Legendary Slovak pop star Miroslav ’Meky’ Žbirka dies at 69

The award-winning singer, who was influenced by the Beatles and recorded at Abbey Road Studios, got his nickname for speaking English.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 11.11.2021 09:52 (updated on 11.11.2021) Reading time: 2 minutes

Legendary Slovak pop music singer, composer, and guitarist Miroslav Žbirka, who lived in Prague for a long time, died at the age 69, according to his wife, Kateřina, and information on his Facebook profile. According to his official website, the cause of death was pneumonia. “He lived in music until the last moment,” his website stated.

Žbirka, known to fans as Meky, was one of the most distinctive figures on the Czechoslovak pop scene for decades. In 1982, he became the first Slovak to win the Golden Nightingale (Zlatý slavík) poll for the best singer in Czechoslovakia. The poll was usually won by Czech star Karel Gott. After the split of Czechoslovakia, he won the Slovak edition of the Nightingale three times.

Born in Bratislava on October 21, 1952, Žbirka was a son of a Slovak father and an English mother. His parents met in London in 1943 at a pub called the Green Man. His father, Šimon Žbirka, returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945 when the war ended, and his mother, Ruth Gordon, followed two years later.

His mother spoke a mix of English and Slovak at home, and also encouraged him in music.

His knowledge of English was the source of his nickname. “A friend from the street gave it to me as a child. When Canadian hockey players came to visit Slovakia, many of them were called Macs. I also spoke English, so I was a Meky,” he once said.

In the 1970s, he started playing and singing with the band Modus, which had a hit with the song “Úsmev.” He and another band member, Laco Lučenič, split off in the early 1980s to form the band Limit. In the 1990s, Žbirka moderated the show “Rhytmic,” which presented foreign music videos.

On his own he recorded dozens of albums and had hits not only in the Czech Republic and Slovakia but also in neighboring Germany.  His hits included “Balada o polných vtákoch,” “Atlantida,” “Biely kvet,” “22 dní,” “Katka,” and “Fair Play.”

In 2012, at the age of 60, he recorded a new song in English, “Love Shines,” in the Abbey Road Studios in London where the Beatles recorded their most famous albums. The same year, he also performed several times with Jon Anderson, the former lead singer of the prog-rock band Yes.

Hearing music by the Beatles as a child influenced his life. “If I hadn't heard their songs as a boy, I probably wouldn't have worked in popular music. I might be a footballer or something," he said.

Žbirka’s last album called Double Album was recorded in 2018 at Abbey Road Studios in cooperation with producer Rob Cass and British musicians.

Last spring, Žbirka played as a thank you to nurses, doctors, and medical staff on the premises of the University Hospital Vinohrady (FNKV). This year, during the coronavirus lockdown, he organized an online concert at Prague's Lucerna Music Bar, which was streamed for free over social networks.

An asteroid, 5895 Žbirka, which was discovered by Czech astronomer Zdeňka Vávrová in 1982, was named in his honor in 2019. A documentary about his life called “Meky” was released in 2020.

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Reports on Žbirka's death provoked a wave of emotional reactions from his fans, colleagues, artists as well as politicians both in his native Slovakia and in the Czech Republic who expressed regret and offered condolences to his family.

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