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Vilen Tokarev (11 November 1934 – 4 August 2019), known professionally as Willi Tokarev (Russian: Вилли Токарев), was a Russian-American singer-songwriter.[1] In the 1980s, he became famous throughout the Soviet Union for his songs about life as a Russian émigré in New York in Brighton Beach.[2]

Willi Tokarev
Villi Tokarev 2012.jpg
Tokarev in 2012
Background information
Birth nameVilen Ivanovich Tokarev
Born(1934-11-11)11 November 1934
Chernyshev, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died4 August 2019(2019-08-04) (aged 84)
Moscow, Russia
GenresRussian chanson


Early life and educationEdit

He was born Vilen Ivanovich Tokarev (Russian: Виле́н Ива́нович То́карев) in the small Cossack village of Chernyshev in Adyghe Autonomous Oblast, North Caucasus Krai, Soviet Union, on 11 November 1934. His father was a Kuban Cossack by birth.[3] His parents named him in honor of Vladimir Lenin (see names of Soviet origin), as the Soviet name "Vilen" is an acronym for "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin".[4][5]

In 1941 his family moved to the town of Kaspiysk in Dagestan. In 1948, he made his first sea voyage, as a fireman. After the obligatory military service, in which he served in the signal corps, Tokarev moved to Leningrad.[6] There he pursued a formal education in music by joining the string department of the music school at the Leningrad Conservatory (double bass class). During his study, Tokarev worked in the Anatoly Kroll Orchestra, in the Jean Tatlian Sympho-Jazz Ensemble, in the Boris Rychkov Ensemble, and later in the ensemble Druzhba, conducted by Aleksandr Bronevitsky with Edita Piekha as vocalist. As a music student, he also started writing songs, notably "Rain" ("Дождь"), which was recorded by Edita Piekha, and "Winter Song" ("Зимняя песенка"), recorded by her as well.[7]

Singing careerEdit

Tokarev said that he "probably became a singer by chance. Nikolay Nikitsky, a film actor and singer very popular at the time, invited me to accompany him at his concerts. Once during a concert he offered me to sing one of my songs myself. When I finished, the audience gave me an ovation. Nikitsky, seeing such a success, told me, 'Willi, you have to sing!'" And Tokarev, in addition to playing double bass and writing songs, started singing.[7]

From 1970 to 1974 he lived and performed as a singer in the town of Murmansk.[8] According to Tokarev, he moved from Leningrad because at the time in Moscow and Leningrad, jazz fell out of favor with the authorities, while in Murmansk he could be himself.[8] In Murmansk Tokarev worked as a singer at the restaurant White Nights where he led the music band Nord-West.[9]

In 1973, Tokarev's song "Murmanchanochka" ("Murmansk Girl") became a huge local hit.[6][10][11][12][13]

In 1974, Tokarev emigrated from the USSR to the United States, to New York City. At first he accepted any job in order to survive. On one occasion, he was fired from a job as a courier on Wall Street because of his poor English;[6] afterward he studied the language on his own with an audio cassette course.[7] After getting a driver's license, Tokarev began working as a taxi driver and was finally earning decent money. It took him four years in a taxi to collect $15,000 to record and release an album.[14][15] The album, released in 1979 on vinyl record,[14] was a serious songwriting effort, but was only mildly successful. His second album, V Shumnom Balagane (1981), full of humorous songs stylized as urban folklore of the Russian criminal underground, made him famous in the Russian-speaking community of New York.[6][16] The restaurant where Tokarev worked as a singer started to pay him well and soon he was able to buy a flat on the seashore and a car.[7]

In the 1980s his songs were widely known among Russian emigrants in the United States. Tokarev worked as a singer in three big Russian-speaking restaurants on Brighton Beach: Sadko, Primorsky, and Odessa.[17]

Back in the Soviet Union, his songs about the United States written from the perspective of a Russian émigré also became very popular.[2][18][19] They were not broadcast and were de facto forbidden, but they were widely known.[20][21]

In the late 1980s, Tokarev began traveling back to the USSR.[2] As he recalls, when in 1988 he went on a "test trip" to the Soviet Union with Impresario Leonard Lev, he was greeted in the Sheremetyevo Airport by a crowd of people asking him for autographs and to take a photo with them, and was very surprised that the people knew him somehow.[22] His first tour across the Soviet Union, organized by Gosconcert (the Soviet Union State Concert Organization), took place in 1989 and consisted of 70 concerts.[23]

Tokarev permanently returned to Russia in 1996.[24] From 2005, he was a resident of Moscow. He lived in the famous Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building[25] and was named a Honorary Resident of Moscow's Tagansky Raion.[26]

Tokarev was still active at the age of 80, touring and recording new songs.[27] As of March 2013, his discography included 48 studio and five compilation albums. He also had cameo appearances in several movies, including Day Watch.[28]

In early 2017, Tokarev performed a new song, "Trumplissimo America!", at a function in Moscow in support of Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.[29][30]

Personal lifeEdit

At the age of 62, Tokarev married for the fourth time. His wife Julia, who became a Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography graduate, was over forty years his junior. They had two children: daughter Evillina (born around 1999) and son Milen (born around 2003). Tokarev also had two sons from previous marriages.[31]


Willi Tokarev died in Moscow on 4 August 2019, reportedly from cancer.[32] He was 84 years old at the time of his death.


Tokarev was a multiple winner of Radio Chanson's Chanson of the Year Award, the final time being in 2014.[33]


  1. ^ "The New Emigration". The Moscow Times. 25 January 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Вилли Токарев в Нью-Йорке: и не страшно, и не грустно... (in Russian). Voice of America. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Вилли Токарев выступил с концертом на своей исторической родине". Voice of Adygea (Голос Адыга). 25 November 2013.
  4. ^ Dmitry Gordon (2006). Диалог длиною в жизнь: беседы с великими и знаменитыми. Izdatelʹskiĭ Dom "Skhili Dnipra".
    Anne Nivat (2014). "Chapter 21. Wing A. Entryway 9, Third Floor: Willy and Julia Tokarev". The View from the Vysotka: A Portrait of Russia Today Through One of Moscow's Most Famous Addresses. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781466865815.
  5. ^ Aleksandr Kazakevich (27 September 2009). "Вилли ТОКАРЕВ: "Когда тебя подгоняют, надо говорить "О'кей", и делать по-своему…"".
  6. ^ a b c d "Biography". Willi Tokarev official website.
  7. ^ a b c d "Вилли Токарев: "Мне лет 40. И ни годом больше!"". Vecherny Saransk. 7 November 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Мурманский календарь: 11 ноября. Признание Мурманчан было Токареву особенно приятно" [Murmansk calendar: 11 November. Tokarev enjoyed the acclaim by Murmansk residents] (in Russian). Komsomolskaya Pravda. 11 November 2013. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  9. ^ "Не стало автора легендарной «Мурманчаночки»" [The author of legendary "Murmanchanochka" passed away]. (in Russian). 6 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Здесь люди умеют дружить". Murmansky Vestnik. 11 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Мурманский календарь: 11 ноября. Признание Мурманчан было Токареву особенно приятно". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 11 November 2013.
  12. ^ "Тайсон тоже человек. К нему можно подойти, поговорить". Gorod 812. 29 September 2009.
  13. ^ "Самый известный певец-уроженец Адыгеи отмечает 80-летие". Agygea Segodnya. 17 November 2014.
  14. ^ a b "Юбилей Вилли Токарева: балалайка для Карнеги-Холла". Radio Svoboda. 11 November 2009.
  15. ^ "Вилли Токарев | Новые Известия". Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Willi Tokarev. Biography". TV Chanson.
  17. ^ ""Рожденные в СССР" с Владимиром Глазуновым. Вилли Токарев (2013, Биография)". Seteola. 2013.
  18. ^ Bohlen, Celestine (10 January 1989). "From Russia, With Love for U.S. Goods". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  19. ^ "The Last of the Defectors". What's On, No. 7 (2014).
  20. ^ "Для тамбовчан выступит легендарный Вилли Токарев". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 4 March 2014.
  21. ^ "В Тамбове отменили концерт известного шансонье". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 10 March 2014.
  22. ^ "Тот самый Вилли". Russian Bazaar (#17 (313)).
  23. ^ "Вилли Токарев: "Россия – страна высочайших талантов. Но на сцену пускают только тех, кто платит"". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 11 December 2012.
  24. ^ "Токарев Вилли Иванович". Внутригородское муниципальное образование Таганское в городе Москве (официальный сайт).
  25. ^ Okorokova, Lidia (28 February 2011). "Inside Moscow's titans". The Moscow News (online newspaper). Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  26. ^ "Honorary citizens". Внутригородское муниципальное образование Таганское в городе Москве (официальный сайт).
  27. ^ "Вилли Токарев – 80 лет не срок". 2014.
  28. ^ "В Тамбове выступит Вилли Токарев". 5 March 2014.
  29. ^ May Bulman (21 January 2017). "Donald Trump supporters in Russia wear 'Anonymous' masks during inauguration party in Moscow". The Independent.
  30. ^ Dragana Jovanovic (20 January 2017). "Russia Celebrates on the Eve of Donald Trump's Inauguration". ABC News.
  31. ^ Вилли токарев: «Люба Успенская на своих концертах частенько забывает объявить, что песню «Люба-Любонька» написал я… Но я на нее не обижаюсь» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 23 April 2002.
    "Заслуженный "еврей" Брайтон-Бич" (45). Solidarnost (newspaper). 1 December 2004.
    "Вилли Токарев: Евреи научили меня жить!". 25 April 2005.
    Вилли Токарев: «Мы с женой планируем еще завести детей» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 11 November 2009.
    "Вилли ТОКАРЕВ: "Жена моложе меня не намного – всего на 43 года. Мне уже 71, дочери шесть лет, а сыну – два с половиной"". Bulvar Gordona. 6 September 2005.
    Вилли токарев: «Когда в 89-м я вернулся на Родину, мне пришлось судиться с Аллой Пугачевой» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 11 November 2014.
  32. ^ Andry Kut. "The cause of death of Willy Tokarev. | Russian news EN". Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  33. ^ "Вилли Токарев: "Получать "Шансон года" почетно!"". Radio Chanson. 27 February 2014.

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