They can be good resources for popular music researchers: they unveil when, where and what was in fashion in Hungary. The popular music research is an important area; more and more researchers turn to this genre – just think of the Tamás Cseh Project. Our database can be a real goldmine for them.
We don’t start the history of popular music with the beat or the rock and roll eras. Naturally, the American influence is obvious, but there are other sources of popular music as well. The couplet songs, melodies of cabarets and operettas were also great hits, thus the world of popular music was connected to the theatre too. These songs were published on gramophone disks – the extent of the disk side defined the ideal lengths of songs – and many singers were made popular by the radio. And so did the films of course! Film hit songs transformed actors and actresses into star singers magically. In Germany for example, one of the coolest performers was Johannes Heesters. The operetta- and film-star also performed in Hungary in 1943. But Jopie (as he was nick-named) might have come even in 2003, because he finished his 90-year-long acting career – and his 108-year-long life – in 2011.
The popular culture of the Horthy era was defined by Pál Jávor and Katalin Karády. But the folk art songs also had their fans. József Cselényi was one of the most famous folk song singers, but unfortunately Hungarian folk songs did not get as much respect in Hungary as the canzone did in Italy or the country music did in the USA.
Besides the theatre, the radio and the cinema, it was also due to different places of amusement that these melodies could make the weekdays of even the hardest ages beautiful. For example Bartók and his dance-band were playing the background music for the fine dishes and wines in Várkert-Kioszk in 1954. Unfortunately, he was not Béla Bartók of course. During the 1940s and ‘50s, jazz also received its role besides the folk and classic dance melodies, although certain hidebound musicians and dogmatic politicians considered it as a danger of decadency. A dance-song really served the background of a dance party, but more and more singing performers were associated to dance-songs in the period.
On the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, excellent singers conquered the heart of the audience. Lehel Németh was adored like western European stars; young singers performed with bands like Chappy Orlay’s or Ákos Holéczy’s one.
This musical culture saved something from the middle-class atmosphere of the ‘anti-world’, just like the spreading of traditional, vocal pop music was also a modern world phenomenon. Many dance-song singers of the period still perform: György Korda will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his first performance next year. According to the leaflets and pamphlets, ‘time stopped’ for him – even though we know this song in Ilona Hollós’s or János Vámosi’s interpretations. He also got a new ‘second name’ by the ‘80s-‘90s due to his wife (Klári Balázs): Korda – Balázs.
The predecessors of today’s talent shows can be found as well in the 1960s: for example Magyar Rádió (Hungarian Radio) broadcasted the programme ‘Tessék választani’ (Select Please) as of 1960, whose famous star was Erzsi Szántó among others, and later Made in Hungary was broadcasted. The dance-band of the Hungarian Radio and later the Studio 11 (that was set up from the former) became the permanent band of the Hungarian pop music. László Aradszky took the lead in all these competitions, and then received the first Hungarian golden record for his song ‘Isten véled édes Piroskám’.
The Hungarian Television (Magyar Televízió) started broadcasting programmes as of 1 May in 1957, after experimental broadcasting. It also introduced dance-song performers since the beginnings. The Dance-song Festival was first organised in 1966 and became the most popular television programme of the era. Its models were international shows like the San Remo Festival of Italy or the international Eurovision since 1956. During the programme, the streets were deserted and a whole country watched the dance-songs. Kati Kovács won the first festival, one year after having had a great success at the other extremely popular contest ‘Ki mit tud?’ (Who Knows What?). The Kossuth Prize winner artist became known not only in the various periods of pop music, but also in the world of films.
In the second half of the ‘60s, teens burnt down the house for bands like Illés and Omega, who were considered as the starting points of the Hungarian popular music. Their successes can be compared to those of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones on international level. The big beat rebels did not break up with the traditional popular music infrastructure completely. Illés band also performed with dance-song singers and Zsuzsa Koncz – the favourite of her generation – had a lot of performances in dance-music programs as well.
Dance-song performers are the great singers of leaflets and pamphlets: their successes are the magical experiences of our every-day lives. Their careers reflect the development of the mass culture and media, while their songs tell us stories about our loves and dreams. Their stories are part of the Hungarian culture-history.
Translated by Zita Aknai