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Theodore 'Teddy' Popovich 1911 - 2005:
Serbian music stirred his soul
Performed and toured as member of Popovich Brothers Orchestra tamburitza ensemble

Chicago Tribune - October 7, 2005 - Chicago Tribune
by Ana Beatriz Cholo

Theodore 'Teddy' Popovich 1911 - 2005:
Serbian music stirred his soul
Performed and toured as member of Popovich Brothers Orchestra tamburitza ensemble

By Ana Beatriz Cholo
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 7, 2004

Baritone vocalist Theodore "Teddy" Popovich, a well-known personality in the Serbian-American community, spent most of his life immersed in the music of his ancestors.

Even though he never visited the former Yugoslavia, the songs of the Balkans stirred deep within his soul. As a member of the nationally acclaimed Popovich Brothers Orchestra, he shared his love of the music with others for 65 years.

"Music was more him than anything else," said his daughter Natalie. "It would be hard to know what he would have been like without it."

Mr. Popovich, 93, a longtime Chicago resident, died Tuesday, Oct. 4, of complications from pneumonia at a nursing home near Pittsburgh.

He was born to Serbian immigrants in Globeville, Colo. As the son of a roving miner, Mr. Popovich and his four brothers and five sisters lived in small towns in Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

While growing up, the boys were taught to play the tamburitza, a guitarlike string instrument common to the Balkans.

In 1929, Mr. Popovich moved to Chicago's Southeast Side with his family and worked in the steel mills with other relatives. He and his brothers toured the West twice playing in their tamburitza ensemble.

He married in 1934, and he and his wife, Mildred, had three daughters.

He and his brothers bought a tavern at 93rd Street and Ewing Avenue and opened Club Cello, which became a popular gathering place for Serbians.

Mr. Popovich drove a beer truck for a living, but he lived for the weekends, when he would play in his orchestra at weddings, christenings or other family gatherings. The group also played at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, a presidential inauguration and the rededication of the Statue of Liberty.

The group made recordings that were widely distributed in the Serbian community.

In 1977 the orchestra, consisting of Mr. Popovich, his brother Adam and three others, became the subject of a documentary called "The Popovich Brothers of South Chicago."

Although Chicago was his home for most of his life, his daughter Natalie said he was born 100 years too late, as he would have been perfectly at home astride a burro, with a shovel at his side, in the mountains or deserts of the Southwest.

Mr. Popovich and his wife moved about a year ago to a nursing home in Pittsburgh to be closer to their daughter Danella.

Besides music, Mr. Popovich enjoyed carving. He liked to carve faces on potatoes and set them on the windowsill to dry. His daughter Natalie said she still has many of his carvings, including one in which he whittled a face on the side of a lead bullet.

He loved to tell jokes, and his daughter Natalie's earliest memories of her father consist of him singing at Christmastime surrounded by family.

"He was just a happy-go-lucky person," she said. "He loved to make people laugh." Mr. Popovich also was a soloist and longtime member of the Serbian Singing Society Sloboda, which toured the U.S. and Canada.

Besides his wife and two daughters, survivors include a sister, Sophie; five grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a great-great grandchild.

Visitation will be from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday in Thornridge Funeral Home (Janusz Family Funeral Service), 15801 S. Cottage Grove Ave., Dolton.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church, 1500 E. 186th St., Lansing.


Copyright 2005, Chicago Tribune