked to sing the most popular Indian song at the time, "India is the Best Country."
It was on this trip that something extraordinary happened. Rashid's train was on its way to Hyderabad. Suddenly, a huge crowd of Indians surrounded the train, holding flashlights, fruit and flowers. They made the train come to a stop and insisted that Rashid sing for them. So he obliged and stood in the doorway of the train and entertained the crowd by singing Azerbaijani and Indian songs. Eventually, the train was able to proceed.
Even though Rashid was extremely popular, official recognition of his contributions to the performing arts was late in coming. The title of "People's Artist of the USSR," the highest honor that could be given to an artist, had to be approved by the Kremlin. But the Soviet government balked and made excuses. They would admit that he was great, but then would add disparagingly, "But he's just a pop singer, not an opera singer."
But Rashid was not just a pop singer. He could handle extremely complicated opera roles as well which he proved in the portrayal of Balash in Fikrat Amirov's opera, "Sevil" (1953). This work is based on the storyline of a dramatic play of the same name by Jafar Jabbarli earlier in the century. The opera is characterized by its bright and colorful national melodies. Amirov himself offered the part of Balash to Rashid Behbudov. Amirov's "Sevil" was performed at this event with Rashid playing the role of Balash. He demonstrated an unusual brilliancy and talent and for this he was finally awarded the coveted title of "People's Artist of the USSR." It provided a chance for the various republics to make their art known throughout that vast land that spanned ten time zones.
Honours and awards
- People's Artist of the Azerbaijani SSR
- People's Artist of the USSR (1959)
- Hero of Socialist Labour (23 April 1980)
- Two Orders of Lenin (6 January 1976, 23 April 1980)
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1 February 1966)
- Order of Friendship of Peoples (13 December 1985)
- Stalin Prize, 2nd class (1946) - for his role in the film Asker "Arshin Mal Alan" (1945)
- State Prize of the Azerbaijani SSR (1978)
It was Rashid's dream to create a place in Azerbaijan specifically designated as a Song Theater. Prior to the Soviet occupation, Baku already had an Opera and Ballet Theater, a Philharmonic Hall, a Comedy Theater and various other buildings dedicated to various genres of music, but nowhere was there a home for the genre of popular music.
Behbudov was already an established musician when he decided to undertake this project. He envisioned each song as a mini-spectacle with its own heroes, theme and development and he went in search of a worthy setting where the dramatic aspects of these popular songs could be dramatically presented. Creating the Song Theater became a pet project for him. He was very proud of it and spent a great deal of energy, anxiety and time on the conversion of a pre-Soviet Jewish synagogue into the Song Theater. Simultaneously, he worked on creating a professional music group that would be associated with the theater.
But in the spring of 1989, all these projects soon came to an end. The theater was preparing a new program for the Noruz holidays (the Spring Solstice on March 21 celebrating the New Year). Rashid looked fine despite his age of 73. His voice was still so strong and beautiful. But suddenly, during one of the practices, he took ill.
With great difficulty, his friends managed to get him to Moscow to the Kuntsevo Hospital, which was considered the best hospital in the Soviet Union at the time. Doctors struggled to save him. But it was too late. Rashid Behbudov was dying from kidney disease. Sadly, he was so far from home. Until the last minute, he kept expecting the door to open and friends to walk in. Every time the door opened, he would ask, "Have my dear friends come to visit me?"
Rashid was hoping that some of those who were attending the sessions of the Supreme Soviet in the Kremlin would drop by his hospital room. But during those days prior to Azerbaijan's independence (1991), an enormous struggle was going on in the Soviet Union. Those were difficult days for Azerbaijan. Friends were occupied with other things. Only Jeyran Khanum, his wife, stayed by his side in the hospital.
In one of his last letters written from the hospital, he wrote with great optimism, "My dear ones, my boisterous loyal friends! We will soon be together. It will be necessary to work by yourselves during this interim. You'll have to work hard. Please know that your loyalty to the theater and to art is the best medicine for me." But Rashid did not recover, he was too ill, and on June 9, he died.
On 14 December 2010, FLASHMOB Azerbaijan organized a flashmob to memorialize the honor of Rashid Behbudov and to celebrate the 95th jubilee anniversary of the famous representative of Azerbaijani music and culture.
- Photo Essay: Film "Arshin Mal Alan" (The Cloth Peddler), Musical Comedy by Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Azerbaijan International, Vol. 5:3 (Autumn 1997), pp. 54-56.
- Libretto for Arshin Mal Alan in English or Azeri at HAJIBEYOV.com
- "The Cloth Peddler (Arshin Mal Alan): Choosing your Own Bride," in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 2:3 (Autumn 1994), pp. 65-66.
- Ədəbiyyat, incəsənət və arxitektura sahəsində 1978-ci il Azərbaycan SSR Dövlət mükafatlarının verilməsi haqqında Azərbaycan KP MK-nın və Azərbaycan SSR Nazirlər Sovetinin 1978-ci il tarixli Qərarı — anl.az saytı
- on YouTube
- Listen to Rashid Behbudov, Music Section of Azerbaijan International
• "The Show Must Go On: Memories of Accompanying Azerbaijan's Greatest Singers," by Chinghiz Sadikhov in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 10:3 (Autumn 2002), pp. 60–63.
• "Rashid Behbudov: With a Song in His Heart," by Azad Sharifov in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 5:4 (Winter 1997), pp. 58–61. • CD series: Arshin Mal Alan (The Cloth Peddler) in Azerbaijan International, Vol. 9:3 (Autumn 2001), p. 58.