The curtain comes down on the maestro, Zvika Pik

“With his incredible talent, he became an inseparable part of the Israeli soundtrack. He was very Israeli and deeply connected to the Israeli traditional roots," President Herzog said

 Zvika Pick. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Zvika Pick.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With his long mane of hair and outlandish personality, Zvika Pik always stood out in the crowd of Israeli music culture as the “king of pop.”

The West had Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson, and Israel had Zvika Pik, the first male Israeli pop star to wear makeup and a cape.

The “maestro,” who died on Sunday at 72, was a reality-TV star before the term existed. Larger than life and in your face, Pik was the first Israeli glam pop star. But he had the talent to back up the outrageous costumes and behavior.

“He was the first to connect high and low, between pop and deep and serious singing.” said musicologist, author and Eco99 radio host Boaz Cohen. “He was a clown, he was glamorous, he was a huge composer, a musical genius, an extraordinary performer, the bridge between culture and the people and sublime qualities of poetry.”

In eulogizing Pik, President Isaac Herzog said that he had brought something new to Israel’s cultural scene and had introduced a musical revolution that penetrated the hearts of the public.

The Israeli pop composer and singer Svika Pick. September 15, 2008.  (credit: Jorge Novominsky/ Flash 90)The Israeli pop composer and singer Svika Pick. September 15, 2008. (credit: Jorge Novominsky/ Flash 90)

“With his incredible talent, he became an inseparable part of the Israeli soundtrack,” wrote Herzog. “He was very Israeli and deeply connected to the richness of Israeli traditional roots, while simultaneously showing the beautiful face of Israel to the world.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote that Pik “sings ‘Music that penetrates the heart,’ a phrase that describes with great precision his songs and melodies that penetrated the heart and Israeli culture and became inalienable assets. He was a revolutionary artist of his generation, one of the pillars of Israeli pop.”

Lapid added that the “songs and melodies he left behind will continue to be played for many years to come.”

Henryk (Zvika) Pik was born in Wrocław, Poland, in 1950. His grandfather was the head of a music school, and his uncle was a music professor. At the age of five, Pik studied classical music. In 1957, his family immigrated to Israel.

After studying music at the Conservatory of Ramat Gan, Pik started performing in local Israeli rock bands at age 15.

His first band was Chocolate, a power trio formed in Ramle.

“The members of Chocolate all had long hair and played loud music,” said Benny Dudkevitch, Israel Radio’s former music journalist, who was a contemporary of Pik’s. 

“They never made it because the radio wouldn’t play them or anyone from what was then the periphery. You had to have come from an army band like Yigal Bashan or Shlomo Artzi to get anywhere"

Benny Dudkevitch

“They never made it because the radio wouldn’t play them or anyone from what was then the periphery. You had to have come from an army band like Yigal Bashan or Shlomo Artzi to get anywhere. Zvika was the first one who broke the mold, thanks to Hair, and countless Israeli musicians owe him a debt for that.”

Tzvika Pik's early days

BECAUSE of their counterculture appearance and because they could sing, the members of Chocolate were chosen for roles in the Hebrew version of the successful play Hair that debuted in 1970.

Pik, in a featured role, was one of several cast members who appeared fully naked in one of the scenes. This was 1970, and Israeli society – even in the aftermath of the Six Day War – was still largely conservative, and there were strong objections to the musical from various quarters. However, that did not dent the show’s box office success or Pik’s meteoric rise to stardom.

From there, Pik became a household name, both as a performer and as a songwriter for other artists, from Riki Gal to Harel Skaat.

He had many fruitful writing partnerships, from hits like “Mary Lou” written with his wife, Mirit Shem-Or, to “Two Apples,” written in collaboration with Ehud Manor.

After they divorced, Pik and Shem-Or continued to collaborate artistically.

In 1998, with lyricist Yoav Ginai and performed by Dana International, Pik wrote the song “Diva,” which won the Eurovision Song Contest. He reunited with Ginai in 2002 to write “Light a Candle” for Sarit Hadad, who represented Israel in Eurovision 2002.

The Habima Theater staged a musical that year called Mary Lou based on Pik’s greatest hits. In 2009, the musical was made into the television series Tamid Oto Chalom (or Mary Lou), directed by Eytan Fox.

“He was one of the first rock stars in Israel, and he was fruitful for 50 years,” said Dudkevitch. “He rose to rare heights in the Israeli pop landscape, from Hair to ‘Diva.’ And he had a play based on his music, when the Habima produced Mary Lou. That’s an extraordinary achievement.”

Pik's personal life

Pik never forgot his Polish roots, and was for several years the honorary consul for Poland and a frequent guest at events hosted by a series of Polish ambassadors to Israel.

Pik and Shem-Or had a son and two daughters. Their daughters, Sharona and Daniella Pik, have performed duets as The Pik Sisters. Sharona is married to Israeli hotelier Daniel Federmann, son of businessman Michael Federmann. Daniella is married to American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.

Since 2004, Pik has been in a relationship with Israeli fashion designer Shira Manor, with whom he has two sons, Tim and Neal.

From 2005–2009, Pik was one of the judges for the singing reality show Kokhav Nolad (the Israeli version of Pop Idol).

Four years ago, Pik suffered a stroke on a flight from London to Tel Aviv. Since then, there was much speculation regarding his health, especially when he canceled two concerts in two months in May and June of this year.

Through it all, he remained the “maestro.”

“‘Maestro’ started as a joke, but he loved that nickname,” said Dudkevitch. “He loved self-promotion, but if there was anyone who deserved to be in the limelight, it was Zvika.”

Barry Davis, Greer Fay Cashman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.