Willi Tokarev

Willi Tokarev

Tokarev in 2010
Background information
Birth name Vilen Tokarev
Born (1934-11-11) 11 November 1934
Chernyshov, Adyghe Autonomous Oblast, USSR
Genres Russian chanson
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Website willitokarev.ru

Vilen "Willi" Tokarev (born 11 November 1934) is a Russian-American singer-songwriter.[1] In the 1980s, he became famous all over the Soviet Union for his songs about life as a Russian émigré in New York in Brighton Beach.[2]

Early life and education

He was born Vilen Tokarev in the small Cossack village of Chernyshov in Adyghe Autonomous Oblast, North Caucasus Krai, Soviet Union, on 11 November 1934. His father was a Kuban Cossack by birth.[3] His parents named him in honor of Vladimir Lenin, as the Soviet name "Vilen" is an acronym for "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin".[4][5]

In 1941 his family moved to the town of Kaspiysk in Dagestan. In 1948, he made his first sea voyage, as a fireman. After the obligatory military service, in which he served in the signal corps, Tokarev moved to Leningrad.[6] There he pursued a formal education in music by joining the string department of the music school at the Leningrad Conservatory (double bass class). During his study, Tokarev worked in the Anatoly Kroll Orchestra, in the Jean Tatlian Sympho-Jazz Ensemble, in the Boris Rychkov Ensemble, and later in the ensemble Druzhba, conducted by Aleksandr Bronevitsky with Edita Piekha as vocalist. As a music student, he also started writing songs, notably "Rain" ("Дождь"), which was recorded by Edita Piekha, and "Winter Song" ("Зимняя песенка"), recorded by her as well.[7]

Singing career

Tokarev says that he "probably became a singer by chance. Nikolay Nikitsky, a film actor and singer very popular at the time, invited me to accompany him at his concerts. Once during a concert he offered me to sing one of my songs myself. When I finished, the audience gave me an ovation. Nikitsky, seeing such a success, told me, 'Willi, you have to sing!'" And Tokarev, in addition to playing double bass and writing songs, started singing.[7]

From 1970 to 1974 he lived and performed as a singer in the town of Murmansk.[8] According to Tokarev, he moved from Leningrad because at the time in Moscow and Leningrad, jazz fell out of favor with the authorities, while in Murmansk he could be himself. Tokarev was immediately employed as a singer by the fanciest restaurant in town, where he earned good money by singing songs upon request, and gained recognition as a singer-songwriter.

In 1973, Tokarev's song "Murmanchanochka" ("Murmansk Girl") became a huge local hit.[6][9][10][11][12]

In 1974, Tokarev emigrated from the USSR to the United States, to New York City. At first he accepted any job in order to survive. On one occasion, he was fired from a job as a courier on Wall Street because of his poor English;[6] afterward he studied the language on his own with an audio cassette course.[7] After getting a driver's license, Tokarev began working as a taxi driver and was finally earning decent money. It took him four years in a taxi to collect $15,000 to record and release an album.[13][14] The album, released in 1979 on vinyl record,[13] was a serious songwriting effort, but was only mildly successful. His second album, V Shumnom Balagane (1981), full of humorous songs stylized as urban folklore of the Russian criminal underground, made him famous in the Russian-speaking community of New York.[6][15] The restaurant where Tokarev worked as a singer started to pay him well and soon he was able to buy a flat on the seashore and a car.[7]

In the 1980s his songs were widely known among Russian emigrants in the United States. Tokarev worked as a singer in three big Russian-speaking restaurants on Brighton Beach: Sadko, Primorsky, and Odessa.[16]

Back in the Soviet Union, his songs about the United States written from the perspective of a Russian émigré also became very popular.[2][17][18] They weren't broadcast and were de facto forbidden, but they were widely known.[19][20]

In the late 1980s, Tokarev began traveling back to the USSR.[2] As he recalls, when in 1988 he went on a "test trip" to the Soviet Union with Alla Pugacheva's manager Igor Shulman, he was greeted in the Sheremetyevo Airport by a crowd of people asking him for autographs and to take a photo with them, and was very surprised that the people knew him somehow.[21] His first tour across the Soviet Union, organized by Gosconcert (the Soviet Union State Concert Organization), took place in 1989 and consisted of 70 concerts.[22]

Tokarev permanently returned to Russia in 1996.[23] Since 2005, he is a resident of Moscow. He lives in the famous Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building[24] and was named a Honorary Resident of Moscow's Tagansky Raion.[25]

At the age of 80, Tokarev still tours and records new songs.[26] As of March 2013, his discography includes 48 studio and 5 compilation albums. He has also had cameo appearances in several movies, including Day Watch.[27]

Personal life

At the age of 62, Willi Tokarev married for the fourth time. His wife Julia, now a Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography graduate, is over forty years his junior. They have two children: daughter Evillina (born around 1999) and son Milen (born around 2003). Tokarev also has two sons from previous marriages.[28]


Tokarev is a multiple winner of Radio Chanson's Chanson of the Year Award, the latest time being in 2014.[29]



  1. "The New Emigration". The Moscow Times. 2010-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
  2. 1 2 3 Вилли Токарев в Нью-Йорке: и не страшно, и не грустно... (in Russian). Voice of America. 2013-10-10. Retrieved 2014-10-10.
  3. "Вилли Токарев выступил с концертом на своей исторической родине". Voice of Adygea (Голос Адыга). 2013-11-25.
  4. Dmitry Gordon (2006). Диалог длиною в жизнь: беседы с великими и знаменитыми. Izdatelʹskiĭ Dom "Skhili Dnipra".
    Anne Nivat (2014). "Chapter 21. Wing A. Entryway 9, Third Floor: Willy and Julia Tokarev". The View from the Vysotka: A Portrait of Russia Today Through One of Moscow's Most Famous Addresses. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9781466865815.
  5. Aleksandr Kazakevich (2009-09-27). "Вилли ТОКАРЕВ: "Когда тебя подгоняют, надо говорить "О'кей", и делать по-своему…"".
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Biography". Willi Tokarev official website.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Вилли Токарев: "Мне лет 40. И ни годом больше!"". Vecherny Saransk. 2014-11-07.
  8. "Мурманский календарь: 11 ноября. Признание Мурманчан было Токареву особенно приятно". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2013-11-11.
  9. "Здесь люди умеют дружить". Murmansky Vestnik. 2011-10-11.
  10. "Мурманский календарь: 11 ноября. Признание Мурманчан было Токареву особенно приятно". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2013-11-11.
  11. "Тайсон тоже человек. К нему можно подойти, поговорить". Gorod 812. 2009-09-29.
  12. "Самый известный певец-уроженец Адыгеи отмечает 80-летие". Agygea Segodnya. 2014-11-17.
  13. 1 2 "Юбилей Вилли Токарева: балалайка для Карнеги-Холла". Radio Svoboda. 2009-11-11.
  14. "Вилли Токарев. "Американский паспорт мне не мешает" — Новые Известия".
  15. "Willi Tokarev. Biography". TV Chanson.
  16. ""Рожденные в СССР" с Владимиром Глазуновым. Вилли Токарев (2013, Биография)". Seteola. 2013.
  17. Bohlen, Celestine (10 January 1989). "From Russia, With Love for U.S. Goods". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  18. "The Last of the Defectors". What's On, #7 (2014).
  19. "Для тамбовчан выступит легендарный Вилли Токарев". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2014-03-04.
  20. "В Тамбове отменили концерт известного шансонье". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2014-03-10.
  21. "Тот самый Вилли". Russian Bazaar (#17 (313)).
  22. "Вилли Токарев: "Россия – страна высочайших талантов. Но на сцену пускают только тех, кто платит"". Komsomolskaya Pravda. 2012-12-11.
  23. "Токарев Вилли Иванович". Внутригородское муниципальное образование Таганское в городе Москве (официальный сайт).
  24. Okorokova, Lidia (28 February 2011). "Inside Moscow's titans". The Moscow News (online newspaper). Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  25. "Honorary citizens". Внутригородское муниципальное образование Таганское в городе Москве (официальный сайт).
  26. "Вилли Токарев – 80 лет не срок". Blatata.com. 2014.
  27. "В Тамбове выступит Вилли Токарев". OnlineTambov.ru. 2014-03-05.
  28. Вилли токарев: «Люба Успенская на своих концертах частенько забывает объявить, что песню «Люба-Любонька» написал я… Но я на нее не обижаюсь» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 2002-04-23.
    "Заслуженный "еврей" Брайтон-Бич" (45). Solidarnost (newspaper). 2004-12-01.
    "Вилли Токарев: Евреи научили меня жить!". Zriteli.co.il. 2005-04-25.
    Вилли Токарев: «Мы с женой планируем еще завести детей» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 2009-11-11.
    "Вилли ТОКАРЕВ: "Жена моложе меня не намного - всего на 43 года. Мне уже 71, дочери шесть лет, а сыну - два с половиной"". Bulvar Gordona. 2005-09-06.
    Вилли токарев: «Когда в 89-м я вернулся на Родину, мне пришлось судиться с Аллой Пугачевой» (in Russian). Fakty i Kommentarii (newspaper). 2014-11-11.
  29. "Вилли Токарев: "Получать "Шансон года" почетно!"". Radio Chanson. 2014-02-27.

Further reading

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