Muslim Magomaev

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Hailed as "the Soviet Sinatra," crooner Muslim Magomaev was Communist Russia's most successful and beloved pop music star, lending his powerful baritone to a broad, crowd-pleasing repertoire that extended…
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Hailed as "the Soviet Sinatra," crooner Muslim Magomaev was Communist Russia's most successful and beloved pop music star, lending his powerful baritone to a broad, crowd-pleasing repertoire that extended from traditional songs to operatic arias to jazz standards. Born August 17, 1942, in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, Magomaev was the product of a show business family -- his father, Magomet Magomaev, was a stage designer who perished during World War II, and his mother, Aishet Magomaeva, was an actress. A child prodigy who studied piano and composition at the Baku Conservatoire, Magomaev made his public debut at age 19 at the World Youth Festival in Helsinki, Finland. His breakthrough performance followed in the spring of 1963, when he delivered showstopping renditions of arias from Gounod's Faust and the song "Do the Russians Want War?" during a Kremlin Congress Palace celebration of Azeri culture. The appearance made national headlines, and quickly Magomaev was tapped for his first recital at Tchaikovsky Concert Hall -- from there he emerged as a fixture at state concerts, enjoying the unwavering support of fans who included Soviet premiers Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yuri Andropov.

As his star ascended, Magomaev traveled to Milan, Italy, to train at the famed opera house La Scala, followed by a stint at Paris' Olympia Theatre. His travels abroad furthered honed his skills within the operatic canon, but the singer remained steadfast in his passion for popular music, proving an uncommonly sensitive interpreter of Soviet anthems like "Shiroka Strana Moya Rodnaya," a signature of his performances throughout his career. Magomaev sold more than four million records in all, developing a broad repertoire that encompassed more than 600 songs as far ranging as "Hello Dolly," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Bella Ciao" -- so great was his renown that in 1973 he was conferred the title "People's Artist of the U.S.S.R." Magomaev founded the Azerbaijan State Variety Symphonic Orchestra in 1973 and remained its art director through 1989 -- while he continued giving solo performances, the orchestra earned the majority of his attention during the latter half of his career. Upon the discovery of a serious heart condition, Magomaev largely withdrew from the public eye, insisting he wanted audiences to remember him in his prime, although he continued recording new material. He died in Moscow on October 25, 2008.