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Kobzon was born to Jewish parents in the mining town of Chasiv Yar, in the Donbass region of 
As a boy he demonstrated a talent for singing, winning numerous regional singing contests. He reached the national finals on two separate occasions, appearing in concerts dedicated to Joseph Stalin - a significant honour at the time.
Despite his talent for singing, Kobzon went on to technical school to study geology and mining in  as this was considered a lucrative vocation in the Soviet Union following the Second World War. However, in 1959, following his 1956-1959 contact with professional music instructors in the Soviet Army where he was a member of the armies song and dance ensemble, he decided that music would be his preferred vocation.
In 1958, Kobzon officially started his singing career in Moscow, and enrolled to study at the  In the next few years he made valuable contacts in Moscow's entertainment world, and was eventually given a chance by composer Arkady Ostrovski to perform some of his music. Initially, he performed in a duet with the tenor Viktor Kokhno, but was eventually offered a solo repertoire by many of the outstanding composers of the time such as Mark Fradkin, Alexander Dolukhanian and Yan Frenkel.
In 1962, he recorded his first LP which included songs written by Aleksandra Pakhmutova. In 1964, he triumphed at the International Song Contest in Sopot, Poland, and in the following year he took part in the "Friendship" contest held across six nations, winning first prize in Warsaw, Berlin and Budapest. His popularity rose quickly, and demand for his singing saw him frequently performing two to three concerts a day. His most popular hit song at the time was titled "A u nas vo dvore". During Leonid Brezhnev's time in office (1964–82), there was hardly an official concert where Kobzon did not take part, and in 1980 he was awarded the honour of People's Artist of the USSR.
In 1983, Kobzon was expelled from the Communist Party and reprimanded for "political short sightedness," after he performed Jewish songs during an international friendship concert, which resulted in the Arab delegations leaving in protest. However, the following year, (1984) his reputation was restored, as he was honored with the USSR State Prize. His best-known song is "Instants" from the legendary Soviet TV series Seventeen Instants of Spring (1973).
Joseph Kobzon appeared with solo concerts in most cities of the former USSR. He was also bestowed the rare honour of performing international concerts tours as a representative of USSR in United States, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina, Israel, Republic of the Congo, Zaire, Angola, Nigeria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Greece, and Finland. Throughout his career, he has shared the stage with many Western superstars, including the likes of Liza Minnelli and Julio Iglesias. In 1986, he was the first celebrity to visit and perform in the town of Chernobyl to cheer the nuclear reactor rescuers. Since then, Kobzon has performed on many occasions in disaster areas, and military hot-spots such as Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war, and Chechnya. Although he officially ended his international touring career in 1997, he continues to appear in regular concerts before audiences around the world, and is frequently seen on Russian television to date.
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