Tino Valdi, musician

Tino Valdi, who has died at 90, was not only a tenor and a virtuoso on the Ukrainian folk instrument known as the bandura, but also a friend to the stars who shared a manager with Cliff Richard and won for England at a Eurovision-like song contest.
Tino Valdi in 1961Tino Valdi in 1961
Tino Valdi in 1961

It was while living in Bradford as a young man that he began to dream of becoming a singer, and took lessons with a local teacher named Harry Horner.

Advised that if he wanted to further his career he would need to study in London, he secured a scholarship at the Trinity College of Music, studying by day and waiting tables in the evening.

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After enrolling with the baritone, Thomas Thorpe-Bates, he won a place at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, in Rome.

Back in Britain, he went on to appear on TV a week before the Beatles made their debut, and was eventually handed one of his many awards for cultural work, by Pope John Paul II.

Born Volodymyr Havrylovych in the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine, his childhood was pockmarked by the atrocities he witnessed by Soviet and German troops against civilians. At 15, he was forcibly taken by the Nazis to build anti-tank defences, and in September 1944, found himself on a train heading towards north Germany, where he was put to work for a mining company.

He remained there until the end of the war, when, as a displaced person in the British sector, he met the renowned bandura player and teacher, Hryhory Nazarenko.

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He took his new skill to Saltaire, near Bradford, where he found work as a spinner in the still-thriving textile mill, and began performing epic poems set to music.

Live concerts followed and he was soon asked to sing at the Brussels World Fair in 1958 and to perform Ukrainian songs on Flemish radio. His reputation filtered back to Britain, where he became known as a suave “Italian singing star” performing in the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Festival Hall, with Bruce Forsyth’s touring variety show and on bills with Max Miller, Max Bygraves, Norman Wisdom, Ken Dodd and Jimmy Tarbuck.

During one performance, he was spotted by the bandleader and impresario Jack Hylton, who cast him as the star of his Italian-inspired musical, When in Rome at the Adelphi Theatre.

In 1961, he represented his adopted country at the third Coupe d’Europe International singing contest, televised from Knokke, Belgium. Performing in a team with such recording stars as Dick Francis and Kathy Kirby, he lifted the trophy for England for the first time.

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Singing popular music as Tino Valdi, and playing traditional folk tunes under his real name, he forged a long career on cruise ships, radio and TV, recording eight LPs along the way.

In later life, after a cancer diagnosis limited his voice, he became coordinator of a celebration to mark 1,000 years since the introduction of Christianity to Russia, and organised international tours for major choirs, dance groups and individual performers.

In 2002, he founded a cultural and artistic foundation in the Ukraine, to support and develop talented Carpathian youth, for which the then president of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, awarded him an Order of Merit.

On his 88th birthday, he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the British Music Hall Society, whose president, Roy Hudd, gave him a framed bill poster from the Finsbury Empire.

He is survived by his wife, Lesia, three daughters and several grandchildren.