When Esma Redzepova and her bandleader, mentor, and husband, Stevo Teodosievski, were crowned "Queen and King of Gypsy Music" at the first World Festival of Romany Songs and Music in 1976, it marked the pinnacle of a very successful musical career.
The product of a Rom (Gypsy) Muslim and Jewish family, Redzepova was the daughter of a Serbian father and Turkish mother. Although she suffered from racism as a child, she continued to embrace her Rom heritage. Determined to make her career in music, she left home with a single suitcase containing one dress and one Cocek costume. With Teodosievski's encouragement and support, she became one of the great singers of Rom music. Together with Teodosievski, Redzepova used music to help Rom children to escape their impoverishment. Beginning in 1970, the couple provided a home for more than 40 musically gifted boys. In a late-'90s interview, she explained, "Music is the only luxury of the poor...when you sing, you have no evil thoughts, and, when you are dancing, you feel less hungry." ~ Craig Harris