Popular music group Čikāgas piecīši receives this year’s PBLA award

Čikāgas piecīši, a popular music group founded 50 years ago by exiles, has been named this year’s recipient of the top honor bestowed by the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA).

The organization recognized the group “for a half century of success, with humor and affection, reflecting in song the Latvian people’s joys, sorrows and desires in the context of contemporary events,” according to an announcement released Nov. 21.

Čikāgas piecīši was founded in 1961 in by Alberts Legzdiņš and Modris Avotiņš, both of Chicago, and Jānis Rinkuss and Uldis Ievāns, both of Kalamazoo, Mich. The group’s first concert took place in Kalamazoo. Maija Dumpe joined the group soon after. Through the years the group has had more than 25 different members, but Legzdiņš has been a constant presence, serving as both lead singer and composer.

The group has performed in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and South America, according to the PBLA announcement. Čikāgas piecīši first traveled to Latvia in 1989—two years before the homeland renewed its independence—and was greeted with large audiences. Despite Soviet-imposed restrictions on Western music, the group’s songs reached listeners in Latvia through recordings smuggled into the country and through Voice of America broadcasts.

Čikāgas piecīši has released 12 vinyl recordings, 17 audio cassettes, 10 compact discs, seven videotapes and one book.

The announcement of the PBLA award was made during Independence Day celebrations in Latvian communities around the world. The award was first given in 1963 to stage designer and artist Jānis Kuga (1878-1969). Last year it was presented to Līga Ruperte, founder of the 3×3 culture camp movement.

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