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Leshnikoff, [Asparuh] Arifree

  • Claire Levy

(b Haskovo, 29 June 1896; d Sofia, 31 July 1978). Bulgarian singer, internationally famous as a schlager performer, nicknamed the ‘Knight of the Upper F’. As a child he was a solo singer in the church choir in the town of Stara Zagora. Later on he went to the military school in Sofia and in 1920 took professional vocal lessons. In 1923 Leshnikoff went to Berlin, where he received a scholarship at the Sternischen Konservatorium. In 1927 he was appointed at the Grosses Schauspielhaus – a review theatre – and in 1928 joined Comedian Harmonists, a newly formed male vocal sextet, to perform the first tenor part. Becoming one of the most popular groups in Europe before World War II, Comedian Harmonists developed a style, based on aspects of German schlager, bel canto opera singing, pleasing tunes influenced by traditional lyrical songs, and Afro-American-derived patterns associated with the blues, gospel, and close harmony vocal techniques. Their records were released by labels including Odeon, Electrola, Columbia, and His Master’s Voice. In 1934, soon after the Nazi party came into power, the ensemble was forced to end their glamorous career as three of the members were Jewish. Leshnikoff returned to his native country in 1941 where he released numerous records of Bulgarian solo schlagers in a sweet, sentimental idiom popular at the time. These records were hugely popular in Bulgaria. After World War II he seemed to be completely forgotten, but there was a renewed interest in his work in the mid-1960s. At the jubilee of Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin, 1968, he was awarded a gold badge as an honorary member of the theatre. Shortly before his death, on the occasion of his 80th anniversary, Bulgarian government honoured Leshnikoff with the Cyril and Methodius Order.