THE WORLD-FAMOUS ORIGINAL
Don Cossack Chorus Serge Jaroff
Pavel Nikolaevich Kripakov (February 10, 1908 - October 7, 1985) was born in the village of Tatischevskaya of the Orenburg Cossack Host, in the family of Nikolai Prokofyevich Kripakov, a colonel in the Orenburg Cossack Forces. It’s appropriate to recall that the Orenburg Cossack Host was the third-largest among 11 Russian Cossack Hosts in terms of population and territory (more than five hundred thousand people on the eve of the Revolution), the second oldest, and the first in terms of literacy (nearly 90 percent of the Cossacks were literate). In the midst of revolutionary turmoil and civil war, Nikolai received a warning from his Jewish neighbors that all the Tsar’s officers in town were to be shot. Pavel’s father took his youngest son with him, left the family, and made his way to the South of Russia. He placed his son in the Don Cossack Military School (in Novocherkassk) and parted with him for several years.
In December 1919, as the White Army retreated, it became clear that Novocherkassk was under threat. It became necessary to evacuate. In December 22, 1919, partly in carts, partly on foot, the Military School left Novocherkassk. In below-zero temperatures and strong wind, they set out in the direction of Ekaterinodar. In these harsh conditions, typhoid began to rage among the cadets. About half of them got sick; many were buried. In Ekaterinodare they heard rumors about a total evacuation. A gloomy mood settled on everybody’s hearts. By the first half of February, 1920, the cadets arrived in Novorossiysk. The evacuation began suddenly on February 22th (old style). At the port, after bathing and getting new British uniforms, the whole Don Cossack Cadet Corps - teachers, teaching assistants and employees, led by the headmaster, Lieutenant-General A. Cheryanchukin – boarded the Saratov, a ship of the Volunteer Fleet, to move in an uncertain direction. They passed the Dardanelles, Cyprus, and on the morning of March 13th, in the distance, they saw dazzling, white buildings, sparkling in the sun – it was the mysterious city of Alexandria (Egypt was a British possession at that time). What life would be like there, in this enigmatic country – no one knew.
By order of the British Government, the Corps was sent further inland – to a camp located in the village of Tel el-Kebir, which in translation means "the end of the world." The passengers of the Saratov were not the first guests here. Behind barbed wire on a rocky plain, long rows of tents of refugees who were evacuated earlier were already stretched out. The inhabitants were now spending their lives in nourished, vegetative idleness. General Cheryanchukin had to expend great efforts in order to achieve recognition of the Cadet Corps as a school and to get it separated in a special camp. Conditions for studying were very difficult - there was no space for classes, there were no books at all, no paper, and there were not a sufficient number of teachers. In addition, the proximity to the refugee camps fraught with inexhaustible sources of temptations had a corrupting influence on the young people. That is why the director took vigorous efforts in order to redeploy the Corps to another area. In the meantime, events took their course: they did a little school work; they studied English; and made field trips to get acquainted with the new country.
Finally, the long-awaited order arrived from the British authorities for the transfer of the Corps, recognized as a school, to another district, and school life actually began from the moment the “Camp of the Don Cadet Corps” appeared, near the city of Ismailia. The Camp of the Cadet Corps was set up a few kilometers from the city on the sands of the edge of the Libyan Desert, right on the shore of the wild, once sacred, but now shoaled Lake Timsah (The Crocodile Lake). Near the camp was a great highway from Ismailia crossing the Suez Canal to the Arabian Peninsula. Long chains of caravans accompanied by picturesque figures of lean Bedouins were often traveling on this road. The Suez Canal was located a ten-minute walk from the Camp of the Don Cadet Corps.
Classes started to flow smoothly. Gradually books and textbooks were collected; in reed huts set aside for classrooms, a replenished teaching staff taught the cadets. People were exhausted from the heat but later they got accustomed to it.
The pride of the cadets was the choir that was organized and brilliantly served its purpose under the direction of its conductor, N.M. Verushkin (a Ural Cossack). Soon after, the staff discovered that Pavel Nikolayevich had a good voice and he began to sing in the choir. The glory of the choir spread far into Palestine when by the energetic efforts of the Corps priest, Father Dimitri Troitsky (from the Urals) managed to organize a trip for the choir to Jerusalem.
At the beginning of 1922, information was heard for the first time that the Corps and all refugees in Egypt would be transferred to the Balkans. At first, no one attached any importance to this. Classes continued; a second "Egyptian" graduation of cadets took place; life went on as usual. And suddenly the rumors were confirmed by a formal order. It stunned everyone. For the cadets, Egypt had become a motherland.
The well-established school routine ground to a halt. No petitions helped and, finally, the camp began to buzz with preparations for the journey to a new land. The Don Corps traveled from Alexandria on the English steamer City of Oxford by the familiar route in the Mediterranean and arrived in Varna after leaving some of the junior cadets at the newly formed “Russian School” in Buyuk Dere, where weeping, they parted with their peers (among them - Pavel Kripakov). Here, life was different. Nobody thought about classes anymore. Dissipation began immediately; the cadets became shabby, lost their appearance, changed in look and in spirit. No effort could save the "Egyptian Corps". Its existence came to an end in Varna. The senior cadets went to different places - a few people to the Ataman’s Military School, the younger ones moved to Shumen and Tshebovskaya Russian schools. The rest were scattered around the world.
At this time Pavel’s father found his son. By this time he was in Yugoslavia, where he soon took his son out and placed him in the just-created Don Cossack Cadet Corps named for Alexander III under the patronage of the King of the Serbs and Croats, Alexander, who was a great Russophile, in the town of Gorazde on the banks of the Drina in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Corps occupied a large complex of buildings. There was a theater (the former stables) and an infirmary. In one of the barracks they set up a church.
Pavel graduated from the Corps in 1929 and was accepted to the University of Belgrade (with his father, to whom Pavel was very much attached; they met during the summer holidays). The University of Belgrade had the largest number of Russian professors compared to all other European universities at that time. Salaries of higher education teachers in Yugoslavia was significantly lower than in the more developed countries (the salaries of university professors was higher in pre-revolutionary Russia as well). But the University of Belgrade allowed the former professors from Russia to work in their field, to continue to devote themselves to the service of their favorite work.
After studying for two years at the University, at the same time taking voice lessons from the famous Russian teachers - mother and son Karakash, that were completely free of charge (they were training him for an operatic career), Pavel left Belgrade and went with the Platov Cossack choir on a tour around the world, which stretched out to as long as two years. Pavel’s father gave his blessing for this, reasoning that his son would be able to finish his studies later, but the chance to see the world might not come again.
While Pavel was traveling the world, his father died. Pavel came back to Belgrade, and got a job singing in a restaurant. He did not resume voice lessons because the operatic stage did not appeal to him (though they were waiting for him at the Belgrade Opera) - he loved folk and gypsy music. Soon he was called up for military service (earlier both he and his father had obtained Yugoslav citizenship). After finishing the service Pavel Kripakov was made an officer.
Even before the end of his service he received an invitation to join the Jaroff Choir and after demobilization he immediately joined it. At the time, the choir was going to America. Before World War II, Kripakov managed to visit the States three times - in the autumn of 1938 and in 1939. A contract was signed for 10 weeks.
Lydia Nikolaevna, the future spouse of Pavel Nikolaevich, was already living in America at that time. In 1933, when she was 14 years old, she came to visit her father from Russia, and the owners of the apartment took her to a concert of the choir. It left a lasting impression. She did not think at the time that subsequently she would become so close to the choir, Sergei Alekseevich himself (translator’s note: Serge Jaroff, the founder and director), the choristers and their wives.
The first album “Russian Gypsy Songs” was
published in 1956 on the Sadko label (SL-1001)
In 1940, Lydia met and made friends with the wife of a Jaroff Choir member, Maria Vladimirovna Volkova. At this time, the choristers and their families were on the vacation living in the rented cottages on the beach of Belmore, New Jersey. The Volkovs invited Lydia to stay with them. There the choir was rehearsing for the next tour that was to begin, it seems, in October. There Lydia met Pavlik; the young people began to correspond, and on July 12, 1941, they got married. By that time Lydia completed secretarial courses, took the state exam, and on December 1st started to work in Washington D.C. On December 7th, the Japanese attacked the American fleet and America entered the war. Pavel joined his wife after the end of the tour and in August 1942 Lydia had to quit her job. Then the couple returned to Connecticut, where they had a son Nicholas.
After Pavel returned from a tour, they rented an apartment in New York and moved there. A second son, Alexander was born there on January 12, 1947. Pavel became very burdened by the work in the choir, with its eternal itinerant life in hotels and most importantly by separation from family.
Pavel Nikolaevich decided to try to find a job in one of the Russian restaurants in New York, amicably parted with the Jaroff choir, and began performing there.
In the Russian newspapers of New York, the author managed to find only two announcements about performances by Pavel Kripakov in restaurants: in the winter program at "Tavern" (from November 1947) as part of a Cossack ensemble (with Gary Azarov) and from September 9, 1949, when at "Russkaya Skazka” (Russian Fairy Tale), a new season opened with a fun, colorful show "The Emphasis on Youth" with Pavel Kripakov, Raisa Semenova, Lenya Kalbus, Vera Brynner, Vanya Kull, Lyuba Hamshey, Zina Shushkevich and Orchestra conducted by Gleb Yellin.
Soon Pavel obtained U.S. citizenship, began to take drawing courses during the day, and in September 1950 got a job at the Sikorsky Aviation plant in Connecticut.
By this time, the Sikorsky firm had moved from Yonkers in Westchester County, where it used to lease the premises, to its own plant in Stratford, near Bridgeport. Its main creative backbone remained, as it used to be, the immigrants from Russia. "The Russian Company" of Sikorsky, as well as the famous match factory in Queens, founded in 1922 by B. Bachmetiev, was a Mecca for Russian immigrants. Here many immigrants from the former Russian Empire, previously not familiar with aviation, found jobs and learned a skill.
The existence in Stratford of Sikorsky’s firm facilitated the emergence of a vast Russian settlement in this city. The Russians settled close to one another, although many of them had never worked for Sikorsky. The emigres opened a club, a school, built the Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas and even founded a Russian Opera. Since then, some areas of Stratford bear Russian names: Churaevka, Russian Beach, Russian Village etc. It is interesting to note that some immigrants who lived in this town and always stayed amidst Russian circles, never learned English.
The second album called “Russian Songs” (XTV 85937-85938)
came out three years later in 1959.
Kripakovs had many friends there who helped Pavel to settle down. Having just $500 for a down payment, the couple got a mortgage to buy an old cottage with one tenant who was a relative of Sikorsky, and in the very next summer Lidiya opened a summer boardinghouse. They gradually insulated and painted the cottage, and they kept the boardinghouse for 14 years. They charged little money for the accommodations, Lidia fed the guests well, and across the street was the beach. During this time the children grew up, their eldest son Nicholas graduated from college, and got a job as an engineer at the same plant. Singers and artists used to come to visit the Kripakovs – many interesting people. When Lydia announced that they should look for another place next summer many took offence; and the others felt very sorry. The Kripakovs decided to sell the house and to buy a small single-family house, which they did.
In addition to working at the Sikorsky plant, Pavel often performed at charity evenings; recorded two LPs and wrote poetry.
The first album “Russian Gypsy Songs” was published in 1956 on the Sadko label (SL-1001), but the disc was issued by Argee Music Corp. There Pavel Kripakov sings 10 songs and ballads accompanied by Andrew Hamshey and Misha Uzdanov (accordions). They issued the album at their own expense; the number of pressings was small - only 400 copies. All of them were sold; Lydia retained only one copy.
The second album called “Russian Songs” (XTV 85937-85938) came out three years later (i.e. in 1959 - Editor's note), also "at the author’s expense" with 1000 copies. On the disc, recorded in the Columbia studio, were 14 songs and ballads accompanied by Melitta Brockert (piano). They again were selling the records themselves (an ad in the Russian newspaper Novoye Russkoe Slovo - New Russian Word - offered "orders with personal checks or money orders send to the following address: Pavel Kripakov, 175 Edgefield Avenue, Woodmont, Conn.").
Pavel continued to maintain contacts with Jaroff’s choir. When the choir performed nearby, he would put on his Cossack uniform and join them.
In 1971 Lydia got a job in the Slavic Department of the Yale University Library, and Pavel soon retired. Lydia did not work there for long - only for two years - because it was necessary to take care of Pavel’s health. He complained about various symptoms but the doctors could not find the cause of them. Lydia drove him to Boston, famous for its clinic for recognizing diseases by their symptoms. The doctors diagnosed Pavel with deep depression and began to treat him with medicine, and then Lydia found a Russian-speaking doctor for him.
Subsequently, Lydia got a job working half-days at the local newspaper – to type newspaper text into the computer. When Pavel was diagnosed with cardiac angina and other diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Lydia retired to care for her husband. He died after 5 months, on October 7, 1985.
The widow of the singer, Lydia, died on January 21, 2010 in her 92nd year. Their son Nicholas lives in the State of Colorado.
Transcribed by Mikhail Bliznyuk from the manuscript of Lydia Kripakov
English translation by Yuri Bernikov
Thanks to Greg B. for the proofreading