Izabella Yurieva is the stage name of Izabella Danilovna Livikova, a Russian singer nicknamed the "Queen of the Russian Romance who celebrated her centennial at a tribute concert given in her honor at the Central Concert Hall in Moscow in 1999. She was one of the top performers of the romantic Russian Gypsy songs in the late 1920s and 1930s before the genre became almost taboo in Soviet Russia. Yurieva was largely forgotten until the 1990s when she resurfaced on television and was named a People's Artist of Russia.
Bella was born on 7 September 1899 in Rostov-on-Don. Her parents worked in the theatre -- her father sewed hats, her mother made moustaches and wigs; the family was close to artistic circles. The father Daniel Grigorievich had a beautiful voice, loved to sing, and passed his love for singing to his daughters (there were four of them in the family). Efrem Zimbalist (1889-1985), a neighbor of the Livikovs, who later became an internationally renowned violinist, heard young Bella singing and asked her parents to show the girl to a teacher of music. And although her father was against a professional singing career for his daughter, she went on stage for the first time at the age of 16. It was a summer open-air stage in one of the parks in Rostov-on-Don. The success was resounding. Encouraged, she travelled to Saint Petersburg, where Alexei Vladimirovich Taskin, the accompanist of Anastasia Vyaltseva agreed to listen to the young singer. For several months he worked with the girl, learning songs and romances, preparing her for her debut performance. The performance took place in 1922 on the stage of the Coliseum cinema. Among other songs, "Beggar" by Alexander Alyabyev was performed there, a song that was very popular at the time. This evening began the professional creative biography of Izabella Yurieva. After a brilliant debut, the singer was invited to perform in Moscow at the Hermitage Concert Hall. Her repertoire included well-known romances: "Only once there is a meeting in life...", "The autumn wind moans pitifully", "When all day long", gypsy romances "Grove" and "Valenki" (felt boots).
Having met at one of the concerts with Joseph Epstein - the chief administrator of the theatre trust, in 1925 Isabella married him. He became the singer's director, wrote the lyrics of new songs, including the most popular one in Isabella's repertoire - "If You Can Forgive Me". He wrote under the pseudonym Joseph Arkadyev. In 1925-1926 Isabella Yurieva and her husband were in France, where her concerts were a huge success. At the same time her son Vladimir was born. The boy was weak and died a year later. Even on the day when her son died, no one cancelled the concert with her participation. All tickets were sold out, and the terms of the contract were strict: she had to sing no matter what happened. She didn't have any more children...
Already in the 20's Yurieva enjoyed A-list status, even though the singer's repertoire was all bourgeois and idle. Isabella favorite genres were Russian romance and old gypsy songs. In her inimitable performance, the works sounded so convincing that the artiste became known as the "white gypsy". It was believed that songs about love and passion only brought confusion and distracted the people from the main goal of building socialism. Therefore, art for art's sake was recognized as useless, if not harmful, and was at best ridiculed and at worst completely banned. The romance genre was subjected to ideological persecution. Having given a grandiose concert at the Bolshoi Theatre, Isabella Danilovna took a break in her creative biography - from November 19, 1928 for the long eight years.
In 1937 the first gramophone recording took place, and later the singer opened her discography with her debut record "Old Romances and Songs", recorded over four years.
The war exonerated Yurieva as a singer. Already on the second day after its beginning Isabella Danilovna gave a concert at railway stations and mobilization points. During the hard wartime Isabella Danilovna took part in patronage concerts on the Karelian and Kalinin fronts. Songs from the singer's early repertoire were particularly successful with the soldiers: "Sasha", "When the Leaves Fall" (music by Evgeny Rokhlin), "In the Old Garden", "White Night".
But after the war, the persecution of "bourgeois music" resumed. Music was supposed to mobilize for "labor exploits". The singer was required not only to change the repertoire, but also her voice, to get rid of the low notes, which were so rich in her famous contralto.
The post-war era was characterized by another surge of ideological pressure, everything personal was considered bourgeois and petty, so lyrical song and romance were losing their audience against the backdrop of new age popular songs. There was no open persecution of the singer, but even feedback from fellow musicians had a negative impact on the singer's career. At the end of the 40s, "gypsyism" was recognized as sabotage. "Queen of Romance" fought as long as she could, but in 1959 she was forced to disband her ensemble. She still performed in concerts, but the singer's name appeared less and less often on the posters. In 1965, Yurieva gave her last concert at the Leningrad Variety Theatre. The concert was not recorded, but eyewitnesses claimed that her voice sounded excellent.
In 1971, the husband of Yurieva passed away. It seemed that everyone had forgotten her. Suddenly, in the 70s, interest in romance revived. It turned out that very few people could sing these simple melodies with uncomplicated lyrics. The singer was recalled, she was invited to the radio. In 1980, Vladislav Vinogradov made a film about her called "I Return Your Portrait", and in 1993, Anisim Gimmerwerth made a documentary programme "Two Portraits on a Sound Track" dedicated to Isabella Izabella Yurieva and Vadim Kozin. In 1992, the singer was finally honored with the title of People's Artist of Russia. On September 7, 1999, the singer celebrated her 100th birthday at the State Concert Hall of Russia, attending a concert where songs from her repertoire were sung by Lyudmila Zykina, Nani Bregvadze, Joseph Kobzon and other pop stars. She herself performed a fragment of a romance about chrysanthemums, prefacing it by saying, "I will sing as I can, but without phonograms". In the same year, the prominent singer was awarded the Order "For Services to the Motherland" of the 4th degree. On January 20, 2000, on the 101st year, the romance legend was gone. Farewell to the artist was held in the Variety Theatre. Isabella Yurieva was buried at the Donskoye cemetery in Moscow.