Charlie Smilinich
Inducted - San Jose 1987
Charlie Smilinich was born in Tonawanda, New York, on June 23, 1921, to Mara and Milan Smilinich.  Charlie's father had immigrated to America at the age of 14.  He played in a local tamburitza orchestra in establishments along the old Tonawanda Towpath throughout the 1920s.  Charlie's mother, an accomplished bugarija player, occasionally joined the group.
At an early age Charlie exhibited a talent for remembering melodies and lyrics and demonstrated a natural ability to harmonize in seconds, thirds, and even fourths.  He learned to play the E prim from his father, a stern taskmaster.  Soon he was playing with his father's group.
By 1930, Milan had trained and created a family orchestra, consisting of Charlie, his brothers Andrew and Bronko, and cousin Eli.  The four youngsters and Milan played for many ethnic affairs in the area.  In 1935, Milan retired from the group, and the four expanded their horizons, playing first in bars and halls, even the Tonawanda red-light district, and finally were booked into the new exclusive Webster Hotel in North Tonawanda, New York.  As their popularity spread, they traveled to Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Detroit to perform.
Following a break in which all four served in World War II, Charlie as a pilot of troop transport in combat missions, they again formed a tamburitza orchestra.  But private interests and developing careers forced them to disband in 1947.
In 1948, Charlie joined Tillie Klaich and together they formed the Balkan Serenaders.  Charlie's prim and tenor voice, along with his unlimited repertoire, was a combination with Tillie that resulted in solid weekend bookings and extensive travel.
The loss of a bugarija player from the group forced Charlie to take up that instrument.  It was as a bugarija player that he cut his first LP recording with the Balkan Serenaders, "A Continental Toast".  The popular tamburasi played throughout the United States and Canada until the 1970s when Charlie's rapidly expanding business forced him into semi-retirement from the group.
Today he retains the same playing capability and strong tenor voice.  He continues to fill in when needed with his Balkan Serenaders, and performs equally well on prim, brac, bugarija, or cello.
Charlie's recognized contribution is the pleasure he has given the public through personal appearances and recordings.  His most important contribution, however, is his willingness to share his knowledge and experience with other musicians.  This, really, is the epitome of preserving our tamburitza culture.
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