Michael Minsky was a European opera star who sang in virtually every major concert hall in the United States.
Born in Russia in 1918, Minsky studied music at the University of Kazan and the Moscow Conservatory. On track for a brilliant musical career, his plans were derailed when WWII broke out and he was drafted into the Red Army.
Shortly after he arrived on the front, he was email marketing database captured by the Nazis and sent to a slave labour camp in Germany.
After the war he ended up in several “displaced persons” camps in Europe. He claimed refugee status to avoid repatriation to the USSR. Stalin considered Red Army POWs to be traitors to the Soviet regime, and Minsky knew if he returned home he would be either exiled to a Siberian gulag, or executed.
Although ethnically Russian, in the camps Minsky was surrounded by Ukrainians and soon fell in love with the people, the music and the culture. He joined several choirs, including the Don Cossack Choir and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus.
In 1949 Minsky and the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus traveled to America, where they were received at the White House and performed many concerts.
In 1950 Michael Minsky made his first recording and went on to record another 20 with various Ukrainian artists. In 1953 he was granted American citizenship.
Minsky was very active in the Ukrainian community in the United States and Canada. In 1971 the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis honoured him with a gala concert. Later that year he went on a concert tour to Ukrainian centers in Great Britain, then in 1972 to Australia. On his return to Europe he produced a series of records with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
By the mid 1960s, Minsky was spending most of his time in Europe. In 1978, he settled permanently in Zwolle, the Netherlands. It was in Holland where Minsky met his wife, Irina, in 1967.
Irina had no inkling of the prolific extent of her husband’s Ukrainian musical career… until after his death in 1988. Astounded at the size of his repertoire, and realizing its historic significance, she took upon herself the gargantuan task of compiling and restoring the entire collection.
Somehow I ended up on Irina’s email list, and kept getting emails from her asking for help with her project. Intrigued, I emailed her back and invited her to share her story on my radio show, Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio.
What an incredible experience to encounter the fierce determination of this fascinating Dutch woman! Equally incredible was the story about her project and the love and devotion of her Russian husband for his adopted Ukrainian culture.
After several tireless years searching, Irina is close to achieving her goal of compiling and restoring her late husband’s entire repertoire of Ukrainian recordings. However, she is still missing a few items.
She’s hoping that whoever has the missing recordings would be willing to donate or sell them to her.
Once compiled, she plans to establish a special website where she will offer digital versions of the recordings, as individual mp3s as well as physical albums.
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