Despite persecution at the hands of the Nazis and the Soviets, and exile to the United States, the State Bandurist Chorus continues to be the leading performer of traditional Ukrainian music. Currently directed by Oleh Mahlay, the chorus received the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian State Prize, the Ukraine's highest cultural award, in 1992. The inspiration that resulted in the formation of the State Bandurist Chorus, was conceived by writer, ethnomusicologist, and composer Hnat Khatkevych, who called for the group during a speech at the 12th Archeological Congress in 1902. The chorus did not become reality until 1918, when the Ukraine experienced a brief period of independence. Directed by Vasyl Yemetz, a virtuoso of the bandura -- a Ukrainian stringed instrument that combines elements of the lute and the harp -- the original group consisted of 15 members. The State Bandurist Chorus reached its apex as a touring ensemble during the 1920s resurgence in the appreciation of traditional Ukrainian arts and culture. The group was as much a political outlet as a musical endeavor. Their commitment to religion, truth, freedom, and human dignity made them a target for the Soviet purge of Ukrainian artists and intellectuals. In 1938, Khatkevych was executed and his compositions banned. The group suffered an even greater plight during World War II. Immigrating to the United States in 1949, many of the group's members settled in the Detroit, MI, area and took jobs in the automotive trade. Their love of music, however, continued to draw them together and the State Bandurist Chorus was resurrected in the early '50s, under the direction of Hryhory Kytasty (1907-1984). The group returned to its homeland for a tour of the Ukraine in 1992. A live album, Black Sea Tour, Ukraine, was released three years later. The State Bandurist Chorus has continued to grow. Now mostly comprised of second- and third-generation Americans, the group includes residents of New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Alberta, and Ontario.
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