“I was born twice” is an exhibition dedicated to the anniversary of a People’s Artist of the USSR, the renowned Russian singer, Edita Stanislavovna Piekha. The exhibition’s title is, in fact, a catch phrase of hers, originating from her notion that she was born first in France, and then once again in Leningrad, where her brilliant career in music began in 1955. Just as the great Piekha belonged on stage, the exhibit is set up in a space conceived with performance in mind – the Sheremetev Palace’s concert hall.
For the first time, the public will be shown a collection of Piekha’s stage outfits designed by acclaimed couturiers Slava Zaitsev, Nonna Melikova, Tatiana Parfyonova and Irina Tantsurina. Photos by Valery Gende-Rote, Valery Plotnikov, as well as those from the Piekha family’s private archives, will tell the story of Edita’s art, as will her first vinyl and video records, the posters promoting her performances, the various awards and the presents from her fans.
Édith-Marie Pierha was born in Noyelles-sous-Lens, France, a small mining town, on 31 July 1937. Her childhood was spent in the throes of the World War II and its accompanying poverty, famine and constant threat of death, and afterwards, the family moved to Poland, back to its roots, where Édith, now Edyta, finished up her education in a pedagogical lyceum. She took three different exams – two in Gdansk and one in Warsaw – in order to study in the USSR, and in 1955 she was admitted to the Leningrad State University, with the goal of becoming a teacher and a child psychologist.
Her future, however, did not quite go according to plan. In Leningrad Piekha met a professional musician and Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory graduate Alexander Bronevitsky, who took note of her voice, charming accent and exotic visage, and invited her as a vocalist to his band Druzhba, which by 1957, after a performance at the Sixth World Festival of Youth and Students, was officially recognized and gained a lot of popularity. Piekha, despite having no music education, became the lead singer of a band created by her mentor and future husband Bronevitsky, who tutored her in singing and stage conduct. He was a demanding teacher, stingy with praise and hard to please, which was a source of much dismay for Piekha, and yet it is him that she credits with helping her be born anew as a professional artist.
Piekha, a “Soviet foreigner”, paid a lot of attention to her image. A role model for many and a fashion oracle for numerous fans, she endeavored to make her costumes especially festive whenever she was performing in small towns and remote locations in order to make the show that much more jovial and memorable to the audience.
Among the artist’s many awards, the ones given for her performances in front of the Afghan soldiers are of particular significance. Three times did Piekha come to Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war, on her own initiative, to perform for the soldiers soon to go into battle. They’d ask her to sing something “cheerful” so that it wouldn’t be quite so terrifying to march into the bullets, give her numbers to phone their families and loved ones, numbers she’d bring back by the bagful, numbers to be called to say, “I’m alive. I’ll try my absolute best to come back.”