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Printed 07.06.2023 14:32

Czech singer Věra Bílá, dubbed the Ella Fitzgerald of Gypsy music, dies days before her comeback tour
13-03-2019  Tom McEnchroe

It was supposed to be the week when she started her comeback tour. Instead, it ended with her death on a hospital bed. Věra Bílá, who died on Tuesday, was just 64-years-old. But those who knew her say her songs will remain an important contribution to the genre of world music forever.

Věra Bílá, photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml Known for her wild lifestyle, Věra Bílá experienced many ups and downs in her career, going from a rising star in the early 1990s to an indebted, lonely and sick woman living in a lodging house towards the end of her life.

Filmmaker David Vondráček, who made a documentary about the singer in 2018, says Věra Bílá’s fate was a consequence of her character.

“If she hadn’t been the way she was, her story would perhaps be less tragic, but less memorable as well. Those few songs she made in the world music genre will remain great forever.”

Born in the west Bohemian town of Rokycany into a poor Roma family in 1954, her life seemed statistically destined to be unremarkable, but after learning to sing by herself, she started performing with her band Kale, singing in Roma, Czech and Slovak.

Her talent was discovered by Czech singer and songwriter Zuzana Navarová and in 1996 Mrs. Bílá and her band experienced their first real success after the release of their second album Kale Kaloré.

Soon they were not just performing across the Czech Republic, but also touring Europe and North America.

In Britain, newspapers at the time described her as the Ella Fitzgerald of Roma music and many believed Věra Bílá was on the right road to becoming an international celebrity of the world music genre, filling up major venues such as the Teatro Real in Madrid.

In 2005 her manager Jiří Smetana organised another series of international concerts and there was talk of big contract deals from abroad.

But suddenly, Mrs. Bílá disappeared. Instead of embarking on her world tour she went to the Eastern Slovak city of Prešov and started performing on her own.

Věra Bílá, photo: archive of Radio Prague In a short period of time, both her adoptive son František and her husband died. The once great singer had a breakdown. She became addicted to slot machine gambling and after accumulating many debts ended up living in a lodging house.

David Vondráček’s documentary, The Last Hope of Věra Bílá, did raise awareness of the singer once more and she was planning to go on a European tour again.

However, the plan hit the rocks after the manager of her band was arrested.

But this did not dissuade her, and in a recent interview the Romany singer said she was still eager to return to the stage.

“I am really looking forward to this concert. I want to sing to them and make them happy.”

This week, it was all supposed to happen. But in a final twist of her tragic life story, Věra Bílá died of a heart attack in a hospital in Plzeň, just two days before a planned comeback tour, which she was set to undertake with Jan Bendig, a rising star on the Roma music scene.

Her wish to die on stage was left unfulfilled.

Mr. Bendig’s manager, Lukáš Rejmon, had this to say.

“A great personality has left us with an even greater heart and an unforgettable voice."

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