1965: How the Golden Orpheus festival was created

Photo: archive

The festival called Songs about the Bulgarian Black Sea coast was held for the first time in 1965 in the seaside resort of Sunny Beach. Two years later it was renamed to become Golden Orpheus.

Alongside the Bulgarian pop song competition, the festival’s rules and regulations included an international singing contest. The event quickly grew to be one of the best known and most prestigious European competitions, became a member of the International Federation of Festival Organizations (FIDOF) and did a great deal to popularize Bulgarian songs abroad. For dozens of years the Golden Orpheus offered a stage to singers who have left their mark in the world history of popular music.

Some of the contemporary Bulgarian legends like Bogdana Karadocheva, Lili Ivanova, Kamelia Todorova, Nelly Rangelova are holders of the Golden Orpheus Grand Prix. The laureates from abroad include names like Jenifer (France), Alla Pugachova (Russia), Farah Maria (Cuba). In their heyday, some of the legendary stars of the 1970’s and 1980’s took part in the festival as honorary guests – Josephine Baker, Gilbert Bécaud, Adamo, Al Bano and Romina Power, Toto Cutugno, Boy George, Philipp Kirkorov… These are just some of the names that have carved out the history of the Golden Orpheus.

But let us go back to the beginning, to 1965. You shall hear the voices of two of the first participants in the festival, as well as unique recordings of the award-winning songs.

The first director of the Golden Orpheus was Genko Genov – he was a pianist, a man with flair and great managerial skills. In 1965 Genko Genov started out as a musicologist at the Balkantourist state tourist agency. The idea to hold a contest - Songs about the Bulgarian Black Sea coast – in Sunny Beach belonged to him. The pre-selection shortlisted more than 50 songs by Bulgarian authors – something unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, there is little aural evidence of the festival’s beginning kept at the BNR Golden Fund audio archives. Here is what journalist Bogomil Nonev, one of the BNR’s directors for many years remembers. Talking about the Advertising Department at Radio Sofia, as the BNR was then called, Bogomil Nonev gives a list of the national radio’s partners back in 1965.

“That year there was one more radio event – the Golden Orpheus, created by the director of Balkantourist. One day he came to tell me he wanted the festival to gain more popularity. So I agreed to the radio’s taking part in it. At the time the tourist agency had money and paid all royalties. We took part in the coverage of the event.”

Composer Angel Zaberski is holder of the first prize in 1965 for his song Kaliakra. The lyrics relate a Bulgarian legend about forty maidens captured by the Ottoman invaders who chose to throw themselves into the sea, led by the prettiest and bravest among them – Kaliakra.

“The lyrics were written by the editors from Radio Sofia’s literary department – Slava Semirova and Emilia Zaharieva,” Angel Zaberski says. “I was so happy that a song of mine had won first place at the Songs about the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. And for a long time afterwards it was very popular and was played many times over by Radio Sofia. To my mind, Mimi Nikolova is one of our top singers. The songs she has performed have gone down as the best in Bulgarian history. And I was honoured to have her sing my song. It was the first work I had composed for these instruments – harp, strings… And Emil Georgiev, the prominent conductor presented it in the best way possible.”

The audio file features the following award winning songs from the Songs about the Bulgarian Black Sea coastfestival in 1965:

-  Pani Eva, performed by Kiril Semov, music Atanas Boyadjiev, lyrics Bogomil Goudev;

-  Kaliakra, performed by Mimi Nikolova, music Angel Zaberski, lyrics Slava Semirova and Emilia Zaharieva;

-  Love of a ship’s boy, performed by Margret Nikolova, music Yosif Tsankov.

English: Milena Daynova 

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