Famous Gypsies

In this page we present some famous people who are/were Roma or have/had Romany ancestry. Since the list would be quite long, we do not include here Flamenco artists, as their belonging to the Gitanos people is well-known and only few of them are not Roma.
Some of the personalities listed here have kept their Romany identity secret or were suggested to do so, while others have declared it openly.
The order in which they are presented here is by their profession in first place and then by their birth nationality.
Professions: Artists, Writers, Scientists, Actors & Actresses, Musicians & Singers, Nobel Prizes, Pioneers & Adventurers, Presidents of the Republic, Parliament Members, Preachers, War Heroes, Journalists, Fashion Designer.
Additional category: Fictional Characters.
Order by countries here.

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Artists

France

     
Micaela Flores Amaya
“La Chunga” (Marseille, 1938)
 

Even though “La Chunga” is known worldwide as a Flamenco dancer (and Flamenco artists are not included in this webpage), her mention here is as a Romany painter. Grown-up in Barcelona, she was first a talented dancer since her childhood, and later she began to paint by spontaneous inspiration. Her “shining naďf” style was praised by Picasso, who said of her: “How can it be possible that a Gipsy girl without studies expresses such a sensibility and colours in her paintings...”.  She has also featured as cinema actress. She has been awarded the Golden Medal of the Fine Arts Circle of Madrid, and other prizes.

 
 

Hungary

     
David Beeri
(Nyírbéltelek, Szabolcs-Szatmár, 9/7/1951)
 

Born Károly Pongor Beri, he is a Rom artist that has created his own spiritual style of modern painting, that results of combining surrealism, expressionism, cubism and other trends according to his own rules. His works have been presented in many exhibitions, mainly  in Hungary, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan and the USA.

 
 
Tamás Péli
(Budapest, 1948 - Budapest, 22/11/1994)
 

Tamás Péli was the first Hungarian Rom that graduated as a professional painter, at the National Art Academy of Amsterdam. His works are acknowledged worldwide and considered among the masterpieces of visual arts. He has handed down his passion among Roma, teaching his art to a group of disciples, and has inspired the following generations of Roma artists.

 
 
Italy

Antonio Solario
(Civita in Abruzzo, around 1465 - 1530)
 

Born in Abruzzo, where Roma settlements are among the earliest ones in Italy. Known as “Lo Zingaro” (The Gypsy), he was at first a traveller smith, following his father's tradition. Solario was a Renaissance painter of the Neapolitan school, but he studied in Bologna, Venice, Florence and Rome. Back in Naples, he became the most recognized painter in his time. A naturalist, his background landscapes were better accomplished than those of his contemporaries. His best known work is a series of twenty frescoes in the monastery of San Severino.

 
 
Romania (Erdély)
Mircea Lacatus
(Szamosújvár/Gherla, 24/3/1962)
 

Romany sculptor, graduated at the University of Arts in Bucharest, Romania. Resident in Vienna, has exposed his works in several international art contests, mainly in Austria, Romania, Croatia and Japan. His website here.

 
 

Slovakia/Hungary

     
János Balázs
(Alsókubin, present-day Slovakia, formerly Hungary, 1905 - 1977)
 

Born in a family of Gypsy musicians, János Balázs excelled in painting and poetry. His creative art is unique and mysterious, rich in colours, and conveys the expression of the deepest feelings of both Hungarian and Romany cultures. Even though he began his artistic career in his latter years, he has achieved a place among the greatest painters of the 20th century.

 
 

Spain

     
 
Helios Gómez Rodríguez
(Sevilla, 1905 – Barcelona, 1956)
 

Painter, visual artist, poet and political activist. Proud of his Andalusian Romany identity, he was a major representative of the Spanish graphic art, which was an expression of his revolutionary ideas for social justice. During the Spanish civil war he enlisted a Gypsy Cavalry division to defend the Republic. Forced to exile, he settled in France, Belgium, Germany and the Soviet Union, where he participated in several expositions. Imprisoned in French concentration camps from 1939 to 1942, he returned back to Spain and continued both his artistic and political activities, for which he was imprisoned several years.

 
 

Sweden

     
Rosa Taikon Janush
(Tibro, 1926)
 

Silversmith jeweler, she is the sister of Katarina Taikon, writer. Her handicrafts are exposed in exhibitions and museums, mainly in Sweden.

 
 

Ukraine

 
Katarzyna Pollok
(Kiiev, 1961)
 

Internationally recognized painter and sculptor, she is a Sinti woman committed to minority rights and often dealing with the memory of the Gypsy Holocaust (Porhaymós). At present resident in Germany, she realizes art exhibitions worldwide, including Jewish Museums of the Shoah.

"I have respect for the Holocaust identity, and with this special identity of the European Roma I found my second home in Israel. In Israel I found more security and understanding for me as a child of a child survivor of the Holocaust than in Europe or India". – Katarzyna Pollok

Katarzyna's website 

 

 

Writers

Austria

   
Ceija Stojka
(Kraubath bei Knittenfeld, Steiermark, 23/3/1933 - Wien, 28/1/2013)
 

Born Margarethe Stojka in a family of Lovari Roma, traditionally horse-traders. Being a child she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as her whole family; then she was transferred to different concentration camps until she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Then Ceija decided to study and became a writer; her first book was the first literary work about the Holocaust written by a Romni. She was also a self-taught painter and her works have been presented in exhibitions. She has published also a collection of poetry.

 
 
Austria-Hungary  

Johann “Kalitsch” Horváth
(Felsőőr/Oberwart, present-day Austria, formerly Hungary, 1912-1983)
 

Storyteller and writer, Kalitsch was the only member of his family that survived after having been deported to Auschwitz, where he lost his first wife and three children. Then he married his wife's sister and rebuilt himself a family. With his accounts he has awakened the Austrian people to the existence of the minority groups and has contributed to keep alive the Romany dialect of Burgenland.

 
 

Belarus'

   
Valdemar Kalinin
(Vitebsk, 1941)
 

Valdemar Kalinin is a contemporary Rom writer, following the Russian Romany literary school. Author of the poetry collection Romany Dreams, written in Belorussian, English and a double version of Romany: in Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. He has been awarded with the Hiroshima Prize for Peace and Culture in 2002 and the Roma Literary Award from Open Society Institute of Budapest in 2003. He has also written a translation of the Bible in Romany language.

 
 

Finland

   
Veijo Baltzar
(Suonenjoki, 9/6/1942)
 

Veijo Baltzar is the first Rom in Finland to have published a book about his own people. He was still very young when began writing, and his works have always achieved success not only in Finland but also in Sweden. Poet, novelist and playwright, has founded the Romany Theatre “Drom” (Way) and has been awarded in his country and abroad.

 
 

Germany

   
Philomena Franz
(Biberach an der Riss, 12/7/1922)
 

Born in a Sinti family of musicians, in her youth she was a folk singer and dancer in a theatre company. Then she was sent to Auschwitz and transferred to other concentration camps, from which survived but having lost her family. She became a writer and in 1995 she was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz, that is the highest civil honour conferred in Germany.

 
 

Greece

 

Patricio Kassimati Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi)
(Levkás, Greece, 27/6/1850 - Okubo, Japan, 26/9/1904)
 

Poet, journalist, translator and language teacher, belonged to the Heron Romanichel family. Educated in Ireland, England and France, in 1889 settled in Japan and married the daughter of a traditional Samurai family. Since 1895 he is known under his Japanese name Yakumo Koizumi. He was the author of several books about Japan and its culture, and was teacher of English literature at the Imperial University of Tokyo and at Waseda University.

 
 

Russia

 

Nikolay Aleksandrovich Pankov
(Sankt-Petersburg, 1895 - Moscow, 1959)
 

A pioneer among Russian Gypsy writers, Nikolay Pankov's literary talent was the result of a self-taught education. In 1922 he moved to Moscow and became acquainted with Romany organizations, with which he co-operated in the promotion of Romany language and culture. Author, poet, translator and journalist, he wrote articles and poetry for the journal Novyi Put'; translated into Romany some works of Aleksandr Puškin, created a Romany alphabet and contributed with the production of a Romany-Russian dictionary. He was also a member of the Gypsy Lore Society of Liverpool, England. He was the father of the scientists Natalya Pankova and Lyubov Pankova.

 
 

Olga Pankova
(Sankt-Petersburg, 1911 - Moscow, 1983)
 

A niece of Nikolay Pankov, she began her career writing for the journal Novyi Put'. She also translated Puškin's prose and poetry into Romany. She was the author of a collection of verses titled “Amaré Divesa” (Our Days), published in Moscow in 1933, which was the first Romany literary work written by a woman.

 
 

Nina Aleksandrovna Dudarova
(Sankt-Petersburg, 1903 - Moscow, 1977)
 

Being a governess and a teacher, her literary work has been mainly devoted to children. She taught in the school of the Romen Theatre. Besides having written several books of poetry for children, she has also translated some of Puškin's works and wrote articles for journals like Novyi Put' and Romano Drom.

 
 

Serbia

 

Alija Krasnići
(Crkvena Vodica, Serbia, 1952)
 

Ali Krasnići belongs to the Gurbet Roma and is one of the few authors who writes prose in Romany. He is among the most popular and awarded writers in ex-Yugoslavia, having published more than forty books and many other literary works in different genres: prose, poetry, drama and also books for children. He is the author of a Romany dictionary which includes abstract terms not borrowed from other languages. He is also a translator of Serbian and Romany. After the war in Kosovo, he lives as a refugee in Kragujevac, Serbia, having lost his properties and saved only his manuscripts.

 
 

Slovakia

 

Elena Lacková
(Veľký Šariš, Czechoslovakia, 22/3/1921 - Košice, 1/1/2003)
 

Born Elena Doktorová, she was the first Romany girl who graduated at the Univerzita Karlova of Praha, the oldest and most important Czech university. She enjoyed reading since her childhood, but her first literary works were lost during the hard times of WWII. She has written several novels, tales and plays about the Romany Holocaust. In 2001 she was honored with the Rabbi Chatam Sofer Memorial Medal, the highest award given by the Slovak Museum of Jewish Culture, for her documentary work about the Shoah.

 
 

Spain/France

   
Matéo Maximoff
(Barcelona, 17/1/1907 - Paris, 24/11/1999)
 

His father was a Russian Kalderash that migrated to France and his mother a Manouche (French Sinti). Matéo Maximoff survived the ″Porhaymós″ during the World War II; he became an outstanding writer in Romany and French, and advocated for schooling of Roma children. His literary works have been translated into several languages. Having became Evangelical pastor, he completed a translation of the New Testament in Kalderash Romany.

 
 
 

Sweden

 
Katarina Taikon
(Almby, Örebro, 29/7/1932 - Ytterhogdal, Härjedalen, 30/12/1995)

Not having had access to school education because of her ethnicity (Kalderash Roma), she achieved in becoming a well-known writer, mainly of books for children. Her literary work "Katitzi" is a story inspired in her childhood.

 
 

Ukraine/Poland

     
Bronislawa Warmiak Wajs "Papusza"
(present-day Ukraine, formerly Poland, 1910? - Poland, 1987)

She was undoubtedly one of the greatest Romany writers , her devotion to learning began in her early childhood. Belonging to a family of wandering musicians, there was no interest in literature among her people, so she was taught to read and write by a Jewish lady, who also lent her books. She survived the persecution during the World War II and was the author of a collection of poems and songs.

 
 

United Kingdom

 
Louise Doughty
(Rutland, East Midlands, 1963)

British playwright, critic and broadcaster. She discovered that both her parents are Roma through the postcards they received, which were written in Anglo-Romany. Her last two novels, Fires in the Dark and Stone Cradle, deal with the Romany life.

Louise's website

 
 

United States

 
Cecilia Woloch
(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

American writer and poet of Carpathian Romany origin. Graduated in English and Theater Arts at the Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, she has been working as free-lance teacher of poetry and creative writing, leading workshops for children and youth, for teachers, professional writers, participants in social programs and residents of a shelter for homeless women. Among her poetry books, “Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem” tells the author's personal journey of identity with the forces that have shaped the Roma people's fate and fortunes.

Cecilia's website

 

Scientists

Armenia

 
Kerope Petrovich Patkanov (Patkanyan)
(Naxičevan-na-Donu, Russian Empire, 4[16]/5/1833 - Sankt-Petersburg, 2[14]/4/1889)
 

Scientist and orientalist, he belonged to the Armenian Roma people. He studied at the Lazarevsky Institute of Eastern Languages and became an expert in Armenian history, culture, language and literature. In 1863 he graduated as Master in Eastern Literature for his studies on the Sassanid history and in 1864 as Doctor in Literature for his work on the composition of the Armenian language. In 1871 he was appointed professor at the University of Sankt-Petersburg. He translated into Russian some works of Armenian writers and performed a research on the languages and culture of Caucasian Gypsies and other nomadic groups, and wrote articles on geography and history for encyclopaedic publications.

 
 

Russia

 
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya
(Moscow, 15/1/1850 - Stockholm, 10/2/1891)
 

Born Sofia Krukovskaya in a well-educated Romany family that belonged to the Russian nobility, she was a genius in mathematics since her childhood. She was able to explain algebraic formulae which she had not studied before, following a method corresponding to the historical development of algebra. In 1869 she moved to Germany with the purpose of studying natural sciences but women were not admitted in the university; nevertheless, she was allowed to attend lectures. However, in 1874 she achieved in getting her doctorate, with the highest qualification. In 1884, she was appointed as professor at the University of Stockholm, Sweden, a chair that was officialized five years later, becoming the first female university professor in Scandinavia and the third in Europe (after two Italian women).

 
 
Natalya Pankova and Lyubov Pankova

Two sisters, the daughters of Rom writer Nikolay Aleksandrovich Pankov.
 
Natalya Nikolayevna Pankova
(Moscow, 1924 - 1991)
 

She graduated in Chemistry and worked at the Institute of Organic Subproducts and Dyes as Research Assistant. During her professional activity, she was acknowledged for the invention of thirty advanced processes of cyanide dyes, for which she obtained the certificates of authorship. Natalya Pankova was not only an outstanding scientist, she was also a gifted artist, singer, dancer and painter.

 
Lyubov Nikolayevna Pankova
(Moscow, 1925)
 

She is a PhD in Biology and Senior Research Assistant at the Central Institute of Labour Capacity and Labour Organization for the Disabled. She wrote many specialized books and carried on more than fifty scientific works dealing with human and animal physiology, clinical, anatomical and nervous characteristics of children and youngsters, and other scientific topics. She has also written her life experience, in which important facts of the national history are recorded.

 
 
See also: Schack August Steenberg Krogh, under Nobel Prizes

Actors & Actresses

Croatia

Dunja Rajter
(Našice, Yugoslavia, 3/3/1941)
 

Dunja Rajter is an actress and singer. She studied in the Theatre Academy of Zagreb, and then moved to Germany, where she achieved success. Initially known as theatre and cinema actress, in the 70's she also performed as singer and some of her songs reached the German hit parade. Since the civil war that divided former Yugoslavia, she has been involved in supporting needy children and hospitals in her native country. She has also recorded the Croatian National Anthem for the Football World Cup in Germany 2006.

 
 
French Algeria

Tony Gatlif
(Al-Jazair, 10/9/1948)
 

Born Michel Dahmani in an Andalusi Gypsy family. His troubled youth has been the school in which he learnt the backround for the films of which he is director, characterized by their crude realism. Since he presented his first feature film in 1975, his popularity has been continuously increasing.

 
 
Germany

Manoush
(Köln, 5/1971)
 

Her birth name is Marcia Nicole Rani, she is the daughter of a survivor from the Romany Holocaust. Actress, playwright and singer, she mainly performs the role of the ″bad girl″ in action and thriller movies. She acts also as stuntwoman in difficult scenes. Settled in the United States, she has also her own music band. Her performances are usually controversial for their crudeness and violence, althogh she personally admits not being of such character in real life.

 
 
Russia  


 

Yul Brynner
(Vladivostok, 7/7/1915 - New York, 10/10/1985)
 

 

An undoubtedly controversial person, his origins have been a mystery for many. Actually he had only 1/4th of Romany blood, and 1/4th Jewish, by his mother Marousia Blagovidova, whose father was a Russian Jew and her mother a Russian Gypsy. It was anyway among Roma that he began his adventurous life, playing guitar in Romany circles and working as a trapezist in circus. He was elected Honorary President of the Roma, an office that he kept until his death.

 
 

The Buzylyov Family
 

A family of actors, musicians, singers, dancers and artists, the Buzylyov have featured in several films, some of them of worldwide success, like “Tabor Uhodit V Nebo” and “Sibiriada”. They have not only acted, but also composed songs for the films. The best known members of the eight siblings are: Viktor, the elder brother, a great composer; Dmitryi, the most famous, poet and actor; their younger sister Alena Buzylyova, who has become a recognized singer, and also Mikhail, actor.

 
 

Nikolay Slichenko
(Belgorod, 27/12/1934)
 

Theatre actor since his youth, he survived the World War II, in which he lost his father and other members of his family. He has won several important awards as People's Artist of the USSR (1981), State Prize of the USSR (1987), and the Order for the Service to Fatherland (2004). In 1977 he was appointed as Producer of the Romen Theatre of Moscow. There is also a star named after him.

 
 
United Kingdom  

Sir Charles Chaplin
(Black Patch Park, Smethwick, Staffordshire, 16/4/1889 - Vevey, Switzerland, 25/12/1977)
 

Born Charles Spencer Chaplin, his parents were music hall artists. It was assumed that he was Jewish, an assertion that now is known to be not true. He felt strongly identified with the Jews and manifested his defence of the Jewish people, but there is not any documented source to assert with certainty if he had also Jewish ancestry. On the other side, it is known that his mother, Hannah Smith, was Romanichel, and also his father belonged to the Romany Smith family. Charles Chaplin was born in a Gypsy caravan in West Midlands and not in Walworth, London, as it was believed.
He was knighted in 1975.

   

 

 

Sir Michael Caine
(Rotherhithe, London, 14/3/1933)

Born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, it was a tradition of his Romanichel family to call Maurice the firstborn son.
As an actor, he was awarded twice with the Oscar (1986 and 1999). He was knighted in the year 2000 for his contribution to performing arts.

 
 

Bob Hoskins
(Bury St. Edmund's, Suffolk , 26/10/1942)
 

 

Robert William Hoskins, as many Gypsies, spent his youth travelling and performing occasional activities like working in circus. Then he turned to the cinema and succeeded as actor. His family on his mother's side are German Sinti.

 
 

Other British actors having Romany ancestry – though dating back to some generations ago – are Sir Sean Connery, Sir Roger Moore, both having featured James Bond, and Leonard Whiting.

 
 

Stuntmen: There are many Roma who have played in famous films as stuntmen (men who replace the actors in scenes which require special skills and efforts); they are not famous, nor their names are listed in the credits either, yet, they deserve acknowledgement for their participation even though it is not possible to mention them by name. Roma have been engaged mainly in Bible history films and “spaghetti” Westerns.

 

Musicians & Singers
(except Flamenco)

Argentina
Sandro
also known as "Sandro de América" or "Gitano"
(Buenos Aires, 19/8/1945 - Mendoza, Argentina, 4/1/2010)
 

His civil name was Roberto Sánchez, although that was not his original surname, having his paternal grandfather arrived in Argentina from Eastern Europe. With more than forty years of artistic career, Sandro was the most popular Argentinian pop singer, and the first Latin-American artist who achieved an overflowing full stage at the Madison Square Garden of New York several times. With his first concert in the World's most famous arena, in April 1970, Sandro became the first singer in history whose concert was broadcasted via satellite.
Sandro was a rock n' roll star in the sixties, inspired by Elvis Presley. His passionate style conquered the female public in Argentina and throughout the continent. By his artistic talent and renewal ability, his music has always been abreast of the times, and along his career he was mainly a romantic ballade singer.

   

Yo soy gitano
Seńor de muchos caminos, amante y aventurero, Soy de la raza gitana, su príncipe y heredero.
Una raza que de vieja su historia lleva perdida, Cabalga junto a la muerte y su caballo es la vida.
Vengo de tierras lejanas, de allí donde nace el día, No tengo nación ni patria pues la Tierra es toda mía.
Soy padre de la alegría y hermano de la tristeza, Peleo ante la injusticia y me rindo ante la belleza.
Y aunque no tengo corona soy de reyes, soberano, Pues es mi mayor orgullo seńores, yo soy gitano.
(Sandro)
 
 
Belgium

Django Reinhardt
(Liberchies, Belgium, 23/1/1910 - Fontainebleau, France, 16/5/1953)
 

 

Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt was the first and still the greatest European jazz musician. His origins have never been a mystery, he belonged to one of the most numerous German Sinti families, of the Eftavagarya group. Even after two of his fingers were seriously damaged by an accident, Django outstandingly performed violin, guitar and banjo with the use of his healthy fingers. Django's particular style is also defined “Gypsy Jazz”.

 
The Reinhardt Family counts with many outstanding jazz musicians, among them the violinists Schukarnak Reinhardt and Martin Weiss, and the guitarists Babik Reinhardt, Hänsche and Maurice Weiss.
 
 
Bulgaria  

Reyhan
(23/7/1986 - 25/7/2005)

Reyhan was a popular Romany singer. She recorded some albums, mainly in Turkish language, and was becoming a star when died as a consequence of a road accident.

 

 
 
Czech    

Jožka Kubík
(Hrubá Vrbka, Horňácko, Moravia, 9/4/1907 - 8/2/1978)
 

Jožka Kubík belonged to the almost extinct group of Moravian Roma. His family were traditionally blacksmiths and musicians. He learnt to play violin in his childhood and at the age of fifteen he was leading a folk ensemble. He was the first musician that introduced cymbalon among violins and violas in a Czech folk orchestra, which required the development of a more elaborate playing style. He was one of the few Moravian Roma who survived the Romany Holocaust. In 1990, an asteroid discovered by Czech astronomers was named JožkaKubík in his honour.

 
 

Iva Bittová
(Bruntál, Moravia, 22/7/1958)
 

Born from a Gypsy father and a Jewish mother, Iva Bittová inherited her talent from her father, who was a renowned musician in Czechoslovakia. She is an outstanding violinist and a legend of modern Czech music. Her style is defined as avant-garde, an original mix of folk and contemporary music created by herself. She is also a composer of many of her works and employs unique, personal techniques of performing. She has achieved international success and gives concerts throughout Europe and the USA.
Her sister Ida Kelarová is a singer and musician of international esteem, founder of the ensemble “Romanó Rat” (Gypsy Blood).

 
 
France

Biréli Lagrčne
(Saverene, Alsace, 4/9/1966)
 

Following Django's footsteps, the guitarist Biréli Lagrčne revealed himself an infant prodigy being only 13 years old when he did his first recording. Born in a family of excellent self-taught musicians, Biréli still lives in caravan as an authentic Manouche. A master of versatility, he passed to modern fusion music in the 80's and returned back to traditonal Gypsy Jazz in the 90's, having created his own style. He is the founder of “Gypsy Jazz Project”.

 
 

Alabina
(“Los Nińos de Sara”, the cousins Antonio, Ramón, Santiago and Coco)
 

The group Alabina, which achieved international success, is composed by Los Nińos de Sara together with the Israeli singer Ester Zach (“Ishtar”). The four cousins are Gitanos and have grown up as musicians in the school of Flamenco. However, they have developed their own genre, which is a fusion of Middle Eastern folk, rumba, North African rhythms and other styles to which they add a slight Flamenco flavour.

 
 
Germany

Drafi Deutscher
(Berlin, 9/5/1946 - Frankfurt am Main, 9/6/2006)
 

Drafi Franz Richard Deutscher was the son of the Hungarian classical pianist Drafi Kálmán. He was a Schlager and pop singer, composer and producer. Very successful in Germany, he also composed some international hits for well-known artists. He used many different pseudonyms and held an excessive life-style.

 
 

Marianne Rosenberg
(Berlin, 10/3/1955)
 

She is a Schlager music singer, the daughter of Roma Auschwitz survivor Otto Rosenberg. She achieved success in the seventies, not only in Germany but also in neighbouring countries. She is still in activity and her songs usually reach a position in German charts.

 
 

Ayọ
(Köln, 14/9/1980)
 

Afro-Gypsy” is how this half-Yoruba and half-Romanian Romany singer is defined. Her name is Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin, and Ayọ is her stage name, meaning Joy in her father's language. Her music is a mixed style like herself. Her first album, soul-raggae-folk genre, has achieved great success, going platinum or gold in Europe. Although closer to her African roots, she is also influenced by her Romany heritage and lifestyle.

 
 

Greece

 

Kostas Pavlidis
(Athens, 4/11/1974)
 

Kostas Pavlidis is one of the most qualified contemporary singers of Greece. He has been performing since his childhood, and signed his first professional record contract being only fifteen years old. In his artistic career he has featured the music of the most prestigious composers of Greece, as well as his own compositions. In 1993 he participated in the Romany music concert that was then released in the album “Songs of Greece's Gypsies”. Since then he has been recording with the most important Greek artists, and is contributing to the modernization of the Greek Romany musical culture.

 
 

Yiorgos Mangas
(Livádia, Viotia, 23/8/1952)
 

Yiorgos Mangas is a Greek Rom, considered the best contemporary soloist clarinet player in Greece. His particular style and technique, using complex scales over a modal harmonic background, slides and unexpected changes, and his personal way of interpretation and improvisation ability have conquered the public not only in his native land but throughout Europe and America. His rousing pieces and stage performance create a lively atmosphere in the audience.

 
 

Eirini Merkouri
(Ilion, Athens, 26/5/1981)
 

Eirini Merkouri is a pop singer of rising popularity in Greece. She belongs to a Romany family of musicians. Her first solo album was released in 2001.

 
 

Greece/Israel

   
Glykeria
(Agio Pnevma, Serres, Greece, 1953)
 

Born Glykeria Kotsoula, she is one of the most successful Greek singers. Her career is marked by several platinum releases and performances with prestigious artists. She is the best appreciated foreign singer in Israel, having given concerts with Ofra Haza ‒the most famous Israeli artist‒ and with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. She sings also in Hebrew and was the only non-Israeli artist to be invited to participate at the memorial concert in honor of Yitzhak Rabin in Tel-Aviv. She was made honorary citizen of Jerusalem in 1994.

 
 
 
Hungary

János Bihari
(Nagyabony, 21/10/1764 - Budapest, 26/4/1827)
 

 

János Bihari was the most renowned violinist of his time, and is the most representative interpreter of the “verbunkos” genre. There are 84 of his compositions that show his great talent, so that he was requested to perform in the most important ceremonies, including the whole Congress of Vienna. He was also the author of the Rákóczi March, that later inspired Ferenc Liszt and Berlioz.

 

István Dankó
known as Pista Dankó

(Szeged-Szatymaz, 14/6/1858 - Budapest, 29/3/1903)
 

Author and performer of Hungarian folk music, he was also called "Nótafa" (folk singer). In his native city he composed music for more than four-hundred poetry works. Then he moved to Szatmar and married Ilonka Joó, the daughter of the mayor of that city; the couple had to run away -in Romany style- after her father's disapproval because Dankó was a Gypsy. In his career he met the most important personalities of the time and even became their personal friend, including Prime Minister István Weckerle and many recognized Hungarian writers and poets like Géza Gárdonyi. Dankó's musical style was widely successful among the general audience. He composed “A magyarok bejövetele” -“March of the Hungarians”-, for the celebration of the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian State, in 1885. Twenty years after his death, a statue of him was erected in Szeged by the Tisza river. Pista Dankó was the second Hungarian Rom after János Bihari to earn such honour.

 
 

György Cziffra
(Budapest, 5/11/1921 - Senlis, France, 17/1/1994)
 

A great pianist, he interpreted classic compositors like Liszt and Chopin in a particular way. Born in a humble family of Hungarian Roma, was internationally acknowledged as an outstanding pianist and master of improvisation. After the WWII, he was imprisoned for political reasons and suffered tortures which aimed at damaging his hands. Having been released, he emigrated to France and his ability was restored. His performances in Western Europe credited him as an exceptional, poetical pianist.

 
 

Roby Lakatos
(Budapest, 1965)
 

Roby Lakatos is a direct descendant of János Bihari and a member of a traditional family of Romany musicians, within which he received his musical formation, then completed at the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest. He is an extraordinarily versatile violinist, able to combine classic, jazz and folk styles in a single performance. Composer and arranger, he has founded his own ensemble and has performed in international festivals with prestigious orchestras. Violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin was among his admirers.

 

 
 

Ferenc Snétberger
(Salgótarján, 1957)
 

 

Ferenc Snétberger belongs to the Sinti group. His career as guitarist was developed since his childhood, cultivating different genres, from classic to jazz, folk and tango. His first composition for guitar and orchestra, “In Memory Of My People” was done by the initiative of Israeli musicians to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the end of the Shoah. Ferenc Snétberger dedicated this work to the memory of the Romany Shoah, inspired in the deeply passionate Romany music. 

 
 

Kálmán Balogh
(Miskolc, 1959)
 

Born into a Romany family of recognized musical tradition, Kálmán Balogh is a virtuoso cymbalist. He graduated at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Budapest, and in 1985 he has been awarded as Young Master of Folk Arts. The cymbalon is a particularly unique instrument typcal of Hungarian Gypsies, a hammer dulcimer played with mallets, which Kálmán Balogh plays with mastery and understanding. He has founded his own ensemble and has achieved international success.

 
 

Elek Bacsik
(Budapest, 22/5/1926 - Glen Ellyn, Illinois, 14/2/1993)
 

Guitarist and violinist, he began to play since his youth as it is common among Hungarian Roma. In 1949 he left Hungary, following his personal friend György Cziffra. After having played in ensembles in Europe with some notable figures of Jazz, in 1966 he emigrated to the United States, where he completed his career as Jazz musician. He was also violinist in Elvis Presley's orchestra, recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and appeared in many concerts with great representatives of American Jazz.

 
 
Mexico  

Lila Zellet Elías
(México DF, 2/4/1971)
 

Lucila Tellez Elías Nemer belongs to a Syrian-Lebanese Romany family. She is a dancer and singer, costume and set designer, as well as art director in theatre, dance, opera and films since 1991, and professor of visual arts and art history since 1993. Her work is dedicated to the research, conservation and diffusion of musical and choreographic Romany and Middle Eastern expressions, as well as new proposals bonding Romany culture and Latin America. She has developed a system of dance education to professionalize the choreographic Romany forms in the school she founded, Madrasat Al Mosharabía, one of a kind in Latin America. Director of the Romany dance and music ensembles Egiptanos (2003) and Cigáni (2004), both created to spread and promote the Romany culture. Her specialty is Moorish singing and dancing, recreating the historical moment of the meeting between the Eastern and Western worlds.

 

 
 

Alfonso Mejia-Arias
(Veracruz, 11/9/1961)
 

Musician, writer and politician. He studied cello, history of art and other music disciplines at the National Conservatory and the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Specialized in traditional Japanese music, he has been recognized as the first Latin-American shakuhachi performer. He is an expert in Baroque music as well, and director of chamber orchestra. As a politician, he is a defender of the human rights of minority groups like his own Romany people.

 
 
Netherlands

The Rosenberg Trio
Stochelo (19/2/1968), Nonnie (9/3/1956) & Nous'che (23/2/1965)
 

The Rosenberg family are Sinti with a long tradition as musicians. Since their childhood, Stochelo and his cousins learnt to play guitar and other string instruments from their parents and uncles. They were used to perform in Gypsy camps and churches throughout Europe, but not for the common audience until 1989, when these talents were convinced to let their music be known, performed in theatres and recorded.

 
 

Jimmy Rosenberg
(Asten, 10/4/1980) 

Born Joseph Rosenberg in a Sinti family, he was revealed to be a great guitarist at the age of 13. Being still a teenager, he played with geniuses like Biréli Lagrčne, Stéphane Grappelli, Stochelo Rosenberg and others, and toured in concerts in Europe and the United States, including the Carnegie Hall of New York. Nevertheless, he still prefers living as a true Sinti, in a caravan.

 
 

Mariska Veres
(Den Haag, 1/10/1947 - 2/12/2006)
 

She was the daughter of the Hungarian Gypsy violinist Lajos Veres. She was a pop singer and her career began in the 60's, either as soloist or with different bands. She achieved popularity as the lead vocalist of Shocking Blue; she joined the group with the condition that her relationship with the members would be only professional. An enigmatic beauty with a beautiful voice, she held a healthy life: in the era of youth revolution, she was known for having withdrawn from alcohol, smoking, and other activities that marked that period. After the group's end in 1974, she continued her career as soloist or singing with several Jazz musicians. She was a very popular singer in the Netherlands until her sudden death.

 

 
 
  Poland 

Edyta Górniak
(Ziębice, 14/11/1972)
 

 

Edyta Górniak is the daughter of a Gypsy father and Polish mother. Her childhood was marked by discrimination because of her Romany origins, however, she achieved in becoming the first pop star in Poland and later in Europe and Asia. She was the first Polish singer that participated in Eurovision (1994), and her second place is the highest classification reached by Poland in that contest until now. She sings in Polish and English, and has received many awards and has also sung in duet with José Carreras.

 
 
  Romania  

Sergiu Celibidache
(Roman, Romania, 11/6/1912 - München, Germany, 14/8/1996)
 

Sergiu Celibidache was undoubtedly one of the greatest orchestra conductors of the 20th century. He belonged to the numerous Romany minority of Romania. He was the Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra from 1945 to 1954 and of the Orchestre National de France from 1973 to 1975. Celibidache was also the guest conductor of the Orchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks, Stuttgart, and co-operated with the Münchner Philharmoniker. By personal conviction, he refused to recording his performances for commercial purposes.

 
 
 
Maestro Ion Voicu
(Bucharest, Romania, 8/10/1923 -1997)
 

Considered the best violinist of Romania of all times, Ion Voicu was the founder of the Chamber Orchestra of Bucharest in 1969. He has performed with the most prestigious orchestras as the Berliner Philharmoniker and the London Symphony Orchestra, and with celebrities like Yehudi and Hepzibah Menuhin, David and Igor Oistrakh, Henryk Szeryng, Leonid Kogan, Cristoph Eschenbach, Monique Haas, etc.

 
 

Gheorghe Zamfir
(Găeşti, Dâmboviţa, 6/4/1941)
 

 

 

Gheorghe Zamfir is the most famous nai (pan-flute) virtuoso. Graduate as conductor in Bucharest, has introduced the pan flute in the most varied musical genres and has created the nai-organ style with innovative interpretations. He has performed in concerts worldwide, including Carnegie Hall of New York. For his achievements, he has received the Order for Cultural Merit of France, and the title of Chevalier of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Zamfir has also published essays and poetry, and is also a painter, having presented his works in exhibitions. He has also a foundation for humanitarian and cultural purposes.

 
 
Johnny Răducanu
(Brăila, Romania, 1/12/1931)
 

Called “Mr. Jazz of Romania”, is a pioneer of Jazz music in his country and an outstanding performer, mainly as pianist. He belongs to a Romany family of long musical tradition. He has played and recorded with many of the greatest Jazz artists, has been awarded with the Price of Excellence by the Union of Romanian Composers and has received an honorary membership of the New Orleans Jazz Academy. He is also the founder of the Romanian Jazz school and the President of Romanian Jazz Federation.

 
 
Russia  

“Steshka” Stepanida Soldatova
(1787 - 1822)
 

Steshka, as she was popularly known, was an extraordinary singer and dancer. She began her career in the Gypsy chorus being still very young. At sixteen years of age, she was impressed by Italian Bel Canto style, so that she decided to study this discipline ‒ a quite unusual choice for a Gypsy artist in those times ‒ and then she applied professional techniques to Russian folk song, creating her own style by harmonizing the qualities of the Italian Opera with the traditional Gypsy genre. She had her own ensemble, a typical Gypsy one. She became a legend for many generations of musicians and composers. She had also great human qualities, and supported with her money many poor families besides her own one. When Napoleon invaded Russia and was in Moscow, he called for her to listen to her singing, but she was performing for the Russian troops in another place.

 
 

Mishka Ziganoff
(Odessa, Russian Empire, 19th Century - New York City, United States, after 1921)
 

Accordionist virtuoso and Klezmer musician, he was a Russian Gypsy quite familiar with Yiddish culture and language. Among his compositions and recordings, the song "Koilen" (or "Dus Zekele Koilen") inspired the melody of the best known Italian Partizan hymn, "Bella Ciao".

 
 

 Mikhail Erdenko
(1885 - 1940)
 

Mikhail Erdenko was the founder of a dynasty of Russian Roma musicians, singers, dancers and artists. An outstanding violinist, he was professor at the Moscow conservatory and a personal friend of Lev Tolstoy, for whom he also played. He was a master in arrangements of popular music, of which the most celebrated is his version of the Kol Nidrei, a Jewish prayer in Aramaic which is said in the Synagogue at the evening service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Erdenko's Kol Nidrei is still considered to be the most beautiful version of the prayer

 

 
 

The Erdenko Family
 

   

Almost all members of the Erdenko family are devoted to Gypsy folk music, song and dance, performing arts and circus. Several of them have become well known artists in Russia and worldwide: Lyubov Erdenko, she was an outstanding dancer and composer; Aleksandra Tushenko, singer and dancer; the couple Roza and Nikolay Erdenko, musicians and artists who are at present the senior representatives of the family.

 
 
Nikolay Ivanovich Erdenko
(Kursk, 29/11/1945)
 

Talented violinist, he is the “patriarch” of modern Gypsy Russian folk. Being still a student, he was called to play with a symphonic orchestra in Japan, and then declined a proposal to teach in the conservatory of Tokyo. Nikolay Erdenko is considered an expert by outstanding musicians who have had him as a counsellor and teacher. Musician and singer, his style is abreast of the times but keeping the deep Romany soul of traditional folk. He has participated in soundtracks of films about Gypsy stories, including the most celebrated film of this genre, “Tabor Uhodit V Nebo”. He has recorded albums with his wife Roza and their daughters, in Romany and Russian.

 
 
Loyko
(Sergei Erdenko, Oleg Ponomarev, Alesha Bezlepkin, Vadim Koulitskii, Georgy Osmolovsky, Leonsia Erdenko)

 
Leonsia Erdenko

The name of this Russian Gypsy folk ensemble was given in honour of Loyko Zabar, a legendary Gypsy fiddler of the 19th century. Founded by Sergei Erdenko, son of the dancer Lyubov Erdenko, and his cousin Oleg Ponomarev, grandson of the violinist Vasily Ponomarev, both families of a long artistic tradition. Originally a male group, then joined them the vocalist Leonsia Erdenko, daughter of Nikolay and Roza. All of them professional musicians, they have received classic music education in addition to the folk tradition inherited from their ancestry.
Besides the group, Leonsia has a brilliant career of her own, having studied piano, folk dances, Flamenco, and acting. She belonged to the Trio Erdenko and has also participated in different projects with other musicians and groups.

Loyko's Website

 
 

The Zhemchuzhny Family

A dynasty of Romany Russian artists and musicians, founded by

Nikolay Mikhailovich Zhemchuzhny
(Voronezh, 20/5/1923 - Moscow, 22/1/1993)

A great musician and singer of remarkable creativity, performed traditional Russian Gypsy songs and composed a great number of his own. His folk style is comparable with the cante jondo in Flamenco for its deep emotional charge. His music is also performed in several films, including “Tabor Uhodit V Nebo”, and in many plays of the Romen Theatre of Moscow.
He performed with his wife Olga Sergeyevna Aleksandrovich (Vitebsk, 15/3/1922), an outstanding Gypsy dancer.
 

Lyalya Zhemchuzhnaya
   

Their son Georgii Nikolayevich Zhemchuzhny (Saratov, 5/5/1945) is an actor and director, began his career in his father's ensemble and graduated at the Russian Academy of Theatre and Arts. In 1973 he became director at the Romen Theatre.
Married to Ekaterina Andreevna Buddyzhenko Zhemchuzhnaya (Shchekino, Tula, 23/3/1944), a talented actress and singer belonging to a family of musicians. She began her career in the Romen Theatre of Moscow and has played leading roles in several romances and dramas, acting and performing folk songs.
Their daughter, Olga “Lyalya” Georgievna Zhemchuzhnaya (Moscow, 31/5/1969) is also an outstanding actress and singer, graduated at the Russian Academy of Theatre and Arts. She has acted in several plays with her mother, and has achieved remarkable quality roles in dramas like “Olesya” and “Tzyganka Aza”.
 

 
 

Diana Aleksandrovna Savelyeva
(Lvov, Ukraine, 16/5/1979)
 

Diana Savelyeva is a soprano singer, daughter of the dancer Aleksandr Savelyev and grandniece of Nikolay Zhemchuzhny. She is a talented artist since her childhood; she won the first prize in song contests at the age of seven, and soon her solo performances were applauded by the public of different countries. She studied musical drama at the Romen Theatre of Moscow. She participates in many international concerts and Gypsy festivals, performing various musical genres, including blues, soul, Middle Eastern and other styles. She played the role of Esmeralda in the Russian version of Notre-Dame de Paris, being up to now the only authentic ethnic Gypsy to have featured such a role.

 

 
 

Alyosha Dmitrievich
(Aleksey Ivanovich Dmitrievich)
(Sankt-Petersburg, 23/3/1913 - Paris, 21/1/1986)
 

Musician, dancer and singer. His career began in his childhood into a family ensemble, together with his three brothers and two sisters; he was guitar player and dancer. In 1919 they emigrated to Vladivostok and subsequently to China and Japan, and performed in several countries of Asia and Europe. Ten years later, the family moved to France, where his artistic talent and acrobatic dance style were widely appreciated. In 1940 he settled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and performed in theatres around South America, where he was known as “Gypsy Baron”. In the sixties he discovered to be also a gifted singer and recorded songs, including a duet with his personal friend Yul Brynner. He became very popular among the Russian public in Europe and the United States.

 
 

Pavel Serebryakov
(Tsaritsin, 1909 - Sankt-Petersburg, 1977)
 

Pavel Serebryakov was born in a Romany family. Being a gifted musician, at the age of 19 he moved to Sankt-Petersburg (then called Leningrad) to study piano at Russia's oldest conservatory, where he started his brilliant career: in 1938, he became the Director of the same Leningrad Conservatory, a position that he kept for almost thirty years, until his death. He was not only an outstanding pianist, but also a popular hero, having saved the lives of many colleagues and students who were considered enemies of the regime.

 
 

The Kolpakov Trio
(Aleksandr Kolpakov, Vadim Kolpakov and Tamara Cherepovskaya)
 

Aleksandr “Sasha” Kolpakov (Orenburg, 1943) began playing the Russian seven-string guitar in his childhood and has been the musical director of the Romen Theatre of Moscow. His nephew Vadim Kolpakov is a musician, composer, vocalist, dancer and dramatic actor. Graduated at the Romany Performing Arts School Gilori, he learnt to play seven-string-guitar from his uncle. He has performed for presidents and authorities of different nations and participated in many musical projects. His concerts worldwide include performances at the Carnegie Hall of New York and the Kremlin. The female member of the trio is Tamara Cherepovskaya, a Romany singer and dancer who has toured in Europe and America also as soloist.

 
 

Russia/Armenia

   
 

Zara
(Otradnoe, Sankt-Petersburg, 26/7/1983)

Born Zarifa Mgoyan, she is a Romany Armenian professional singer. She has been a talented vocalist since her childhood and was particularly inspired by the Israeli star Ofra Haza, having recorded cover versions of some of her songs, which she brought back to the hit parade. Zara performs different genres and gives concerts in the most prestigious stage halls throughout Russia. She has won several important contests and has been awarded many important prizes granted by the Russian Academy of Culture and Arts and other institutions, and is considered one of Russia's most popular singers.

 
 
 
Serbia

Janika Balaž
(Janika Balázs)
(Lukino Selo, Vojvodina, 23/12/1935 - Novi Sad, Vojvodina, 12/11/1988)
 

Born into a Hungarian Romany family of musicians, in his childhood he manifested his artistic vocation by playing violin, but later he specialized in tamburitza and became a virtuoso on this particular long-necked fretted string instrument, typical of that region and traditionally played by Roma. He held many performances in Yugoslavia and concerts in many important theatres worldwide, featured for documentary films and worked with musicians of international prestige. A monument to him was erected in Novi Sad in front of the Petrovaradin fortress, on the opposite bank of the Danube.

 
 

Boban and Marko Marković
(Vladičin Han, Serbia)
 

Boban Marković is recognized as the best contemporary trumpet player of the Balkans. His brass band, the Boban Marković Orkestar, has won many important awards and fisrt prizes in festivals and competitions throughout Europe and America. They perform world music as well as traditional Gypsy Balkan melodies. His only son, Marko, has joined the band at the age of fourteen, and two years later he became the lead soloist.

 
 
Slovakia

Koloman Polák
(Košice, 1/2/1974)
 

Romany composer and director of classic and contemporary music. A young talent, in the beginning of his career he worked within the Romany artistic environment in Slovakia, then he settled in Vienna and is one of the founders of an ensemble with Jewish and Roma musicians and singers, of which he is the composer.

 
 
Slovakia/Hungary

Panna Cinková / Czinka Panna
(Gemer, present-day Slovakia, formerly Hungary, 1711 - 1772)
 

Born into a family of Roma musicians, she was the most renowned female violinist. Her talent was evident since her childhood. She founded a Gypsy ensemble with her husband and  brothers-in-law, and later with her sons. Her mastery, eccentricity and beauty made of her a living legend, being requested by the nobility, she performed also for the Archduchess of Austria. She was also a composer of several pieces of different musical genres.

 
 
Spain  

Azúcar Moreno
(The sisters Encarnación and Antonia Salazar)
 

 

The Salazar sisters were born in Badajoz, Extremadura, in a Calé family having a long tradition of Flamenco singers and dancers, including their brothers. However, they have definitely changed for a self-made style that is improperly defined as “flamenco-pop”, actually an explosion of sensuality that they apply to any kind of musical genre. Their own image is essential part of their success.

The sisters became popular not only in the whole Spanish-speaking community, from the United States to Argentina, but also in Japan and worldwide.
Their younger sister, Sara Salazar, is also an artist and leads "Alazán", a similar style family-based duo.

 
 

Las Grecas
(The sisters Carmela and Edelina Muńoz Barrul)
 

The sisters Carmela (Valladolid, 19/7/1954) and Edelina (Valladolid,17/2/1957-30/1/1995) had an incredibly successful career in a very short period. They were avant-garde in fusion music and introduced electric instruments in Gypsy swing, mixed with rock, rumba, Greek and Middle Eastern folk, and other genres, a style that since then is called “Gypsy rock”. After the edition of their fourth album, their musical career stopped suddenly because of Edelina's health problems.

 

Peret
Pere Pubill Calaf
(Mataró, Barcelona, Spain, 24/3/1935)
 

Peret is a singer, guitar player, composer, and the "King" of Rumba Catalana, a genre which he popularized worldwide. He created a new style, mixing the traditional rumba with pop music of the '60s and '70s, Caribbean rythms and rock n' roll.
After a successful career, Peret withdrew himself from the artistic scene to devote himself to spiritual activities. Ten years later, he returned back to recording music and giving concerts.

 

 
 
United Kingdom  

 John Roberts
(Rhiwlas Isaf, Llanrhaeadr, 1816 - 1894)
 

The most prestigious harpist of the 19th century, John Roberts belonged to the Wood family, a dynasty of Welsh Romany musicians founded by the violinist Abram Wood, who had more than twenty outstanding harpists among his descent. John Roberts was awarded many prizes and honoured as the “Telynor Cymru”. He played personally for Queen Victoria in several occasions, also with his nine sons and a daughter, all of them skilled musicians.

 
 
 

Sir Henry Joseph Wood
(London, 3/3/1869 - Hitchin, Hertfordshire, 19/8/1944)
 

Henry Joseph Wood belonged to a traditional Romanichel family; he was an orchestral conductor, founder of the Promenade Concerts. He was also a composer, whose most celebrated work is “Fantasia on British Sea Songs”. Sometimes used the pseudonym Paul Klenovsky. Knighted in 1911 for his services to music.

 
 

Martin Taylor
(Ayrshire, Scotland, 1956)
 

 

Martin Taylor is a self-taught guitarist of international prestige. He is a Romanichel. Among his achievements, he has been granted the British Empire Membership for his services to music in 2002, has got the British Jazz Award as  best guitarist ten times between 1987 and 2001, the Honorary Doctorate University of Paisley, Scotland in 1999, Pioneer to the Life of the Nation in 2003 and other honours and medals.

 
 

David Essex
(West Ham, London, 23/7/1947)
 

Born David Albert Cook, pop singer and actor, is a Romanichel. David Essex has been president of the Romany Union of Great Britain and is still an active member of the Gypsy Council. In 1999, he was awarded by the Queen the Order of the British Empire for his commitment in arts and charity work.

 
 

Albert Lee
(Herefordshire, 21/12/1943)
 

Albert Lee is a Romanichel and a well known guitarist of country music, blues and rock n'roll, who has performed with several of the most famous artists in those genders. He has won the Grammy Award in 2002, and other prizes granted by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and the British Country Music Association. He is also a gifted pianist and vocalist.

 
 

Denny Laine
(Birmingham, 29/10/1944)
 

Born Brian Hines in a Romanichel family, is a guitarist, songwriter and singer. Member of The Moody Blues and then co-founder with McCartney of Wings. He performed as soloist since the age of twelve, following the jazz style inspired by Django Reinhardt.

 
 
United States
 
   

Elvis Presley
(East Tupelo, Mississippi, 8/1/1935 - Memphis, Tennessee, 16/8/1977)


It is not necessary to explain who Elvis Aaron Presley was. Perhaps what is less known of him is that his ancestors came from Germany in the early 18th century and their original surname was Pressler. They were part of the Sinti people commonly known as “Black Dutch”, also called “Chicanere” or “Melungeons”. It is also likely that from his mother's side, Smith by surname, the family would have been of Romanichel origins, as it is common that Black Dutch and Romanichel intermarry, but keep separate from other groups.

 
 

Rickie Lee Jones
(Illinois, 8/11/1954)
 

Singer and songwriter, she has performed various musical genres, mainly inspired in blues and jazz styles. She is of Welsh Romany origin. Known by her unconventional life style since her early youth, she has lived in different places thoughout the United States. She won the Grammy Award twice. An anthology of her career has been relased in the album “Duchess of Coolsville”.

 


 

Nobel Prizes

Denmark

 
Schack August Steenberg Krogh
(Grenĺ, Danmark, 5/11/1874 - Křbenhavn, 13/9/1949)
 

Known as Dr. August Krogh, this scientist was a Danish Rom, professor at the University of Copenhagen between 1916 and 1945. He achieved several important discoveries in zoophysiology, exposed in his books Respiratory Exchange in Animals and Man (1916), Osmotic Regulation (1939) and Comparative Physiology of Respiratory Mechanisms (1941). Awarded with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1920 for his discovery of the regulation of the capillaries during muscular work, studies which were published in his book The Anatomy and Physiology of the Capillaries (1922).


Pioneers & Adventurers

British Empire  

Augustine Bearce
(Great Britain, 1618 - Barnstable, Massachusetts, between 1686 and 1687)
 

Augustine Bearce was a Romanichel deported by the British authorities to the colonies in America in 1638 because he was a Gypsy. He was registered among the passengers of the “Confidence” being 20 years old. Probably arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts, he moved to Cape Cod in 1639 and married the Wampanoag princess Little Dove Hyannos, the granddaughter of the Great Sachem Highyannough and of the princess of the Nanhigganeuck tribe. Augustine Bearce is remembered as a zealous believer in God, keeper of Shabbath and the Ten Commandments. He has illustrious descendants throughout the history of the United States. He is the best known Gypsy that married a Native woman, however, such marriages should have been rather frequent, as most of the deported Roma were male and it was much easier to find wives among Natives, being both peoples excluded from active participation in the White society. Such phenomenon was more evident in Appalachia, the land of the Melungeons.
* Augustine Bearce and Little Dove's descent includes two presidents of the United States, however, the Romany-Wampanoag heritage vanished after several generations of marriages within the Anglo-Saxon population, and these presidents cannot be regarded as Romanichel or Native Americans, of course. (This information is only a genealogical curiosity).

 
 

James Squire  
(Kingston-Upon-Thames, England, 1754 - Sydney, Australia, 16/5/1822)
 

James Squire belonged to a Romany family which was widely known in England. In 1788, he was deported on the First Fleet to Australia, where his life turned into a sequence of successful activities. He achieved in the cultivation of hops, the first one in Australia, and was also the founder of the first brewery in the continent, in 1798. He became also a district authority. His funeral was the largest one ever held in the colony.
His grandson, James Squire Farnell, was the first Premier of New South Wales born in Australia.

 
 

Germany

 
Walter Balthazzar Reinhardt
(Trier/Trčves, 1720 ? - Sardhana, India, 1778)
 

This adventurer, libelled by western historians (who cannot even assert whether he was born in Germany, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland or Austria) is also known by his nickname “Samru”, an Indic adaptation from the French “Sombre”, name given to him probably because of his dark skin. After a quarrel with his brother Jakob, he was enrolled in the French East India Company as a sailor and landed in India in 1754. He apparently passed to the British in Bengal and returned back to the French in Chandarnagar (There is another version, that he was first in the British army and then passed to the French). Whichever version is right, it is a fact that he knew very well both the French and the British war schools. Subsequently, he left the European colonizers for the Indian rulers, having his own army composed by Indian warriors and also European soldiers, mainly deserters from the British. Since history has been written by the winners -that were defeated by him-, he is slandered as the responsible for the slaughter of the British in Patna, an event that took place after he repeatedly called on the British to surrender. On the other side, if he indeed was a bloody warrior, he was not worse than the British and French officers, who certainly were neither missionaries nor Médecins Sans Frontičres. His army was the only in India that fought the British with success, and was undefeated during all his career. As a reward for his services, the Indian Emperor gave Samru Reinhardt the principality of Sardhana as his own property and realm; he married an Indian lady, Begum Yohanna Samru, that succeeded him after his death as the leader of his army.

 


 

Presidents of the Republic

Brazil

 
Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira
(Diamantina, Minas Gerais, 12/9/1902 - Resende, Rio de Janeiro, 22/7/1976)
 

President of Brazil (31/1/1956-31/1/1961), for the Social Democratic Party (moderate left). His grandfather was a Czech Rom, Jan Kubíček, born in Třeboň, Bohemia. During his government there were not prisoners of conscience. JK (as he is usually known) transformed Brazil into an industrial power, founded the automotive industry and developed the construction of roads throughout the nation. His best known achievement was the foundation of Brasília, the new capital, on April 21st 1960. President Kubitschek publicly acknowledged his Romany origin, and he often invited Roma representatives to dinner at the Presidential Residence.

 
 
Washington Luís Pereira de Souza
(Macaé, Rio de Janeiro, 26/10/1869 - Săo Paulo, 4/8/1957)
 

President of Brazil (15/11/1926-24/10/1930), was the last democratic president of the Old Republic. He belonged to a family of Calon Gypsies. Released the prisoners of conscience and stopped the curfew that was in force when he assumed government. He was writer and historian, and after his return from exile he was elected member of the Brazilian Academy of Literature. He was also a well known philanderer.

 
 

France

 
Not a President of the Republic, but the First Lady (from 16/5/2007 to 15/10/2007)
Cécilia María Sara Isabel Ciganer Albéniz
(Boulogne-Billancourt, 12/12/1957)
 

Cécilia Ciganer cannot be considered Romany according to her lifestyle or cultural patterns, notwithstanding, her Gypsy bloodline comes directly from her Jewish Rom father, Aron Chouganov, then named André Ciganer, with reference to his ethnicity, at his arrival in France from Russia. Cécilia Ciganer was for five months the First Lady of France as long as she was the controversial wife of Nicolas Sarközy, the first President of the French Republic of Hungarian origin. After her divorce, she married the Jewish producer Richard Attias.
Her brother Patrick Ciganer, now American citizen, is Program Executive Officer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

 

Parliament Members

Hungary

 
Lívia Járóka
(Tata, 6/10/1974)

Lívia Járóka comes from a family of musicians, is a journalist and has two university degrees. She was elected Member of the European Parliament when Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, for the Fidesz-Magyar Polgári Szövetség, group of the European People's Party. She is the first CEU graduated at the European Parliament and the second of Romany ethnicity. She is as well member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, and of the SAARC.

 
 
Viktória Bernáthné Mohácsi
(Berettyóújfalu, 1/4/1975)
 

Viktória Mohácsi is the second Romany woman who became a Member of the European Parliament when Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, for the Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége, replacing her party colleague Gábor Demszky.

 
 

Spain

 
Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia y Montoya
(Puerto Real, Cádiz, 29/6/1942)
 

Journalist and writer, Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia was the first Gypsy member of the European Parliament (1994-1999), for the Socialist Party. In 1995 he was appointed Honorary Member for life of the Council of Europe, having been Member of the Parliament Assembly since 1983. In 1996 he founded the Unión Romaní, that is the main Gypsy association in Spain. He is author of several publications dealing with social issues as well as Romany language and grammar.

 

Preachers

United Kingdom

 
John Bunyan
(Elstow, Harrowden, Bedfordshire, 28/11/1628 - Snow Hill, London, 31/8/1688)

John Bunyan was the author of the most popular classic of Christian literature: “The Pilgrim's Progress”. He is widely considered by historians as a “Tinker”, a name given in Great Britain and Ireland not only to Gypsies but also to other Traveller groups. However, there is strong evidence that the Bunyans were Romanichals, whose traditional occupation is that of brazier. In his autobiographic work “Grace Abounding”, Bunyan wrote some statements about his descent as the most despised of all the families of the land, and considered that his particular lineage may be that of the lost Israelites ‒ such a thought in Britain in those times was exclusive of Roma. Bunyan clearly refers to his family as belonging to a non common kindred and a discriminated minority. Parish registers of the 16th century remark of the Bunyans (and similar spellings of this surname) as belonging to the “Egyptians” as well as other qualifications like “braziers”, “horse-dealers”, “fortune-tellers”, “vagrants”, etc., all of them pointing out to the Roma people. Wedding annals confirm the Bunyans having married full-blood Romanichels for generations, and in those times Roma did not marry non-Roma people. Also the area of Elstow, where he was born, has been for centuries a Gypsy settlement. John Bunyan was immersed in the river in 1653 and was a member of the Baptist Church. He became soon a successful preacher and was imprisoned for preaching without license. Many of the phrases that he wrote in his masterpiece, The Pilgrim's Progress, have become common expressions in English language.

 
 
Rodney “Gypsy” Smith
(Mill Plain, Epping Forest, Essex, 31/3/1860 - Atlantic Ocean, on the “Queen Mary”, 4/8/1947)
 
 

Rodney “Gipsy” Smith was undoubtedly one of the greatest international evangelists of all times, and the best loved one. He was born in a tent and did never attend a school class; nevertheless, his ministry reached the crowds in every English-speaking nation and also wrote several books and hymns that he used to sing during his sermons. Since 1899 until his death, he travelled many times to preach in America, Australia, South Africa and Europe, and wherever he was the crowds came to listen to him. King George VI honored him with the Order of the British Empire.

 
 

Norway

 
Ludvig Valentin Karlsen
(Furua, Ullensaker, 10/12/1935 - Oslo, 21/3/2004)
 

Ludvig Karlsen is considered Norway's most loved preacher. He was born in a large and humble Romany family and spent his childhood in Gypsy settlements. With only few years of primary education, he never attended neither Bible school nor seminary before he started preaching the Gospel. Through his ministry, Norwegian Gypsies have achieved a degree of dignity and respect which was them denied before. Ludvig Karlsen's message was directed not only to his people, but to the general audience, and his social work to the poor and the outcast. In 1983 he founded the Norwegian Gospel Centers, an institution for rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug-addicts, which is today one of the most important social help activites in the country. He has also edited a dictionary of the Romany language.

 

War Heroes

Roma are peaceful people. War is not part of Romany feelings, and is avoided whenever it is possible. However, when there is no choice, Roma are ready to serve the State to which they belong. Here we present some Romany heroes, who have been loyal to their country. We should consider the persons and their service to their fellow citizens, their efforts to help them taking advantage of their position, beyond the fact that the official policy of that country may be censurable according to some democratic patterns.

 

Russia

 
Aleksandr Baurov
(Sankt-Petersburg, 23/3/1906 - 18/2/1972)
 

Aleksandr Baurov was born into a family of Romany artists, musicians and singers, and he himself was to keep their tradition, having taken guitar lessons and performing in choirs in his youth. Yet, the October Revolution changed the course of his life, and he had to find a new profession. He graduated at the College of Electromechanic Communication and worked as laboratory assistant. However, he still played in an ensemble. When the Soviet Union entered the WWII, he was sent to the front in 1941, and he took his guitar to play for his fellow soldiers when there was rest moments. Owing to his skills, he was appointed as officer, as Commander of Communication Support, then as Commander of the 1st Aeronautic Division. He was awarded with an Order of the Red Star and an Order of the Battle Red Banner. He also received an Order of Alexandr Nevsky (a very rare and honourable one) for the forced crossing of Oder river, and a Polish Cross of Valor. He participated in the defeat of Nazism, in the victorious conquest of Leipzig. From 1949 to 1955, having the degree of Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineering Corps, he took part in creating and launching of the first Soviet rockets.

 
 
Pavel Yakovlevich Fedrovi
(17/2/1902 - 1984)
 

First class pilot, engineer, general-major of the Soviet Air Forces, verifier of the Scientific Research Institute of the Air Forces. He has been awarded with medals and orders for his service in the WWII. In 1943 he also established a flying speed record.

 
 
Other Gypsy Heroes of Russia
 

Roma have given thousands other heroes to Russia, many of them lost their lives fighting against Nazi armies, others have seen the victory of the Allies at the end of WWII. They all deserve an honorable memory, but we do not know all their names, so we can just mention some of them as representatives of all.
Piotr Amidzhanovich, Abdisha Olyevich, Montii Olyevich and Sejdamet Olyevich, of the Kazybeyevikh Crimean Roma family, were awarded with war condecorations.
Mikhail Dmitriev, fought all the war and entered with the triumphant Soviet army in Berlin.
Grigori Petrovich Kuznetzov, participated in the liberation of Poland and Czechoslovakia, medal for courage.
Vasily Alekseyevich Mushtakov, fought for the liberation of Budapest, awarded with medal.
Vasily Vasilkov, pilot, died in the battle of Stalingrad.
Zaikin Vasily Zakharovich, participated in the Finnish War, then died on battle field against Germans.
There were also Romany women who played an important role during the war, as Anna Belozerova, Elena Kolpakova and Aleksandra Shlykova
, medical assistants, died in war.
In this category we can also list the scientist sisters Natalya Pankova and Lyubov Pankova, mentioned above, who left aside their careers and voluntarily worked hard in a plant, making shells for rocket projectors, as their patriotic conscience led them to help their country to fight the Nazi invaders.
An heroe not of WWII, but of modern times, was Jan Aleksandrovich Sergunin (Reshetnikov), Lieutenant-General and Lawyer, restored the Civil Law in the Chechen Republic, trying by all means the diplomatic way making the law to prevail over weapons; promoted the creation of rehabilitation centres in Kazakhstan; provided for free legal advisory to citizens against illegal procedures. He was also a writer in Romany language.

 

Journalists

Bosnia & Herzegovina

 
Hedina Sijerčić
(Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly Yugoslavia, 11/11/1960)
 

Hedina Sijerčić is a journalist, reporter, broadcaster, writer, producer, editor, translator. She belongs to the Gurbeti Romany group. She was the first Romany journalist in the history of television in Sarajevo, and has also worked with refugees and immigrants in Germany and Canada.

 
 

Czech

 
Jarmila Balážová
(Brno, Moravia, 5/1/1972)
 

Jarmila Balážová is a Romany journalist working for Czech radio and television. In 1992 she founded the Romany language broadcasting, then she engaged herself in producing TV shows for children. She also writes for magazines and is the editor of a Romany monthly publication. She is a member of the Czech Government's Council for National Minorities.

 
 
 
Ondrej Gina
(Rokycany, Bohemia, 22/2/1971)
 

Ondrej Gina is the son of an aknowledged Rom activist and the first Gypsy moderator of the news journal on Czech television. Formerly correspondent for the International Romany Agency “Romnews” and reporter for the radio journal, he was requested by the television in 1999 and became moderator.

 
 

United Kingdom

 
Jake Bowers
(Haslemere, Surrey, 28/5/1972)
 

Jake Bowers is a self-made journalist born in a Romanichel family with his 17 siblings. Committed to the social rights of his people, has founded the Gypsy Media Company. He has worked for BBC television and radio, for the Guardian and the Independent and many other publications. At present he is in the process of starting internet based Romany radio in the United Kingdom.

 
 
George Bramwell Evens
(Hull, 1884 - Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1943)
 

George Bramwell Evens was a very popular BBC journalist, better known as “Romany”. His broadcastings about nature and life in the countryside were the first ones dealing with such matters. He hosted also programmes for children, in which he reproduced the sounds of nature in studio with the effect as if they were outdoors, and described the Gypsy life and his travels in caravan. He has also written books on natural history.

 

Fashion Designer

Spain

 

Juana Martín Manzano
(Córdoba, 1974)
 

Juana Martín Manzano is the first fashion designer of Romany ethnicity (Gitana). She is well known in Spain since she won the Andalusian Fashion Contest in Estepona in 2000. Then she has been awarded in several fashion contests of national and international importance, and has exposed her collection in the Pasarela Cibeles, the leading fashion showcase in Madrid.

Juana Martín's website


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Fictional Characters in Literature and Theatre

The following ones are not real people but fictional characters, yet we include them here as they are also famous Gypsies.
The Romany life style has inspired romantic authors, most of them actually unfamiliar with Romany culture, who have portrayed the Gypsies' intensely passional character in a stereotyped manner, mainly the sensuality of Romany women and their mysterious power of seduction and enchantment, as well as the Romany concept of freedom which is unconventional and incomprehensible for the established social standards.
Here they are ordered by nationality of the authors.

France
* Esméralda, the Gypsy dacer, female protagonist of the novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), by Victor Hugo.
* Carmen, of the homonymous novel (1845), by Prosper Mérimée, then adapted into opera by Georges Bizet.
Russia
* Zemfira, female protagonist of the narrative poem Tzygany [The Gypsies] (1824), by Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin.
* Grushenka, of the story Enchanted Wanderer, by Nikolay Semyonovich Leskov.
* Loiko Zabar and Radda, the main characters of the story Makar Chudra (1892), by Alexei Maksimovich Peshkov, better known as Gorkii, that inspired the film “Tabor ukhodit v nebo” [The Gypsy Camp Goes To Heaven], by Emil Loteanu, 1976.
* Masha, of the play Living Elusive Perfection, by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (around 1900).
* Olessya, of the homonymous novel (1909), by Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin.
Spain
* Candela, the female protagonist of the story El Amor Brujo [Spell-bound Love] (1914), by Manuel de Falla.
* The Bride, the Bridegroom and Leonardo, of the tragic poem Bodas de Sangre [Blood Wedding] (1932), by Federico García Lorca.
Ukraine
* Tzyganka Aza, story by Mikhail Startits.
United Kingdom
* Heathcliff, the male protagonist of the novel Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Jane Brontë; it was her only literary work.

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Next page:
Famous Gypsies ‒ Flamenco Artists

See also:
The True Origin of Gypsies
Roma and “Gypsies”

 

This webpage has been designed and realized by Avraham Sándor, as a personal research.
Thanks for sources to: Alfred Schachter (Israel), Irka Cederberg (Sweden), Joăo Romano Filho (Brazil), Federico Hoffmann Reinhardt (Costa Rica), Jamie Hanley (California), Nikolay Bessonov (Russia) and the Muńoz brothers (Spain).

Notice: The personalities listed here have been included after an accurate research of sources. There are others that, being their Romany ancestry uncertain and lacking reliable sources, have been excluded.

 

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