April 3, 2023 - Part 1 (and more to come)


For many in the Croatian-American community, Trubaduri needs no introduction. Over 50 years, thousands have grown up with the band at dances, weddings, picnics, parties, concerts and Croatian Clubs throughout the country. Trubaduri’s countless live performances and seven classic albums have become a unique and lasting part of the Croatian music soundtrack of our lives. 

Trubaduri traces its roots back to the Pittsburgh Junior Tamburitzans led by John “Greyko” Gregurich and Violet Ruparcich. One of the premier youth tamburitza ensembles in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the Pittsburgh Juniors performed all over the United States and Canada, New Zealand, and made four trips to Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. 

Greyko was an accomplished tamburitza musician whose smooth style and inventive interpretations of traditional Croatian songs were well ahead of their time. His Greyko Tamburitzans band was well known in the Eastern US and, with the release of their first two albums on Greyko’s own record label, they started to gain nationwide notoriety. 

Greyko formed several tambura ensembles within the Pittsburgh Juniors organization, including a men’s combo comprised of Tammie fathers and a women’s combo featuring Tammie mothers. He also fostered and developed a steady stream of youth combos. As the members of these combos aged and got closer to graduating from the Pittsburgh Juniors, Greyko would start new combos to follow in their footsteps. 

The first of note was the Silver Strings followed by the Continentals, two combos named Bećari and Mladi Veseljaci.

Those youth combos emulated popular tambura bands of the day, such as Greyko, Kosovo, Sloboda of East Pittsburgh, Veseli, the Danny Kukich Orchestra, and other well-known local and regional groups, drawing on their repertoires for material. 

These combos also performed apart from the Pittsburgh Juniors in the Croatian and greater Slavic communities at clubs, private parties, picnics, weddings and other social events. Many times, they served as the warm-up bands for well-known and established adult tamburitza bands of the day. The youth combos came and went, as anticipated, when their members left the Pittsburgh Juniors and moved on to college, the military, or their life’s work. 

In 1969, two of these combos, the first Bećari and Mladi Veseljaci, were facing major changes. Bećari’s lead Brač player had been accepted into the Duquesne University Tamburitzans and their Bass player left unexpectedly to join another Junior group. Mladi Veseljaci lost their 2nd Brač player to the St. George Junior Tamburitzans in Cokeburg, PA. Both combos were on the verge of disbanding before their time. 

Nick Shebetich and John Kruljac, whose sons played in the combos, met to see what could be done. They realized that the “older” Bećari was essentially “down for the count.” On the other hand, the “younger” Mladi Veseljaci only needed to add a 2nd Brač. 

At the ripe old age of 16, Dan Shebetich, Bećari’s 2nd Brač, was pressed into service to enable Mladi Veseljaci to fulfill the summer commitments for both combos. Dan had reluctantly agreed to perform with the younger “kids” only until he and his best friend, John McKennas, could revive Bećari. 

In the meantime, Dan wanted John, Bećari’s Bugarija player, to join him in Mladi Veseljaci, but that position was already filled. So, Dan borrowed a Čelo from the Pittsburgh Tammies and both he and John set out to learn the instrument. 

After intensive rehearsals throughout the fall, the teenagers had come together to form a new version of Mladi Veseljaci with a new lineup: Mike Kruljac on 1st Brač, Dan Shebetich on 2nd, Steve Kruljac on Bugarija, Ron “Kruno” Zivic on Bass and John “Muš” McKennas on Čelo. 

In December of 1969, they played their first two jobs – the Christmas party at the CFU Lodge 248 Croatian Home in Clairton, PA and the New Year’s Eve party at the Croatian Home in Export, PA. The new band was off and running. 

Like many other tambura groups, Mladi Veseljaci performed live on Croatian radio programs in Western Pennsylvania, such as “Croatian Memories” hosted by CFU Board of Directors President, Nick Trdina. And on March 1st 1970, they appeared on the inaugural broadcast of the “Voice of the CFU” hosted by CFU Officers Milan Vranes, John Ovcarich, and Ruth Zofchak, and sponsored by the United CFU Lodges of Western Pennsylvania. 

During this time, the band was recruited by Pittsburgh Folk Festival Director, Charles Cubelic, to play as a strolling string band and provide music for international participants like the Philippines, Italians and Russians. They also shared the bandstand with other Folk Festival musicians, playing Croatian kolos and drmeši for the huge post-performance dance parties each night at the Festival.

Mladi Veseljaci also appeared with the Pittsburgh Juniors on several episodes of the classic PBS children’s TV series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. They were interviewed by Fred Rogers and performed Croatian and international music accompanied by famed Pittsburgh Jazz guitarist Joe Negri.