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By "TBL"

I have dedicated this portion of TBL website to building a foundation of Western New York tamburitza history .In time I will continue to build and add information within and outside of the Western New York Area). Its purpose is to "preserve and elevate" the Western New York history of tamburitza music through its origins, musicians, teachers, instruments, generational impact, articles and photos, societal contributions, personalities, and visibility locally and nationally. The Western New York area is rich in its history of tamburitza music made possible by the "MASTERS AND PIONEERS" of tamburitza music-Some of those pioneers are still with us-and some-have passed on-sadly missed-but not forgotten. Within these pages you will also find additional sections that give a general history of Tamburitza music and I have included photos and descriptions of the instruments and additional commentary. Some of this commentary will be in regard to the efforts of American tamburitza craftsman in their quest to provide the large and ever-growing tamburitza community with quality hand-made instuments and what is the future regarding the tamburitza craftsman profession. The site will be ever growing and expanding and for now-we will "scratch the surface " if you will-of Tamburitza music in Western New York.

NICHOLAS "TILLIE" KLAICH! One man-and one name-synonymous with Tamburitza music and the influence of the nationally known tamburitza group The Balkan Serenaders. Could one man like "ATLAS" lift the massive world of Western New York Tamburitza music on his shoulders -get it off the ground-lay the foundation-the history and origins of Western New York Tamburitza music-and make it sustainable? I can assure you that HE DID! He is and will forever be-a TITAN in the world of Tamburitza music-a COLOSSUS of heart-talent-personality and vision-that made him a GIANT in the tamburitza community-loved and respected by all who knew him.

Nicholas "Tillie" Klaich was born August 7,1925 and died October 1,1989. What he did in-between "the dash of life" laid the entire foundation of tamburitza music in Western New York. To my minds eye-he is the Founding Father and Godfather of Western New York Tamburitza music. This is some of his story.
Tillies music career started with the choir under the direction of Hugo Talbert when he was age 12 in 1937. Tillie started on prim when the Kosta Choir started a tamburitza orchestra within the choir. The first orchestra consisted of 28 members.

In 1939-1941 Tillies first tamburitza combo consisted of Tillie on Bugarija, Leo Germanovich on lead, Nick Kosanovich, on terc (harmony) George Kosanovich cello, and Nick Vasilovich on bass. They played for local taverns and church social functions of the time.

Every group has someone they admire during those years of the 30s and early 40s-Mali Rade, Djoko Dokich (father of Tamburitza Hall of Fame maestro and musician Mel Dokich) and Milan Verni were popular names on the tri-state area tamburitza circuit of New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

These were the war years of 1932-1945 and 50/54. Tamburitza players came and went as the call to arms and service to our country was needed. It was difficult to sustain groups and Tillie had to struggle through those years of come and go.

In 1944 at the young age of 19 Tillie once again formed another tamburitza group consisting of 14 members and the group became known as "Veselo Srce" The Happy Hearts Tamburitza Orchestra. The popularity of the group became well known throughout Lackawanna/Buffalo/Western New York , Niagara Falls, Hamilton- Ontario Canada, Weirton West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Aliquippa Pennsylvania, and Detroit, Michigan. The group was so popular that on December 14,1947 radio station WWOL (still in existence today) offered the group a chance to play for a half hour time slot on a Sunday morning.

For the next FIVE YEARS-the Veselo Srce Tamburitza Orchestra played every week on the WWOL Sunday morning radio program. They also did a live television program with WBEN-TV. The International Institute Costume Ball event held at the prestigious Statler Hilton in Buffalo was just one of those 40s events that ended with Veselo Srce playing kolos and the crowd joining in on the energy of the music and its youthful moment of tamburitza history.

In the middle of it all-was Tillie. In 1945 while Veselo Srce was just starting to grow Tillie formed another tamburitza group-The Balkan Serenaders. By 1947 Tillie recruited Charlie Smilinich of The Smilinich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra to play prim-Tillie went to bass-Danny Cugalj on brac-Steve Vranjes on cello-and Peter Milosevich on bugarija. The Balkan Serenaders performed throughout the United States and Canada.

In 1952 they recorded three 78's featuring the voices of Tillie Klaich and outstanding tenor Charlie Smilinich. (Of note-the fine prim playing of Smilinich and the tight harmonized sound of the entire group.) In addition one of the songs "Gde Si Marcello" included a cello solo by Steve Vranjes -a pioneering effort-becoming the first known recorded tamburitza cello solo in WNY history.

In those beginning years instruments were hard to come by and Tillie had two problems getting the tamburitza group Veselo Srce started. First-he was only 19 at the time and had to command a lot of respect from youthful teens and second-he didnt have the instruments so he started the tamburitza group first and got the instruments later. It wasnt an easy stunt to pull off-teaching the theory and then getting the instruments. It meant that Tillie had to get the music-do his written work for the group- teach his basics and get results. Thats exactly what happened. Tillie was able to secure instruments made by Hlad-Bencic-Valentich and Kovacevich-the known tamburitza crafstman of those times. They were some of the pioneers of American tamburitza craftsmanship as we know them today. It is a moment in time for me to pause and thank our American tamburitza crafstman-the LUTHIERS of yesterday and the present-for their outstanding contributions to Tamburitza history as we know it.

In 1952 after The Balkan Serenaders recorded their three 78s tragedy struck the group with the death of Danny "Dusan" Cugalj in an auto accident at age 24. Charlie "Blaze" Blazina became the groups second brac player to fill in for the sad void left by Dan Cugalj.

In 1957 as everything from post war growth-to employment- education- and careers were expanding it was time for The Balkan Serenaders to reorganize again. This time Tillie recruited Vlad Popovich as their lead brac player-an outstanding graduate of Duquesne University Tamburitzans who had completed two European tours. Fortunately his roots were in the WNY area! Charlie Blazina remained at second brac, Steve Vranjes on cello, Charlie Smilinich switched to bugarija and Tillie played bass. Under the leadership of Vlad Popovich and the superb combined talents of technique, voices, and personality The Balkan Serenaders became the single most dominant pure tamburitza group in Western New York tamburitza history . They were to become nationally known throughout the United States and Canada. The group played with the same five men until the mid 60's when Charles Blazina retired. During the latter 1950's, Walter Pravica also joined The Balkan Serenaders playing violin.

After the retirement of Charles Blazina-The Balkan Serenaders recorded and released their first LP album "A Continental Toast." The album was a smash hit among the tamburitza community locally and nationally. The album consisted of Serbo-Croatian songs-Greek-Spanish-Macedonian and included Miserlou made famous by Xavier Cugat. There is an excellent instrumental "Granada" featuring the groups technical expertise and Vlads outstanding brac playing and arrangement From the beginning powerful sounds of "Oro Se Vije" to its final song of "Kazi Leno." It was the first of its kind featuring the distinctive trademark sound of The Balkan Serenaders.

Today-5 decades after the release of this album tamburitza groups still play and fans request Miserlou-Oro Se Vije-Cesto Mi Dragi-Lence Bre Duso-White Ribbons- Vrati Mi Srce and more-and only Tillie-could sing "Kazi Leno" with his style and I hear his voice in my ear-even now-as I write this historical perspective. (Yes it brings a tear to my eyes and that hurtful lump in my throat when I look back at those early years-being 12 years old when I first started to play tambura and that was in 1965-the time of The Balkan Serenaders-and I wanted-to be-one-of-them!)

The album "A Continental Toast" was entered into The Library Of Congress. A distinctive honor as a testimony to the impact, professionality and expertise The Balkan Serenaders made on tamburitza music locally and nationally. In time there would be much more to come.

For the year 1965 I wish to take this time to note an extraordinary event in the history of WNY tamburitza music. It is the combined efforts of Steve Vranjes & Stanko Gjurich-co founders of St Stephens Tamburitza program and both men were original members of Veselo Srce founded by Tillie Klaich. Steve Vranjes is also a member of The Balkan Serenaders from 1945-1992 playing 47 years with the Serenaders.

.At one point in 1972 the St Stephens Tamburitza program of Lackawanna NY had as many as 42 members. An additional note- Nada Milosevich also was instrumental teaching music theory in those early years as the tamburitza program was just beginning.(shortly afterward Nada became the choir directress of St. Stephens and produced several albums with the Kosta Choir-all with tamburitza accompaniment featuring the combined efforts of many musicians all from this area--she was selected by the Serbian Singing Federation as "Woman of the Year" for her fine efforts.)

These tamburitza performers-the beginning students of the 60s were the "next generation" to come out of the St. Stephens group through the fine efforts of Steve and Stanko. ( Steve gets his just due here from me for all the extra work he did helping to form the first "combos" out of that group). Dance instructors over the years that helped to give St. Stephens their fine choreography foundation were Charles Notess, John Andreef, Jane Saheed and Dennis Piatkowski.

The first spin-off tamburitza group out of St. Stephens were "The Blue Water Tamburitzans" and the orchestra consisted of yours truly- Ray "Rajko" Ranic on lead brac-George Medakovich on second brac-Milan Mirolovich on Cello- Ron Conrad on Bugarija and Don Milosevich on Bass. We actually selected the name because our first job that we got "paid" was at this restaurant with the same name-(no longer in existence today ). The story is-there wasnt enough money to pay us-and there were two groups hired that night-and the name stuck.

Yes-we got "shafted" on our FIRST job! (not by the restaurant-it was a private function!) -I guess we werent that creative for names back then. There was another group that spun off but only for a short time with John Simic- they had a good sound and there was some "competition" in those early days-we had fun and it was an era of growth in music, singing and dancing during those times. It is the graduates of this 60s and early 70s class that I will discuss:

Don Milosevich-(son of Kosta Choir Directress Nada Milosevich and Peter Milosevich former Veselo Srce member and Balkan Serenader) has continued to play bass with Braca Adriatica, has played with Orchestra Niagara
& The Blue Water Tamburitzans, accompanied Kosta Choir on several recordings and served as a board member for the Tamburitza Association of America. He has performed over the years at TAA extravaganzas and his tamburitza career spans nearly 40 years. He continues to play for jam sessions at the American Serb Club in Tonawanda NY while continuing his career in electronics and computer repair.

Milan Mirolovich did not stay with the tamburitza phase but went on to become a doctor and pursues his medical career to the present. Ron Conrad-recently retired from active duty as a police officer. In those early years he performed with The Blue Water Tamburitzans and played with Adriatica and Braca Adriatc-he has also accompanied Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders-has accompanied on a Kosta Choir recording-and continues to jam at the American Serbian Club in Tonawanda. He has been involved in tamburitza music for nearly 40 years.

George Medakovich became a Duquesne University Tamburitzan and has performed with the Blue Water Tamburitzans , Dunav and Aman in California and other groups.. George has an excellent background in sight reading and music theory-is an accomplished piano player and plays many instrurments within and outside of the tamburitza family. He has been to music camps and more throughout the years. His involvement in tamburitza music is nearly 40 years in duration. Mark Medakovich-Georges brother also played cello with The Blue Water Tamburitzans on occasion.

Diane Pappas Sullivan went on from St Stephens Tamburitzans to become their Directress and produced the St Stephens Tamburitzans first and to date-only LP album. Diane is an outstanding composer and arranger whose volumes of written music are still being played by todays St. Stephens tamburitza groups. I cant say enough about the wonderful job she did for the students of tambura music at St Stephens-one of those musicians Mark Vranjes-who performed on her album production-plays bass with Orchestra Sokoli and is an excellent tamburitza bass player. He has also played with Kumovi Tamburitzans recorded with Kumovi & Sokoli and currently serves as president of the St Stephens Tamburitza program. Darleen Pappas- Dianes sister is a graduate of St. Stephens tamburitzans who went on to become an accomplished musician and professional singer giving solo performances of her fine work in the Western New York area.

Erica Nedelkov is an outstanding teacher of beginner tamburitzan students and for years has been a foundation for the next generation(s) of tamburitzans. A job well done. Shelly Vranjes and Stacey Delmont-are sisters who have done an excellent job with the choreography and dance instruction of junior and senior dancers. Jim Radetic Jr-is an excellent bugarija player with Sokoli who has also played with Kumovi Tamburitzans and recorded with both groups.

Bob "Bozhi" Ranic-in the past has performed with Blue Water Tamburitzans & Kumovi Tamburitzans, is currently with Sokoli as their cello player-has recorded with all three groups, is the current director of the St Stephens tamburitza program and is also an excellent craftsman and repair technician of tamburitza instruments, mandolins, violins and guitars. No matter how busy Bozhi is-with his energy-charming personality and wit-he gets the job done and then some. He is definitely a force to contend with and a light for the tamburitza community at St Stephens. (they owe him a huge debt of gratitude for all of his efforts).

I wish to mention
Nick Jovic for his fine past efforts in dance choreopgraphy at St Stephens. Marko Wuslich is an excellent recent tambuitza graduate who does a fine job on bugarija and over the years has jammed with musicians at the Serb Club-all accomplished by the age of 22! Our youth are the future and time waits for no one!

Last of all-a little history on yours truly. Ray"Rajko"Ranic-I have performed with St Stephens Tamburitzans-The Blue Water Tamburitzans-recorded with The Blue Water Tamburitzans on a Kosta album back in the 60s-Founded the Kumovi Tamburitzans from 1977-1986-Performed with Kumovi at my first Extravaganza in 1978 at Niagara Falls.

In 1980 at the Chicago TAA extravaganza Kumovi performed two instrumental compositions both original by your would be TBL to be-(Serbian and Russian compositions) . I recorded an LP in the early 80s with Kumovi having original compositions for "Cigani Zivot" and other kolos on the album-all arrangements were my own and not from any sheet music or composer.

In 1997 I released "Messiahs Rhapsody" a recording of original tamburitza music combined with Messianic styles of Christian music. Ten songs were original compositions and arrangements. In 1997 I received in Pittsburgh PA "The Presidents Award" for my efforts on this project from The Tamburitza Association Of America. From 1995-1998 taught tamburitza music with Vlad Popovich (The Balkan Serenaders) and Dr. Danilo Yanich (Sviraj) at the East European Folklife Center camp programs. One of those years tamburitza music was honored and the three afore mentioned names taught in California (Mendocino) and Maryland repectively. am an EEFC member from 1995-present.

From 1992 to the present I have been a member of Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders playing brac and prim, In my background I have played many different types of instruments ranging from the complete tamburitzan family of instruments-brac-prim-cello-bugarija-bass-to bazouki-baglamash(Greek) balalaika,domra (Russian )mandolin-Italian- Macedonian tambura, guitar and violin and several additional styles of bass instruments. My area of expertise is the family of tamburitza instruments.

I have also written articles for The American Srbobran and won a nationwide writing contest sponsored by the Srbobran in 2002 for a family story and ironically tamburitza music was a big part of the background for the article. (the article in its entirety is posted on this website-The Miscellaneous Lion-The paper chase of TBL)

Today as of 2004-I am your web site host-The Balkan Lion. During the years of 1986-1992 I spent a great deal of time performing with adult and childrens groups. I went to hospitals and nursing homes and took my instruments to the bedsides of many that were senior citizens, ill and terminally ill. I’ve played for weddings-dances-concerts-parties-taverns-clubs-hotels-restaurants-festivals and have performed for Tamburitza Extravaganza events over the last 4 decsades (78-2004) and performed for The Arizona Slavic Music Association, Serbian and Croatian sponsored events and international festivals.

I’ve had the opportunity to accompany and jam with many fine tamburitzan musicians throughout the United States and Canada. Some of those names over 5 decades are: Tillie Klaich, Vlad Popovich, Charlie Smilinich, Steve Vranjes and Chuck Vukovic- (Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders) Frank Jovanovich , Walter Pravica, John Gorman, Mike Hairlich and John Miksich (Dunav Tamburitza orchestra of Chicago) Dr Danilo Yanich, Raczar Lopatich and Lenny Tepsich of Sviraj- Orchestra Sokoli of Western New York-Mel Evanovich-Paul Milanovich-Beau Markulin and Pajo Adamovich-(The Balkan Serenaders of Youngstown Ohio) Joe and Jerry Grcevic-Peter Kosovec ( and members of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans) -Mike Loncarich, Bob Potocic ( The Silver Strings Tamburitza Orchestra of Canada) Nick Skertich of The Skertich Brothers.

There is also The Continental Strings with Alex Machaskee- George Machaskee-Lex Machaskee-Steve Mraz and the Arlow Brothers Bob and "Uncle Miltie" Milt Arlow-Andy Kosovich-Roy Kudrin, Ljubica "Libby" Fill-The Trivanovich Sisters and Sarena with Honey Zimmerman & Mickey Aranjelovich, Lou Ann Chmura, Denise Mulac and Marcy Coleff-Mirko Roknich and his orchestra, Sanda and Pero Pavlovich and Billy "Bogdan" Topolski of Lira in Detroit.

I remember the times with Butch Kresovich at Hucksters in PA (times shared jamming with his brother Chick Kresovich-) Steve Namesnik who played with Fred & Rosie Husnik- Mark Forry at EEFC camp and remember those days with Becari-Ken Ban- Dave Dopuch-Glen Polovich and Frank Jovanovich) Pete "Animal" Plechas and members of Jedinstvo.

Other fine musicians like Milan Opacich ,Joe Peritin and George Ivancevich (Drina) Bob Susnjer, Nick Jovanovich, Missy Eremic and Ken Herak from the Pittsburgh areas have all crossed paths at festivals and events throughout the years. Walt Mahovlich and members of Harmonia have been in some of those Cleveland jam sessions and Walt and I jammed at the 1998 EEFC camp.

At present, there are still those Friday night jam sessions-monthly lamb roasts and more. In this area present and past tamburashi-Charlie Kristich (TAA board member)-Milo Wuslich, Marko Wuslich, Don Milosevich, Steve Swagel, George Arbutina-The Kristich brothers (Mike and Rudy) Frank and George Rovison, Steve Schultz. Charley Kristich, Norbert Remus, and tamburitzan friends from Toronto-Dan Yaksimovich-Bratz and Bocco-so many names, friends and marvelous personalities throughout the years.

It has been MY HONOR and priviledge to witness, share and accompany these fine orchestras and musicians preserving the sounds of tamburitza music and history for the next generations to come. Some are with us today-and those who arent-are sadly gone but not forgotten.

Since 1995-present The Balkan Lion Recording Co. has evolved into the personality and guise of "The Balkan Lion." In earlier years I was able to receive college level credit for several courses through Empire State College (www.esc.edu) as part of my degree program by writing my tamburitza background into collegiate level course equivalents with the recommendation of Vlad Popovich.

It amazes me to see where tamburitza music has taken me from age twelve-to 2004. In addition with the internet today anything is possible! The growth of tamburitza music nationally within the Unites States has been phenomenal and the music has changed much in style and presentation over the last seven decades. From the 40's-to the present millennium.

I remember the live radio programs performed with Kumovi tamburitzans (nervously I might add). I've always been grateful to Bernie Lukatich CFU president for his efforts promoting tamburitza music and giving the Kumovi Tamburitza Orchestra opportunities to play in Cokeburg and on those live radio broadcasts.

Thanks also go to Bob Stone SNF president (deceased) for his efforts promoting tamburitza music and giving us younger guys a break back in those early years ( the up and coming generations of the late 60s 70s and 80s) There were Toronto and other Canadian festivals that held live TV broadcasts as well as the occasional charity functions that were televised locally. Quite a few memorable moments over the years.

One of the earlier groups in Western New York tamburitza history in the 50s "The Monsters" as they were affectionately known in the Lackawanna tamburitza community consisted of Peter Vranjes-Sam Gjurich-Jim Radetic Sr. and Pasquale (Pat Mistretta). I’ve heard it told by many-they made for a lot of fun in those days . All of these families had an effect on subsequent generations of tamburitza students that have given their efforts back to tambura history in Western New York passing it on-from generation-to generation.

The names listed as tamburitza students from the 60s generation and on are the roots of the next and next and the next generations (started through Tillie Klaich) that will continue filling the need for tamburitza teachers, instructors and performers who can raise the bar and go to the next level.

In 1975 Steve & Stanko both received "Parishoner of the Year" honors from St. Stephens for their co-founding efforts with the St Stephens Tamburitzan program. This year Steve Vranjes will be inducted into the Tamburitza Hall Of Fame October 2004. Congratulations-long overdue and thanks for a job-well done!

Continuing the history of Tillie Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders-the time is still the mid 60s and with the release of "A Continental Toast" The Balkan Serenaders became the "Toast of the town and the tamburitza community" The Serenaders were well known for their expertise in professional styles of tamburitza music. The four man style of Klaich-Smilinich-Popovich and Vranjes is at their peak.

Now it is 1971 and Charlie Smilinich makes a difficult decision and because of the demands on him for his career-he has to leave the orchestra. The Balkan Serenaders have to reorganize again. This time they select Nick Germanovich to play bass and Tillie went back to bugarija. He would continue to play bugarija wih the Balkan Serenaders for the remainder of his career.

During this time the Serenaders released a second album "Continentally Yours." The album had a new sound featuring the fine voices of Klaich and Popovich showcasing the talents of Vlads leadership, superb brac playing and song selection. Tillies "For The Good Times" struck a collective note in the tamburitza community-and its sound-still reverberates. It was THAT powerful. Mori Mome- Bul Bul- Zorba The Greek-Dolazi, Vlajna and "La Malaguenja" are just a few of the excellent numbers played on this album providing the tamburitza community with another success-Serenader style.

In 1972 tragedy struck the group-again-with the untimely death of a youthful Nick Germanovich and in a moment-The Balkan Serenaders had lost their bass player and needed to re-organize again.

For a moment-I was there-at age 19 filling in and playing cello-while Steve Vranjes played bass at a job for a social event in Hamburg New York. Tillie was all dressed in a black suit & it was a somber evening. Millie Zupkovich-wife of the late great Dave Zupkovich was at that event I often wondered what went through her head that night watching tamburashi come and go over the years. Her late husband-Dave Zupkovich died when he was in his early 40s.

I still remember it was a social event-primarily American music and Vlad asked me to pick a song. We did "Orient" kolo and I thought maybe we shouldnt do the song-The Serenaders never gave it a second thought and it was how we began our performance for the evening-and the memory-just like it happened yesterday. This time the Serenaders went to Charles C Vukovic as their bass player. The Serenaders were on the move playing again as they began the road to the height of their career from 1972-1989.

In 1973 The Smithsonian Institute sponsored a celebration of Tamburitza music called "Old Ways In The New World." Four groups from the United States were asked to perform in Washington D.C. They were The Balkan Serenaders (Charlie Smilinich also performed with them) of Western New York-The Popovich Brothers of Chicago (1972 TAA Hall Of Fame-who have entertained before three United States Presidents) Joe and Jerry Grcevic of The Sloboda Tamburitzans of Pennsylvania (Father & Son TAA Hall Of Fame) and The Royals from St Louis. There were two groups from Siskovici Yugoslavia and Janika Balaz (TAA Hall Of Fame) and his tamburitza ensemble from Novi Sad.

A week of pure tamburitza artistry and our own Balkan Serenaders-the pride of Western New York were selected among the finest company of tamburitzan musicians to represent our country-a monumental moment in tamburitza history and it should NEVER be forgotten.

The Serenaders also found time to record two more LP albums Sve Nase (ALL OURS) dedicated to the memory of Nick Germanovich and Cabaret-a selection of The Balkan Serenaders American repetoire. Both albums were a success with songs like "U tom Somboru" " Srem" "Kazi Kazi" and Vlads outstanding leadership in the selection of songs on both albums. The Cabaret album featuring Tillies fine voice and style are incomparable and memorable-to say the least for selections of "Sunrise Sunset" "Beautiful Girl" and "My Way."

The Balkan Serenaders continued their "tour de force" by playing at Kleinhans Music Hall for the Shrine Chanter Concert Series.. There were the night clubs, restaurants, hotels and so much more. Over the years from 1972-1989 they amassed an unmatched repetoire for Irish ,classics, ethnic, American and international styles of music. They performed for The Lancaster Opera House, and played for every major ethnic community within Western N.Y. On St Patricks day for many years The Balkan Serenaders played for the South Buffalo Irish Center doing strictly Irish music. Thinking of it-a tamburitza orchestra of Serbian and Croatian musicians playing strictly Irish music-The Serenaders did and the crowd LOVED it!

At present in March the American Serbian Club features an Irish night serving Irish food (and has done so for many years) and it has been customary for Irish dancers to perform. The Serb Club has art paintings of Vlad Popovich and Charlie Smilinich with Irish /American Western New York personality Jim Brennan. It is again--a testimony to the POWER of crossing lines of ethnic nationality and communicating the sounds of tamburitza music in a way that has created friendships and love among friends and the community-in ways undreamed of.

The Serenaders have over the years accompanied the Kosta Monojlovich choir for continental nights that were blockbuster events on the tamburitza scene. In addition celebrity names accompanied by the Serenaders over the years were Vinka, Angelina, Tosho Erdel and Nada Milosevich. Donna Kokanovich is a local talent who has had the accompaniment of The Balkan Serenaders over the years.

The Serenaders have performed many years for Tamburitza Extravaganza events from 1978 through this years event at Harrisburgh PA that will see Steve Vranjes inducted into the TAA Hall Of Fame October 2004. The Serenaders belonged to the local musicians union-performed for The Knox Family, The Buffalo Sabres Organization, Performed for Mia Mulroney-wife of the Prime Minister Of Canada-Executives like Alex Machaskee Publisher of The Plain Dealer, and Bill Salatich President of Northwest Gillette Corporation.. They have played for Serbian and Croatian events east to west coast throughout the United States and The Balkan Serenaders name is synonymous with Tamburitza music on both a national and local level.

It should be said that each man had a career-yet found time to play on average 60-150 jobs per year as demand varied. They also found time to teach-to record-to organize and to perpetuate tamburitza music and they gave to us their finest efforts. The results not only in music but in the subsequent generations of musicians speaks as a testimony to the efforts of Tille Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders.

The Tamburitza world was rocked on October 1, 1989 with the death of Nicholas "Tillie" Klaich In the 60s and even now-we called Tillie "The Man". When I was a kid I was captivated by the sounds of The Balkan Serenaders and listening to Klaich and Smilinich sing was like stepping into "heaven" if but for a moment. Tillie-was one of a kind and there will never be another like him. Whether he was pounding out tunes on bass-or singing to the crowd with his bugarija in hand-no one did it better and no one sang the old tunes at the bar the way Tillie did. One of the local restaurants in Lackawanna ( JJs-Corner of Ridge and Abbott in Lackawanna)) even had a mural on their wall for many years of Tillie serenading with his bugarija in hand. (I would love to know if a photo of that is still in existence and if so-with a copy-I will publish it on this website).

Tillies passing left a huge void-one that we still feel 15 years later. I was recently talking to Don Milosevich -a lifelong friend and tamburash as we were sitting on a Friday night after jamming for about three hours and Tillies name came up in the context of conversation and Don said it best-" We still miss him and we still love him-it still hurts".

At Duquesne University "The Tillie Klaich Endowment Fund" was established by Vlad Popovich and Alex Machaskee as a tribute to Tillies contributions to tamburitza music. For information go to the following website: www.tamburitzans.duq.edu He was in effect one of the leading pioneers of tamburitza music in North America-in short-a man of LEGENDARY stature and status.

I remember a night back in the mid 80s at St Stephens when the St. Stephens tamburitzans were performing and I said to Tillie"does it remind you of the old days" he said to me-"You bet it does Kum-because I was there!" You don’t realize a statement like that had nearly 50 years of living in it-only now does his statement hit me with its full impact.

I'm reminded of a time in the late 90's when I took a bus trip to Ohio with members & friends of The American Serbian Club in Tonawanda. We were taking one of those trips organized so well by Mr Alex Machaskee( publisher of The Plain Dealer, TAA Hall of Fame member and Continental Strings tamburash) where you travel-sightsee-eat-drink-play tambura-wake up the next day and do it all over again while meeting friends from the Ohio area. This has been occurring annually for nearly 20 years between friends of Cleveland Ohio and Western New York.

On one of those annual trips to Ohio-we had done our sightseeing-had our meals and played for 3-4 hours. Its time to head for the hotel. As the bus pulls out and were leaving-the bus driver turns on the music system and Tillies voice was unmistakeable-"Don’t Look So Sad I Know Its Over" "For The Good Times" was playing and you could hear a pin drop as the bus wheels on a silent night rolled over the highway. I saw many of us wiping tears from our eyes and yes we had that lump in our throat-I know I did-and we remembered-one -of -our -own.

I discussed that very moment in time with a young Marko Wuslich in his early 20s who made that trip and if the moment struck him as it did me with its impact-we werent alone. What impressed me about this moment was Marko mentioned it first-like a confirmation of a thought process-and I brought it to you because some moments in time are meant to be captured and-remembered.

I have mentioned so many places that we as tamburashi have played over the years. There is one more place that tamburashi take their instruments to. It is usually reserved for a cherished tamburash and someone who understands tamburitza music will understand my next comments. It is the one place that tamburashi dont want to take their instruments to-because it is sacred and hallowed ground and it is done out of respect.

It is to the gravesite of a beloved tamburash. I was there at Tillies funeral and it was painful as the tamburashi present took out their instruments to play "The Farewell Song." I’ve had my instruments at the gravesites of tamburash and I can tell you this with absolute certainty--no words-can convey the feeling that goes through you. The first time I ever played at the gravesite of a beloved tamburash-I shook uncontrollably and if emotion was agony-trying to play and sing-may seem an impossibility-yet you find what it takes-to pay your respects to your fallen musician-gone to the great Tamburitza Orchestra In The Sky-and you look at "The Open Chair" left by an irreplaceable soul.

So it was with Tillie-amd many other tamburitzan musicians over the years .Once I asked Tillie how he did it-as he was playing shortly after the passing of a sibling- and how he got through it all? He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said "Hey kum-thats show biz" and in a moment he was doing what he did best-singing to the crowds that loved him for the size of his heart.

Even with Tillies death-the Serenaders did what many thought was impossible-The Serenaders did reorganize again with Chuck on bass- Charlie Smilinich returned to play bugarija-Popovich on brac and Vranjes on cello. They played for three years from 1989-1992. Steve Vranjes played his last job with The Balkan Serenaders in 1992 and after 47 years as a Serenader and 50 years as a tamburash-it was time for him to retire. I have a tape of a portion of that performance and The Serenaders had an excellent sound.

The Serenaders decided "one more once" as Tillie would say and in 1992 yours truly Ray "Rajko" Ranic TBL and your web site host-(at age 39-27 years after I began to play tambura) got the nod to become the lead brac and prim player of "Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenders"- I played cello my first job for Irish nite.(That almost sounds humorous if you think about it a bit!) WE didnt stop and picked up Rudy Kristich who played second brac from 1993-2002.

Today as of 2004 The Balkan Serenaders are four men strong (Popovich-Smilinich-Vukovic and Ranic)and have over the last 12 years since Tillies passing played for weddings-dances festivals-extravaganzas-Irish nite events and concerts in the United States and Canada. One of my favorite performances was "The First Sundays At Four" program and we did a complete concert of international classics. My first wedding that I performed with the Serenaders started at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon and had Smilinich trying to get that "one more song" in and it was 3:30 AM. Forget age and being tired-we were having fun! There are still those weekly Friday nite jam sessions much of the time and were still learning new songs and keeping the spirit of tamburitza music alive.

As you walk into the American Serbian Club in Tonawanda in its main hall you will see a one-of-a kind work by Sam Mondich who installed a stained glass window. The figures are unmistakable. Left to right-Chuck Vukovic-Steve Vranjes-Tillie Klaich and Vlad Popovich have their own "shrine" of sorts as a testimony to the groups popularity.

In a corner of the bar area are two round tables 60ish in style next to a juke box with songs in it from decades past both American and tamburitzan. It is around these tables that friendships have been made and the camraderie and bond of Tamburashi past and present are forged in the music that we share. It is an exclusive club of musicians in its own right-yet the doors are wide open to anyone with an instrument playing tamburitza music.

Once in the late 70's I received a call from Tillie to bring my instrument and come to the club. We didnt sit around the juke box tables as we normally did--we stood at the bar all night. I remember we played until after 4 AM. Tillie did something I’ve never seen duplicated by anyone. Hed start off each song with "its (1955 in Cleveland and theres Dave and George"Blimp" Zupkovich and Lardy-lets go Ej Bono Jano".and we would play the song. He would pause-then pick another era in time-and describe the names and wed play another song. When the evening was over-I figured out that all the times in the past that he picked and all the songs we sang were in memory of DECEASED friends and Tamburashi .An unforgettable evening more than 25 years ago! He did it on other occasions as well.

On the walls at "The Club" hang photos of eras in time that have passed. The photos are of musicians and friends over the years- some sadly not with us-while others are moments caught in time-usually surrounded by the lively sounds of tamburas! As I look back-The American Serbian Club- where I first went as a young teen-holds the spirit and memories of times past-and those yet to come-It is and always will be the home of Tillie Klaich and The Balkan Serenaders.

In 1984 Nicholas "Tillie " Klaich was inducted into the Tamburitza Association of America Hall of Fame. The first TAA Hall Of Fame recipient in Western New York History and deservedly so. In 1987 Charlie Smilinich was inducted. In 1993 Vlad Popovich was inducted and in 1993 The Balkan Serenaders received the prestigious "Presidents Award" for their lifetime contribution to the preservation and elevation of Tamburitza music. As stated before in October of 2004 Steve Vranjes-the last of the four original Balkan Serenaders will be inducted into the TAA Hall Of Fame. All the members of The Balkan Serenaders that made the album "A Continental Toast:" will be forever enshrined in the TAA Hall Of Fame. As it should be-their work and dedication has paved the road for the "Next generation" to carry on the "torch of tamburitza music."

In my earlier comments I had stated it took a Giant of a man to lift the Tamburtza world onto his shoulders like an ATLAS and lay the foundation of Tambura music for the Western NY community-TILLIE KLAICH was THAT kind of man.

This website section is dedicated to the memory of Nicholas "Tillie" Klaich with gratitude to The Balkan Serenaders known today as "Tillie Klaichs Balkan Serenaders". My thanks to them for their contributions to the history of tamburitza music in Western New York and so much more. On the subsequect pages you will find the Tamburitza Association Hall Of Fame write-ups and additional sections on general tamburitza history and much more with photos and articles as is available to the website. This is a perpetual site-your support, (historical and financial) help and input are welcomed and needed.

My final comments regarding Tillie come from his obituary published by the Tamburitza Association Of America. As published in the Tamburitza Times "NICK "TILLIE" KLAICH-A MAN AND HIS MUSIC."

Oddly on Friday evening September 29,(1989) the usual compliment of musicians was not present. The jam session went on as usual with 4 musicians. He was to play his final performance with none other- than his original "Balkan Serenaders."

Fate-perhaps-and the final line from the TAA in Tillies Hall Of Fame Write-up in 1984 stated it best:

"He is in so many ways-MR. TAMBURA"

The Balkan Serenaders-Highlights, Awards and Accomplishments

1952- Three 78s recorded
1966 "A Continental Toast" recorded and entered into Tha American Library Of Congress
1975- Steve Vranjes receives "Parishoner Of The Year Honors"
1975-1983- 3 LP Albums released "Continentally Yours" "Sve Nase" and "Cabaret"
1984 Nicholas "Tillie" Klaich inducted into the Tamburitza Of America Association Hall Of Fame
1987 Charlie Smilinich inducted into the Tamburitza Of America Association Hall Of Fame
1993 Vlad Popovich inducted into the Tamburitza Of America Association Hall Of Fame
1993 The Balkan Serenaders receive "The Presidents Award" from The TAA for Lifetime Achievement
1996 Vlad Popovich 50 year award presented by the TAA
1997 Ray "Rajko"Ranic received The Presidents Award for his original work on "Messiahs Rhapsody"
2000 Vlad Popovich received The Presidents Award from the TAA
2002 Charlie Smilinich received his 75 year Award from the TAA
2002 Vlad Popovich Honoree 7th Annual Arizona Slavic Music Association
2004 Steve Vranjes Inductee into the Tamburitza Association Of America Hall Of Fame

My closing comment regards the tamburitza community of Serbian and Croatian performers in the Western New York area. The following groups have played or continue to play within the tamburitza community:

The Balkan Serenaders
The Smilinich Brothers Tamburitza Orchestra
Veselo Srce Tamburitzans
"The Monsters"
St. Stephens Tamburitzans
The Blue Water Tamburitzans
Kumovi Tamburitza Orchestra
The Slav Serenaders
Ruzmarin Tamburitza Orchestra
Braca Adriatica
Friday Night Jam sessions at the American Serbian Club
Present tamburitzans
Future Tamburitzans

ALL tamburitza orchestras in the Western New York area past-present and future-owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Nicholas "Tillie" Klaich. He is the founder of tamburitza music (from my perspective)in Western New York and our world has never been the same. The lifetime contributions of The Balkan Serenaders are second to none.

It should be noted that it took an extraordinary effort on the part of these fine musicians to dedicate their lives to the higher pursuit of Balkan Tamburitza music and the Serenaders raised the bar quite high. Their unmatched American repetoire made it possible to communicate to people of all socio-economic and ethnic/nationality levels. They have been an inspiration in my life ever since I was a young boy-hopefully The Balkan Lion will be able to continue the efforts of promoting and elevating tamburitza music by performance-by writing and communicating the importance of this music -musical programs and so much more.

There is much to write about and it is not possible to cover all the names, personalities and history that have given much back to the Serbian and Croatian communities and more at this time. Thats why this site will be perpetual and on-going. Your help-support and passion for chronicling Western New York Tamburitza history in photos-recordings and articles is important and needed. During my comments there are times when I may add personal comments. It is not meant to take away from information-but to deliver facts and figures-and leave out the FEELING-I believe I would be leaving out the depth and character of those special moments in time as I remember them or they are passed onto me by others.

I hope you have a sense of what it took for Tillie Klaich and the tamburitza community to come together and grow. Thank YOU for visiting this website. I truly hope you enjoyed this walk with me through "Tamburitza Time And History In Western New York" as you read this information provided for your education and enjoyment.
Sincerely and Hvala,

Ray "Rajko" Ranic "THE BALKAN LION"


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