Inducted - Los Angeles 1993
When Vlad Popovich was a youngster, Sunday mornings meant settling down before the floor model console radio and tuning in to Tillie Klaich's Veselo Srce radio hour. Family social activities often took him to performances of tambura orchestras, and young Vlad became mesmerized watching local favorites, the Smilinich brothers. Little did he know that most of his future playing career would be spent with two musicians from his youth, Tillie Klaich and Charlie Smilinich, now both TAA Hall of Famers.
Vlad's own musical education began in 1943, when the 11-year-old started studying violin; he soon added string bass. His first musical affiliation was with his junior high string orchestra. Before long, he added both concert and 16-piece 'big bands'.
Meanwhile, the influence of Klaich and the Smiliniches began to show. In 1945, the young man began playing three-tone pick bass with a tamburitza orchestra in Niagara Falls. Soon he taught himself the brač, then the ćello.
His next big step was to Duquesne University, where he was accepted as a member of the Tamburitzans. That led to performances at major U.S. concert halls and two tours to Yugoslavia. During the initial tour, when the Tamburitzans were the first Americans allowed into the former "iron curtain" country, he became an audience favorite as he switched from traditional tamburitza music to American "hoe-down" tunes. Shortly after that tour, he and Fred Husnick (Taa Hall of Famer) became part of a new, small combo, called the Sava River Boys, within the Tamburitzans.
Following graduation, Vlad was commissioned second lieutenant in the army and married fellow Tamburitzan Evelyn Jurenovich (prim). After completing his service in 1956, he took a job with Union Carbide in Tonawanda, where he still works. But tamburitza remained a center of his life, and in 1959, the old radio days became more than a memory, for Tillie Klaich was reorganizing his Balkan Serenaders and included Charlie Smilinich in the group. Others invited to sign on were Charlie Blazina, Steve Vranjes, and Vlad Popovich.
Again Vlad found himself on tour, performing at concerts, tournaments, and major events across the United States and Canada. By then the group had enlarged its collection of kolos and songs to include show tunes, Irish ballads, very old and new narodne, and modern standards. They produced four successful LP recordings -- A Continental Toast, Continentally Yours, Sve Nase, and Cabaret.
A career highlight, Vlad recalls, occured in 1973, when the Serenaders were chosen one of four American tamburitza orchestras to appear at the Smithsonian Institute's Festival of American Folklife in Washington D.C., performing for five days with the world's finest tamburasi, including Yugoslavia's Janika Balaz and his orchestra from Novi Sad.
Vlad and the Balkan Serenaders have been TAA members for many years. He has served on the Hall of Fame screening committee and recently developed the Tillie Klaich Memorial Fund.
In recent years, Vlad has added many related activities, joining the staff of the East European Folklife Center, beginning to teach tambura at the Buffalo Gap Balkan Camp, and arranging for local Serbian Club participation in three Buffalo Ethnic Folk Festivals, one of which included staging a two-day kafana featured on local TV.
Vlad now actively promotes tambura in his role as president of the American Serbian Club in Buffalo (Riverside) and participates in the club's Friday night jam sessions for players not in groups. He has been a Serbian American community representative on the Niagara Folk Art Council for more than 20 years and participated in many ethnic heritage programs.
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