"Queen of Russian folk" Lyudmila Zykina dies

Russia's First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva (R) speaks to Soviet-era singer Lyudmila Zykina during a reception on the occasion of Zykina's 80th birthday in Moscow June 10, 2009. Zykina died in Moscow after a heart attack on Wednesday aged 80. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov/Files

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Lyudmila Zykina, “the queen of Russian folk” whose voice charmed Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and pop group The Beatles alike, died in Moscow after a heart attack on Wednesday aged 80.

Zykina, born into a modest family of Moscow workers, was admired by the changing Soviet elite for the depth, clarity and personal touch of her voice and was decorated with the highest Soviet awards.

At the start of her career she performed for Stalin in 1949. The feared Kremlin leader smiled at her and said: “You’ll go a great way!” So she did.

The changing Soviet rulers, including Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev were all charmed by her vocals, which in turn brought the living legend an official blessing to travel to the West -- a privilege enjoyed by few Russian artists at the time.

In the 1960s, she visited the United States and sang to Russian emigrees in Los Angeles. She recalled in her interviews that she had been approached by the The Beatles in a local restaurant after a concert.

“They themselves approached me, we got acquainted and sang a verse of a (Russian) song, the only one they knew,” she said, adding they had presented her with a tiny silver cross for luck.

Hugely popular in her native land, Zykina said she must have travelled six times across the giant Soviet Union.

Celebrating her 80th birthday last month, Zykina, who was seriously ill at the time, said she was planning an audacious tour of 20 Russian cities.