Czech folk band Spirituál kvintet say goodbye to fans after six decades

Spirituál kvintet

After an era spanning six decades, the oldest Czechoslovak folk band Spirituál kvintet held a goodbye concert to a sold-out audience in Prague’s Lucerna. The band, which performed for Presidents George H.W. Busch and Bill Clinton, released more than 20 albums and is reported to have played in 10,000 concerts.

Spirituál kvintet was formed all the way back in the year 1960. Over the six decades of its existence it included a total of 21 musicians, who were part of the band at various times in its history. The only band member to have stayed in Spirituál kvintet for the whole duration of its existence is Jiří Tichota, who was both the artistic director as well as the six-string guitar and lute player.

Jiří Tichota | Photo: Roman Vondrouš,  ČTK

The music group was formed by four members of the University Choir in Karlovy Vary, of which Jiří Tichota was the band-master. Originally called Spirituál kvartet, due to the fact that they had four members at the start, the band held its first concert at the 1962 International Jazz Festival in Karlovy Vary. After adding a female singer, the group then changed its name to Spirituál kvintet, a name it has kept ever since, even though it has at times included a considerably larger setup.

Over the next three decade, the band became an iconic representative of the Czech folk music scene and also saw commercial successes. For example, their 1985 album Šlapej dál sold more than 130,000 copies. Critics had a hard time placing Spirituál kvintet’s music into a specific genre, but it was often likened to a mix of gospel, blues, Irish folk music and French chanson.

The band also performed during the visit of US President George H.W. Bush on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17, 1990. Both Bush and the then Czechoslovak President, Vaclav Havel, joined in the singing of “We Shall Overcome!” that Spirituál kvintet performed. The performance was held on Wenceslas Square, where the band had played a year before, during the days that the revolution unfolded. Spirituál kvintet also performed for Bush’s successor Bill Clinton during his visit to Prague in 1994. Meanwhile, American singer Joan Baez performed with Spirituál kvintet in 2009, on the occasion of the20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Spirituál kvintet | Photo: Spirituál kvintet

The band continued performing for the next three decades, but time was catching up with several of the now old members. The 2000s saw the deaths of two former members - base and flute player Oldřich Ortinský and guitarist Karel Zich.

In 2019, the band announced that it will play 10 more concerts for fans and then retire the next year, on the occasion of its 60 year anniversary. However, they had only managed to play two concerts before the onset of the coronavirus and the final goodbye was held this October 13. It was a funny night full of positive energy, with band leader Jiří Tichota sharing many jokes with the audience.