VIDEO: 2 000 people in Rokycany, Czech Republic, pay their respects to the Queen of Romani Music, Věra Bílá
Yesterday in Rokycany, Czech Republic, almost 2 000 people, most of them Romani, paid their last respects at the church and cemetery to Romani singer Věra Bílá. The church service on the main square began at 11:00, after which hundreds of people drove or walked to the cemetery on the outskirts for the burial.
On the way to the cemetery people stopped at the Žďár shopping center, where the singer used to spend time sitting on a bench and where her friends and relatives want to see a remembrance site created for her. A four-member band featuring her nephew, the violinist Jiří Giňa, performed for almost an hour at the cemetery.
The close of that interlude featured Ms Bílá's favorite songs, including the Moravian folk song "Good Night and Sweet Dreams" (Dobrú noc a sladké sny). As per the rules of a Romani funeral, there was no singing along with the melodies.
"We thank all of the people from the Czech Republic and from abroad who loved Věra. We thank you all very much for the gifts and all you have done for her," said Bílá's great-grandson Milan Mikulič, who organized the memorial ceremony and is collecting money to install a statue of his great-grandmother at her favorite bench.
Mikulič then invited everybody who loved the singer to a restaurant in Plzeň for beer and soft drinks. Speaking after the church service, the Romani singer Jan Bendig said: "I would like to thank Věra Bílá, on behalf of the younger and older generations, for the beautiful music she made, and I believe her music will remain with us for the rest of our lives."
Bendig asked those attending the funeral to play Ms Bílá's music on their way home, to dance, and to remember her. He added that the performer had loved a good time herself, including fast songs, and that he hopes she is resting in peace now.
Ms Bílá passed away on 12 March at the age of 64 in a hospital in Plzeň. The native of Rokycany is said to have been the most famous female singer from the Czech Republic known to the rest of the world, and was selling out L'Olympia in Paris some years ago.
A Romani band was playing music beginning at 10:30 next to Ms Bílá's open casket in the church yesterday, in front of which there was a large format black-and-white photograph of the deceased. Mourners put their offerings of cigarettes, flowers and money into the casket, with some placing the offerings directly into her folded hands.
The mourners circulated around the coffin and wept. At the cemetery they tossed flowers, coins, bank notes and earth into the grave after the casket was interred.
"I baptized her, I was her godmother. She was a very good girl, everybody in Rokycany knew her," said Marie Číčová, who moved to Rokycany in 1947 and saw her goddaughter daily.
Ivan Grün, a Prague friend of the vocalist who also sang with her, said "every American" knows the singer. "I was in San Francisco, I went to Pier 39, and I heard Věra Bílá!" said Grün, who is dedicated to the Romanes language and has many friends among the Roma.
"I couldn't believe it! I walked into the shop, it was owned by a Frenchman, and he was playing her music over and over," Grün recounted.
"That was on a Thursday, and on the Sunday I told her about it here in Rokycany, on a little bench on the town square," Grün said. He has his own band featuring American musicians who perform Ms Bílá's songs.
"They just know Yvona Přenosilová and Věra Bílá. Every American knows her," Grün enthused.
"She's famous there, her music is gorgeous," the Prague singer said. Ms Bílá was one of Europe's most outstanding Romani figures.
She was more famous and recognized abroad than in the Czech Republic. People on the Czech music scene speak of her as a great talent that was wasted.
She was born 22 May 1954 in Rokycany, Czechoslovakia into the Giňa family of musicians. She began her singing career at family celebrations, weddings and parties, accompianied by her father, Karol Giňa, on cembalom.
The late Czech singer Zuzana Navarová de Tejada "discovered" the Romani performer and brought her to a wider audience. Thanks to Navarová and to the late Czech-French music manager Jiří Smetana, the act called "Věra Bílá and Kale", (her band), became big stars of the world music genre.
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