This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which restored democracy to former Czechoslovakia. To accentuate this significant milestone, the Czech Embassy honors the gifted Czech singer, resilient freedom fighter, actress, animal lover, and mother: Marta Kubišová. Her song A Prayer for Martha (Modlitba pro Martu) served as a symbol of national resistance against the occupation of Warsaw Pact troops in 1968. At the height of her career, she sang with the popular group The Golden Kids as well as solo, winning the Golden Nightingale Award three times and recording over 200 SP records. In 1970, her music reign toppled after trumped up charges were brought against her by the communists, which banned her from performing. As a freedom fighter, she worked tirelessly as a spokesperson for the human rights manifesto Charter 77. Ultimately, she helped lead the 1989 Velvet Revolution with her voice, uniting the people through her renowned ballad.
Marta learned to sing listening to Radio Luxembourg with her brother and tried to play hits on the piano by such artists as Elvis Presley and The Beatles. She had a knack for phrasing lyrics in Czech and a unique, original, distinct color to her voice with the ability to convey emotions when she sang. In 1961, Marta participated in her first talent show called The Search for Talent, reaching the finals. At her audition at the theater in Pardubice, she caught the eye of composer and future Supraphon producer Bohuslav Ondřáček. She went on to sing with the Alfa Theatre for one season before signing a contract with the prestigious Rokoko Theatre in Prague. There, she performed with Czechoslovak superstar Waldemar Matuška as well as Helena Vondráčková and Václav Neckar, who later became part of her trio. At the Rokoko theatre, Marta, Helena and Václav performed in a new musical called Waiting for Fame, which brought them instant success. Marta’s first solo album Songy a Balady was released in 1969, and re-released in 1989, along with a compilation of old songs titled Lampa. The album mixed pop with funk and included a Czech-language version of Hey Jude by the Beatles. Marta was one of the most popular female singers in the 1960s, winning the Golden Nightingale Award three times – 1966, 1968, and 1969.
During her time as a dissident, the communists banned her music from the airwaves, but Radio Free Europe’s Czechoslovak Service kept playing her music to viewers who managed to tune in. She also auditioned to sing vocals for the Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), a Czech underground rock group who were imprisoned for not conforming their sound to the regime. The secret police prohibited her from collaborating with the rock group saying they would make her life extremely difficult. She also was a signatory of the human rights manifesto Charter 77, and its spokesperson for a year, which brought even greater scrutiny. The secret police even utilized the help of her second husband Jan Moravec, who monitored her for them. Later, she helped lead the 1989 Velvet Revolution with her signature ballad A Prayer for Martha, singing from a balcony above Wenceslas Square on November 21, 1989. The revolution restored freedom and democracy to the nation and marked her return to the stage. In regards to the thousands gathered to see her during the Velvet Revolution, she said in an interview with Prague Radio, “I didn’t cry, I was overcome by the sheer sight of the whole square jammed with people. I said to myself, no singer ever had a comeback like this! Foreign film crews told me people were in tears and when they asked what are you crying for, they said, it’s that woman…”
Photo credit: CTK, December 12, 1989
In 1995, President Václav Havel awarded Marta with the Medal of Merit and the Honorary Medal of T.G. Masaryk (1998). Writer Adam Georgiev published a biography of her life called Chasing the Sun (Chytat slunce). The Czech Academy of Popular Music inducted her into its hall of fame in 1998. She won the prestigious Thalia award in 2002 for her role in the Czech adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Tell Me on a Sunday. In 2008, she was awarded a lifetime achievement award. Ultimately, she performed her last concert in her hometown of České Budejovice on November 1, 2017, coinciding with her 75th birthday. Her immortal ballad, A Prayer for Martha, won Czech Radio’s Hit of the Century poll in 2018. When asked what her message is to future generations, she said in an interview with the Prague Monitor, “Always want the truth, because without it there is no freedom.”
Photo credit: www.martakubisova.cz