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  Barikada - World Of Music - Rock-pop history

Vesta Vanell


"We haven't heard such a good singer yet, the singer who forced us to remember phrases from far away: Oh, what a Moon, Oh what a Sea, OH, WHAT A LOLA! We would applaud for anything Lola would sing..." Japanese reporter wrote in 1963. That was true. She could sing a melody that you could not possibly sing alone... or a simple children song. Or even a weather report! Doesn't really matter! She was adored for her outstanding voice and for her appearance.

The story of Lola Novaković, the legendary singer from Yugoslavia, who was on top in the sixties and also in the seventies, has not been available so far in English language on internet. So, here it is, written by Vesta Vanell, also the author of Lola's biography in Croatian language.


Lola Novaković was born in Belgrade as Zorana Novaković in 1935 in the sign of Taurus. She was the third child in the family. At home she was called Lola from her early age, as she had a good sense of humor. In Serbia, it is a habit that everybody, male or female, with such qualities, gets Lola as a nick name. Later on, when she became famous, she officially changed her name to Lola.

She spent her childhood in the centre of Belgrade near a big park, called Tasmajdan. She liked to play like any other child, but two things were different: First, she was very sympathetic towards the animals. From her very early age she kept rescuing them, bringing them home and calling the vet to help and cure them. The vet lived, very usefully, next door. So her home was always full of cats and dogs, birds and butterflies... all animals were there which were damaged and needed help. Second, everyone noticed that she had got an amazing voice.

When she went to school, she was a member of the school children’s choir. But very soon she was told off, because her voice was so strong that other children could not be heard! Actually she was not allowed to sing in the choir.

Fortunately, she had good support at home. When she was nine she became a member of the children’s theatre Rodino Pozoriste in Belgrade. There she was singing, acting and dancing... While performing for children, she imagined herself as an actress on a big stage in front of adult audience... Her name was first mentioned in a newspaper in the year 1944, when she participated in a charity programme, where they were collecting money for a little boy, whose coat was stolen. It was during the Second world war... In the article it was written that little girl from the children's theatre, Zorana Novaković, had a phenomenal voice.


While she was in grammar school she was a member of the Cultural and Art Association Branko Krsmanovic, too. There was a choir there, but because she was not born to sing in choirs, she preferred to play chess there! At that time she attended Music school, as well, studying solo singing.

Her music career began at the chess table! One day while she was quietly singing September song in between the two moves, one student came to her. She knew him, Rade Milivojević was a member of the student’s music group. "Would you like to sing with us on New Year's Eve? We don't have a girl singer," he surprised her. Lola found herself in a very demanding situation: she was aware she didn't know any songs to sing by heart and she had never tried to sing in a microphone. On the other hand, her family was in a very difficult situation at that time and she was the only one who earned money. She had to stop attending both, Grammar school and Music school, and began to work in the hospital to help her family. The amount of money she was offered for singing was amazing for her... and thinking of her family she finally agreed. She learned a few songs with the help of all the members of this Student music group. Finally she traveled with them to Smederevo to sing in microphone - for the first time in her life. It was the New Year’s Eve 1952 / 1953. She said it was not good at all, nobody noticed her, the audience was so loud! And she was dying of fear.

After that evening she wasn't going to sing anymore. But the students got another idea: they felt there was something more in this strong, young voice and convinced her to leave her job and joined them. So, she finally did. She began to sing on the stage of hotel Bristol in Belgrade. Stages at hotels and some restaurants were the only places for jazz musicians at that time. She was really among pioneers in popular music, cutting a way for the others to come after... It was not easy to learn new songs at that time. They didn't have gramophones or anything with recorded music. The only helper was radio. So she was listening to the radio in the mornings, trying to write down lyrics of the new songs and singing along... She had a very good ear so she learned music very fast, but had problems with lyrics, all in foreign languages.

Soon she became well known in Belgrade and a lot of people were coming to listen to the girl with a dark long romantic hair, fascinating light green eyes and incredible voice. She was singing without any effort, like playing with notes. She got big success and had to repeat songs over and over again. Once she was asked to sing the song Yellow Rose of Texas for seven times! When reporters asked her later, if this was true, she answered:
"Yes, the audience wanted me to learn the lyrics of the song by heart, finally, as I have always got a microphone in one hand and the paper with lyrics in another..." The songs she sang were also: "Jesabel", "Pommes et poires", "September Song", "Vaia Con Dios", "Che sara sara"... and some others. She was singing beautifully, but for years nobody had helped her to make a step further, until... one day in the early spring in the year 1957...


In those days a manager from Leipzig (East Germany at that time) came to Belgrade to invite some musicians and singers to perform in the famous "Capitol Hall" in Leipzig during the fair there. Everything was arranged with Big Jazz Orchestra and conductor Vojislav Simić, as well as with the singer Ivo Robić. But he could not find a girl singer. In Radio Belgrade they simply didn't have anyone good enough to represent this radio abroad.

It happened that in those days a well known jazz singer Stjepan Stanić Jimmy from Zagreb came to Belgrade, met Lola and suggested her to come and sing with him at "Stambol kapija", where people from abroad were coming to listen to jazz music. And it happened that right in those days the brand new music editor of Radio Belgrade, Josip Kalčić visited the place together with the German manager. When they heard Lola sing, they immediately decided: she will to go to Leipzig!

But, things were not so easy as it looked like: Lola could not travel abroad, as she was not a member of the radio station. People from Radio Belgrade found themselves ashamed... They were forced to organize the audition for young singers in 24 hours, inviting Lola, of course, in a first place. After she had passed the audition and became a member of Radio Belgrade, she was told she had to go to Leipzig! So Lola represented Radio Belgrade abroad in spite of the fact that this same radio station hadn't transmitted any of her songs...! ... They actually ignored her for a long time and finally... they had to acknowledge her in front of a German manager! Lola traveled together with big famous orchestra and a big star, Ivo Robić, to Leipzig in March 1957.

Only a few songs that she sang in Leipzig were enough that German Record Company Decca offered her to record her first record there. With big jazz orchestra she recorded two songs, "Babalu" in Spanish language and "Alice in Wonderland" in Serbian. The musicians and singers from Yugoslavia got big success in the famous "Capitol Hall" in Leipzig and were invited to Berlin. There Lola and Ivo Robić recorded some German songs for the radio station and appeared on TV. The echo of musicians and singers from Yugoslavia spread like a fire through Eastern Europe and each country wanted to have them. They accepted only one invitation, to Budapest, Hungary. They gave two concerts in "Erkel Opera" with 2600 seats and still a lot of people were left without tickets. In Nepakarat newspaper it was written: "The biggest success had Lola Novaković, the singer with an outstanding voice and lovely performance.... because of long applause she could not leave the stage, people were throwing flowers, gloves, bags... whatever they had, on a stage".

After such a success, Lola became a respected member of Radio Belgrade. But, firmly grounded, she said: " The applause were amazing, but they didn't convince me I reached the top. ... I know I still have to work hard". So, she began to study solo singing at the Belgrade Music Academy. Music experts predicted her a very successful opera career, as her dramatic soprano was considered very suitable for classical training. After two years, she finished her training, as she decided not to become an opera singer.

While studying, she was also performing, mainly abroad. She was invited many times to Hungary and to other Eastern European countries. She sang at the festival "Jazz au Champs Elysees" in Paris and in Basle, where she conquered hearts with her interpretation of the very well known song "Tenderly" and introducing a hit from Belgrade, the song "Kada dođe dan" When the day arrives). Her admirer was also the conductor and piano player Charles Dueval. In Budapest she recorded four songs for Qualiton, three of them in Spanish language. Among them a very popular love song "La Storia du un Amor" (The story of love). She was actually so good in singing Spanish songs, as if she was born in Spain...


Then she suddenly accepted the invitation to sing in Beirut. Her friends from the students time, now called Adriatic 5, were playing in a Night Club "Lido" in Beirut. They called her to come and join them. She went there for three months but stayed in the East for a year and a half, also regularly performing in Radio and TV Beirut. She was also touring several countries, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria... Right from the beginning she had to clear the situation with the owner of the Night Club "Lido": what were her duties there, because she was expected to do both, to sing and to please the rich guests... She had to ask police and the Embassy for help. But soon the problem was solved and she got a special driver from police to drive her around and look after her. When she returned home, people in her home land didn't receive her with open hearts and hands. They even believed she lost her voice! Her voice truly had been changing all the time, but the experts agreed her voice got its expected color in that time, in 1960.

Lola knew very well what she was capable of doing and decided to stop the rumors with giving her first solo concert. This was the first solo concert ever done in Yugoslavia by any Yugoslav singer. The biggest concert hall in Belgrade was sold out in a few hours. So Lola had to give two solo concerts and her success was enormous. She brought with her the song "Mustafa", which was already a hit in some countries. Half of Belgrade were singing this song after her two concerts. And Yugoslav newspapers wrote that she was the best and the most complete singer and performer in the whole Yugoslavia.


Right at the beginning of 1961 first in a row was festival in Zagreb. She didn't want to miss it! It was not a big surprise that she won, singing a very beautiful song, "Svitanje" (The Dawning) in her great style. After that success she was invited to participate in the first Yugoslav Competition for the song, which represented Yugoslavia in Eurosong Contest 1961 in Cannes. She won the second position, presenting beautifully song "Plave daljine" (Blue distances).

In that time she was singing songs which were written specially for her. And her interpretations were so good that hardly anybody dared to sing those songs after here. Next thing was the competition for the best singer in Yugoslavia, called "Golden Microphone", that happened in Belgrade. Probably you won't be surprised to know that she got the first one, and after her two more women singers and - no men.

Lola sang in all festivals that year: beside Zagreb, also in Belgrade and in Opatija. At this last one she sang two songs which were unforgettable: "Jednom u gradu ko zna kom" (Once in a town who knows which) and "Voljela bih da me voliš" (I'd love you to love me).

And what were the following years hiding for her? In the beginning of 1962 she performed two songs at the famous Zagreb festival. She became the absolute winner of the festival, which lasted for four days. The legendary song "Ti nisi došao" (You didn't arrive) was written specially for her by very young composer Alfons Vučer. Lola put all her feelings in this little song, crying while she was singing it and the result was her biggest success ever in any festival in Yugoslavia. She kept coming on the stage for - God knows how long - to say thank you to the audience, which got her the longest possible applause she had ever experienced ... The audience actually didn't allow the programme to continue. Six hours later, so long was the final evening, Lola and the song "Ti nisi došao" were declared as the absolute winners of that festival. The song "Ti nisi došao" was her first golden record and was chosen as the song of the year 1962. At the same time, the song was a model, where everything came together perfectly and you couldn't add or remove anything. After such a success, she became the most adored woman singer in whole Yugoslavia.

Soon after that festival in Zagreb there was a competition for the song which later represented Yugoslavia in Eurosong Contest 1962 in Luxembourg. It happened in TV studio in Zagreb. Lola got few songs to sing. One of them was the song "Ne pali svetlo u sumrak" (Don't turn on the light in a twilight), composed by young Slovenian composer Jože Privšek. She didn't expect to win at all. After the voting one reporter was faster in calculating than others, so he ran to Lola to tell her, she won with "Ne pali svetlo u sumrak"... But she didn't believe him! She was very surprised when finally she was asked to perform the song once again - as a winner!

Soon after that, she got the main woman part in the movie "Šeki snima, pazi se", got married, and a week or two later she had to travel to Luxemburg to represent her homeland in Eurosong Contest 1962. Before she left, the representatives of JRT / Yugoslav Radio Television Association warned her more seriously than as a joke: "Don't dare to come back tomorrow as a winner!" The truth was, Yugoslavia didn't have money to organize such a big event... When composer Joze Privšek and Lola appeared in Luxemburg, nobody recognized them. At the beginning, Claudio Villa, who represented Italy that year, thought that Lola was the girl who will help with counting the points! Later on, he was the first to congratulate her for her singing and performing.

When Lola appeared on the stage of the concert hall at rehearsal, she got sympathy already, as she never played someone else, but was herself truly and honestly. She had a certain karisma. And when she began to sing, all the people around and the whole orchestra were amazed. They also were very enthusiastic about both, the song and the arrangement, masterpieces of Joze Privšek. He was at that time by far the youngest composer and conductor at this Contest. In spite of such big interest for the song, Lola and Privšek didn't win but got fourth position, what was a very big success and for long time the best of what Yugoslavia reached in many years... After this appearance in Europe, she became even more popular in Yugoslavia. All her recordings, new and older were sold out. But "Ne pali svetlo u sumrak" was not among them. This song has never been put on a record. ...

In Luxemburg Lola got some very attractive offers for concerts and tours in Europe. But she didn't want to agree on anything. Only - there was one little man from Japan, from His Master’s Voice. He insisted, he wanted her to come to Japan. Lola didn't believe he really meant this and finally said to him she will think about the strange offer.

There were two more festivals in 1962 in Yugoslavia which we have to mention. The first one was so called "Belgrade's Springtime 1962". That year she sang two very beautiful and very different songs: "Neko ko šapče" (Somebody's whispering) and "Dođi, planina te zove" (Come, the mountain is calling you). Both were written for Lola and she sang them in a great style. The next (and last for many years) festival in which she appeared, was "Opatija 1962". Lola decided not to perform at the festivals any longer from ethical reasons. She didn't agree with the fact that the winner was known in advance!

Anyway, she was officially invited to Japan. She was going to stay in that exotic country for at least half a year - but ... It was May 1963, when she left for Japan. Her tour was prepared on a high professional level. Whole Tokyo was covered with her big posters... She had such a publicity as never before. There was big interest for her concerts every where, in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagoya, Nagasaki... because she was coming from the exotic land! She was even asked to sing for the imperator what was a rare honor.

Even though she was asked to stay longer, she decided to return home after three months of non-stop working. She was invited to Singapore, Hawaii and to USA , but she simply wanted to return home for personal reasons. She brought with her the newspapers from Japan, containing the most beautiful and most poetical articles ever written about her and her singing.


She recorded a lot of songs at that time and didn't perform at the festivals in Yugoslavia for some years. In hot summer, July 1964, she was touring Bulgaria, when Dušan Vidak, composer from Belgrade, called her and said, she had to travel to Rome! Actually, his song "Ulica četiri fontane" (The Street of Four Fountains) was accepted at the International Festival in Rome. The composer wrote the song for her, so she had to travel now to Rome to perform it. Lola even haven't had time enough to learn the song, when she found herself in Rome, on a stage at the famous Saint Peter's Square, rehearsing the song with a big orchestra behind her, conducted by famous Nello Seghurini. She was the last one who expected to win, as she heard the winner was known in advance... She calmed down and said to herself she didn't come to Rome to win, but she will do her best anyway.

Something happened that nobody had expected... Lola and the song "Ulica četiri fontane" were absolute winners at the International Festival Roma Canta 1964. She got best notes for both, her singing and performing. The song, itself, got the best note, too. Big surprise? ... Not really, as she won the hearts of everybody on the stage, in the audience, even reporters there, only by appearing on the stage! When she began to sing the beautiful and quite unusual chanson in her own way, the star was born in front of a big audience of six thousand people.

After such a triumph under the Italian sky, reporters wrote about her in superlatives. It was written that Italian people had to learn that also others could sing about fountains, and, even more - in a way, it seemed Italians had never sung about them, really. She was considered to sing like the best French chanson singer and was a revelation for thousands of tourists there. She got invitation to sing at the famous Italian "San Remo Festival". But she never appeared there because of money...

Lola decided to take a train to get home. She got two "golden" cubs as rewards, one cub for her and one for the composer. They were quite big, so she put them beside her on a seat. People were asking her where did she get them. And Lola, being Lola - kept answering very seriously: "At the athletics meeting".

It was still a long hot summer when Lola performed, together with other best singers from Balkan region at the big concert, called "Balkaniada of Songs and Friendship 1964". It happened at the biggest sport stadium in Belgrade. She sang, among other songs, also her biggest success abroad, the song "Ulica četiri fontane". It was good though, as it just happened that the live recording of this song from "Balkaniada" remained the only document of this song. The studio recording has never been done.

Italian conductor Nello Seghurini came to Belgrade to conduct Symphonic orchestra. And his wish was that Lola joined them, singing operetta songs. She agreed and sang for the first and last time such a repertoire. This was a big success for both of them and her audience was amazed.


At that time Lola was divorced already, and decided to dedicate her life completely to music and performing. She appeared on TV programme nearly each day, sometimes even twice per day! In 1963/64 and 1965 she acted and sang in the most popular children's programme on TV Belgrade, "Na slovo na slovo"... In that way she captured hearts of children, as well as those of grand-mothers and grand-fathers. So she got all generations, really. Everybody simply adored her.

She recorded a lot of songs from European pop scene, mostly Italian, French and Spanish. People liked her interpretations of well known songs so much that her records were always sold out, bringing her golden awards. There were songs like Italian "Tišina" (Il Silenzio) Greek song "Mama, mama" (composer Hadjidakis), Mexican song "Kap veselja" (Gorason appasionato) - this record was golden twice! ... Then her master interpretation of French chanson "Jedna godina ljubavi" (Ces't irreparable)... and many others.

Though dedicating herself to music, she got some challenges on the way... On the top of her career she declared a few times she would stop singing... After she married for the second time in Autumn of 1966, she changed her surname to Jovanović and very soon she withdrew herself completely. She wanted to have some family life, at last. Shock for her audience! The battle between Lola and her audience began. Who won? The audience, of course!

Next Summer, as Lola Jovanović, she joined the first touring summer festival that ever happened in Yugoslavia, called "The Summer Song 1967". With the song "Marike" she uplifted people all over Yugoslavia. Then she "vanished" once again. People were asking: Is it now definite? No, after a longer pause, she recorded four songs for her new record. The most interesting was the Italian song "Vi niste znali" (Voi non sapete).

Then, again nothing... Till the next Summer when she appeared at the summer touring festival, singing the song "Posle mene" (After me), bringing pure joy among people all over Yugoslavia. Then she vanished... reporters called her Fenix... In twenty years of her singing career she vanished so many times and each time came back again, as if nothing had happened, that she would have felt comfortable under the wings of this mystic bird.


Actually her come back as a victor is considered to be the year 1970. She appeared at two festivals in Belgrade, winning twice. It is interesting that at the festival "Belgrade's Spring 1970" she sang the song "Neko čeka na mene" (Somebody's waiting for me) which reminded of her successful recordings from the sixties - and, actually it was the song from that time, waiting for Lola to change her mind and appear at this festival, again! Then at the second part of that festival, called "Starogradske pesmi" (The songs, inspired by old days), she was the winner with the song "Moje ludo srce" (My Crazy Heart) when her interpretation was stunning.

At the end of the same year she performed also at the "Army Festival" in Belgrade. Young soldiers who were choosing their favorite song, voted for Lola, singing the song with symbolic title "Vrati se" (Let you return). And she did return!

Meanwhile, her marriage fell apart and after the divorce in the early spring of 1971 she promised herself she would NEVER ever allow a man in her life again! But remember: never say never! God had a different plan for her.

At the festival "Belgrade's Spring 1971" she sang the song, simply called "Ljubi me" (Love me) in alternation with young and then unknown singer Dragan Antić. This song seemed to have a fatal energy in it, as they fell in love. The song became hit soon after the festival, and the record with this song was selling like no other. The news were so attractive, the picture of both singers appeared in front pages of nearly all newspapers in Serbia. Lola and Dragan married during the Summer festival "The Summer Song 1971". Actually, this was something reporters would not accept, because Dragan was 14 years younger than she was and reporters could not believe both singers really fell in love. They considered it was an excellent trick to attract attention... Considering their private life was their private life, they didn't want to deal with reporters any longer. So, it seemed they didn't perform but they did 250 to 300 concerts per year! They lived together for nearly 30 years.

Lola won many festivals from that year 1971 on. She's got a lot of golden liras, golden records, golden cubs... and all possible awards. Among other songs we have to mention the winner of the "Army Festival" in 1973 "Misli na mene" (Think about me). With this song Lola got a lot of air play and it was for years a very popular song. With the song "Znam zašto živim" (I know why I live) Lola won festival "Your Song of the Season" in Sarajevo 1972...

She got her biggest awards in 1977. She was awarded by the title "Respected artist on Serbia Republic level" and she got "The Big award" from the Yugoslav Estrada Association. This was the most she could get in that time.

Lola finished her career in 1985. Now she lives in Belgrade in her house with the garden, together with her animals she loves. From my point of view, Lola Novaković has been the brightest star from Yugoslavia - and she still is.

She has got an incredible voice that she mastered to perfection. Beside all of this, God gave her another gift: her interpretations of love songs were real dramas, as she put so much emotions in them. On the other hand, of course, singing joyful songs... she really was able to get on feet the whole theatre, singing along with her.

I am aware of a great privilege to have had a lot of opportunities of listening her singing live, as well as listening her incredible recordings from original records and watching her performing in numerous TV programmes over the years. Masters singers have always been the best singing live. Lola was...

Vesta Vanell, 31. January 2010

Foto: Dragutin Matosevic
Vesta Vannell, Rodine, Bela Krajina, Slovenia, 2009


Vesta Vanell

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