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Don Cossack Chorus Serge Jaroff

Gennadi Gordeyev (dramatic tenor)

by Natasha Gordeyev Hogstrom (daughter)

Gennadi Gordeyev ( )

My father, Gennadi Gordeyev was born in 1898 in Novocherkask, Russia to a Don Cossack family of Gregory and Antonina Gordeyev, a second son in a family of five. There were four boys and a girl, Olga. The children in order of birth were Vyacheslav, Gennadi, Sergey, Olga and Ivan. The name Don Cossacks means that they were the group of Cossacks who settled along the river Don. The Cossacks are identified by the river along they originally settled. The Don Cossacks were the most numerous and famous. Later the family moved to Tomsk, Siberia where Gregory was a director of music for the secondary schools. To hear those who lived in Siberia of their own volition there is no better place on earth. The tomatoes were the biggest and juiciest. Of course the mosquitoes were sizeable and numerous.

But then the World War I broke out, followed by the revolution in Russia. Vyacheslav, the oldest son, who was studying medicine and music, was drafted. Gennadi, who was very close to his brother, enlisted in the Cossack unit not having completed his secondary education. In the war he was wounded in the left arm and in the chest. Through skillful surgery his arm was saved. But later in life he blamed the chest wound for his chest pains and shortness of breath and did not see a doctor until his first coronary.

From the hospital he was evacuated first to the Greek island of Limnos, then to Cyprus and later of Constantinople, present day Istanbul. There he made a living by painting the cityscapes, which he sold to tourists.

Around 1920, newly founded Czechoslovakia opened a Russian boarding school in Moravska Trebova for the Russian immigrants who because of the war and revolution did not finish their secondary education. This is where Gennadi then went.

Thus in Moravska Trebova the lives of Gennadi and Marie converged. They were married there on August 1 1923. The principal of the school acted as her father. The newlyweds then moved to Prague and enrolled in Charles University, he in architecture, she in agronomy.

My father worked only a short time as an architect. He then made a living singing and dancing in nightclubs and spas. At one time he was a member of a balalaika trio. But in the summer of 1935 our fortune changed. My father auditioned and was accepted into a famous Don Cossack Chorus, under the direction of Serge Jaroff. It was a male a cappella chorus, very famous at that time. Every fall from September to December they toured the United States and the rest of the year they were in Europe. They were very popular in Germany where they also made movies with Pola Negri who later starred in Hollywood.

In the fall of 1935 under the sponsorship of a governor of Oklahoma and by the act of Congress all the members of the chorus received first papers which made them eligible for the American citizenship after five years. They received temporary American passports. But there was a stipulation that they all had to move to America within 3 years. A person becomes eligible for citizenship 5 years after receiving the first papers. When my father returned to Europe that winter with a temporary American passport, it was decided that I should go to English school instead.

We were not eager to go to America, which at that time was considered to be a somewhat backward country. Some of the wives of singers refused to go and some delayed the departure until it was too late. The war broke out. Our luck held up. My father, of course, did not need a visa but my mother and I did. She wanted to visit her father in Sarajevo before moving to America. Thus she applied for both American and Yugoslavian visas. We got American visas in 2 days, while the Yugoslavs dallied. And so we left with my father to America. In those days there was a limit on the amount of money that could be taken out of the country or even sent to the relatives which meant that the singers had money in Germany. We were able to pay for our passage with German marks thus saving the dollars for America. A month later another family from Czechoslovakia could not, and they lost the German marks and had to use the dollars.

We crossed the Atlantic on a German ship Deutschland, which later figured in the war. My father wanted to settle in Miami because no winter clothes are needed there. I dont think that I could have stood it there in pre air-conditioned days. But when he was touring with the choir he met some Czech people in Chicago and they swayed him to settle in Chicago promising help in finding a job. Unfortunately there were no jobs. There was still a depression and nothing was being built. Again he had to revert to the old standby, singing and painting. At that time there was a Russian night club Yar where he first started. There he met Paula Grib who sang and danced gypsy songs. We became good friends and later her daughter became a godmother to our first son. But I am getting ahead. Later my father became a member of the chorus of Civic opera, now called Lyric. He also painted murals in restaurant Klas in Cicero, and icons in churches in Pennsylvania and Chicago, mostly in Holy Trinity Cathedral. This is also the time that he designed a Russian house in Hot Springs, Arkansas. During the war, IIT had classes for graduates in electronics. He took those courses, and got a job at Zenith. They lived in the Czech neighborhood of Lawndale, later purchasing a two-flat in Uptown, and then settled in the Sauganash neighborhood to be closer to the grandchildren.

Gennadi passed away in Chicago in 1967.

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