Br(u)no: Bumping into a Legend

Helena Vondráčková is a legend of Czech music. She performed in Carnegie Hall 14½ years ago and tonight she will perform in Městská hala Vodova. Photo credit: Jan Tůma.

Such is the celebrity of Karel Gott and Helena Vondráčková, two of the most famous Czech singers of all time, that, when I wanted to write about attending one of their concerts, I was able to find information within seconds with a Google search. That may not be so impressive until I explain that the concert was 14½ years ago in New York City and had a 400-word story that included quotes from both singers.

The concert is a fond memory for several reasons:

  • It was in Carnegie Hall.
  • It enables me to say that I saw Karel Gott sing (something which I often relate, along with the fact that I saw Wayne Gretzky score a goal and Nolan Ryan pitch his last game.)  
  • It was fascinating to see so many Czechs so overjoyed by the performance.
  • And, because of a post-concert encounter I had with Helena Vondráčková, who is headlining a concert tonight in Městská hala Vodova.

* * *

Let me explain. One day, while I lived in New York, my cousin invited me to a concert in Carnegie Hall. The group that was performing was made up of legendary artists from the Czech Republic. She told me the names. They meant nothing to me.

I had never been to Carnegie Hall, the legendary theater in midtown Manhattan. It sounded like a good idea.

I remember asking a friend of mine if he wanted to go. He had been born in the Czech Republic, ended up in Canada and worked in Manhattan. He laughed at the suggestion of attending the concert. I had half expected pride. Instead, I got his unvarnished appraisal: Karel Gott is a cross between the Elvis Pressley of Czechoslovakia and a sweaty lounge singer. My friend predicted that there would be a lot of dyed-in-the-wool Czechs in the audience and they would fall all over themselves in nostalgia.

He was largely correct.

Nevertheless, I loved it. It was strange and different and interesting. The audience was dressed to the nines and they soaked everything up. The love and appreciation for the performers were palpable.

Gott, who passed away on Oct. 1, was the headliner and he filled the legendary theater with energy and passion. It is easy to understand why he was selected as the Best Male Singer of this country 42 times and that the Germans call him them “the Golden Voice of Prague”.

Vondráčková was elegant and sexy. She sang with a force that filled the space with equal parts power and emotion. It is no wonder that she has been so famous in this country for the past many decades.

It was an experience, and I love experiences. It was definitely not a normal Tuesday night.

* * *

After the concert, I called my mother. She was, surprisingly, impressed by the fact that I had attended the concert. So impressed, in fact, that she wanted me to buy a CD for her. So, I went back to Carnegie Hall to buy a CD.

Though the concert had ended about half an hour earlier, I recognized Gott, still in his tuxedo, out on the sidewalk, glad-handing a few fans. He was smooth and gracious. The beaming smile never left his face. I slipped past him and into the lobby. The sales table was closing down, but I was able to get a CD with a picture of the Czech Legends on it.

As I turned to walk out the doors, I was looking at the CD and only partly noticed that a blonde woman was walking inside. I looked up. She smiled. I smiled back. Then she reached and took the CD.

“Whoa, lady,” I said, my inner New Yorker instinctively coming out. “This is mine!”

She gave me a confused look, let go of the CD and continued inside. When I looked back, I realized that she had a Sharpie pen in her hand. She had thought that I had wanted her to sign the CD.

The blonde woman was one of the Czech Legend singers pictured on the CD cover. It was Helena Vondráčková. Now, a decade and a half later, I have been seeing that same image on billboard all around Brno. I’m sure that she will entertain the audience at Městská hala Vodova with the same intensity as that of the Carnegie Hall performance.

Have you ever met (or bumped into) a celebrity? How did it happen? Where did it happen? Please share.

I hope that this column will provide thought-provoking observations of local life that will be interesting for a Saturday-morning read. If you have any suggestions or comments, please pass them along to

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. The publishing of this article does not constitute an endorsement of or any other expression of opinion by the management of Brno Daily.

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