Folk music interpreter, composer and poet (B. 1912, Van – D. September 1985, Istanbul). Most of his childhood passed in Van due to his father’s job as a civil servant. He lost all family members during the First World War (1914-18). He stayed with a poor family until he was ten years old. He received the primary education at Adana Orphanage as a boarder. During this period, he drew attention with his musical talent and the beauty of his voice. He took violin lessons with the support of his music teacher. After having attended military high school for a while, we went to Adana High School as a free boarder. After, he went to Musiki Muallim Mektebi (Ankara Music Teacher’s Training College) and graduated from this school in 1935-36.
He started working as a violinist in Riyaseticumhur Filarmoni Orkestrası (Presidential Philharmonic Orchestra) in the same year he graduated. After a while, he gave up playing violin and focused on singing studies. He was one of the first four students that were accepted to the Department of Opera that was founded at Ankara State Conservatory. He graduated from the conservatory in 1942 and joined Ankara State Opera. He took important roles in many operas including “Bastien und Bastienne”, “Fidelio”, “Satılmış Nişanlı”, “Figaro’nun Düğünü” and “Rigoletto”. Also, he worked at Ankara Hasanoğlu Village Institute as the music teacher.
Ruhi Su made türkü (T. N. Turkish folk song) programs that were broadcasted once every fifteen days for Ankara Radyosu; he formed a large choir at AÜ Faculty of Languages, History and Geography. The classical Western music education that he took created the theoretical foundation of his approach towards interpreting and performing the türküs, which he devoted himself during his life. He became famous mainly in the field of folk songs as an artist. He studied bağlama (T. N. a stringed instrument) in order to sing folk songs in an authentic style that he developed. He sang folk songs at Ankara Radio between the years of 1943-45. He gave his first concert in Ankara Community Center in 1944. In 1952, his job in State Opera was terminated when he was arrested during the Imprisonment of Türkiye Komünist Party.
He was tried by the court and kept in prison for 5 years, and stayed under police supervision for twenty months in Çumra town of Konya. He became famous in 1957 with a türkü named “Mahsusmahal” that he sang when he was in prison. After his imprisonment and banishment were expired, he got on the stage in Taksim Municipality Club in Istanbul in 1960. In the meantime, he took on the task of archiving the folk songs by collecting and recording them. At this time, he made radio programs that were presented at the radio with the announcement of “Basbariton Ruhi Su Türküler Söylüyor”. Also, his job at the radio was terminated because of a türkü named “Serdari Halimiz Böyle N’olacak? / Kısa çöp uzundan hakkın alacak” that he sang at one of these radio programs.
Although he mainly sang the folk songs of Alawite poets such as Pir Sultan Abdal and Hatayi, he also interpreted the songs of many poets from Yunus Emre to Karacaoğlan, and even to Aşık Veysel, who was a poet of his period. Ruhi Su was also one of the first people who composed the poems of Nâzım Hikmet. The artist, against whom the campaigns were started and who lost his job because of the political emphasis on the türküs that he sang, set out on his own to collect the türküs and to reinterpret them. He formed Dostlar Korosu (T. N. the Friends Choir) in 1975. He contributed greatly to the spread of folk music with the cassettes that he recorded after 1978. The artist, who is also known as “the person who taught the intellectuals to listen türkü”, gave concerts abroad a few times, and in the meantime he went to Australia in 1981 and gave concerts to Turkish immigrants there. He gave his last concert in Turkey for Abdi İpekçi Friendship and Peace Week on February 6th, 1983 in Istanbul. Türküs such as “Kuvvayi Milliye Destanı”, “Evlerinin Önü”, “Drama Köprüsü”, “Ankara’ın Taşına Bak”, “Uyur İken Yardılar” that were among the compositions and türküs that he sang became more famous than his voice and his saz.
Because of the obstruction of administration of September 12th (1980), he could not get a chance to go abroad for treatment and died on September 20th, 1985. His tomb is at Istanbul Zincirlikuyu Cemetery. Thousands of people attended to his funeral ceremony and it became the first mass demonstration of the period of September 12th. 163 people, who were taken into custody at the funeral, were released after they were kept under surveillance at Istanbul Police Department Political Branch for fifteen days.
Ruhi Su interpreted folk songs with an authentic style that he developed by benefiting from singing technique of Western music and influenced many artists such as Zülfü Livaneli, Rahmi Saltuk ve Sümeyra Çakır significantly. He recorded sixteen 45s and twelve long playing records during his art life. In addition to his own poems, he composed songs to the various poems of Nâzım Hikmet in particular, and also to the poems of other poets. He collected his poems, writings and speeches in a book named “Ezgili Yürek” (1985). Also a book named “Ruhi Su’ya Saygı” was published in 1986, one year after he died.
POEM-PROSE: Ezgili Yürek (1985).
REVIEW: Türk Halk Oyunları (1994).