A performance at the Eurovision Song Contest takes just three minutes. But it frequently represents months of work and years of dreaming. In the case of the Buranovskiye Babushki — the Russian choral group that melded folk and pop at ESC 2012 — the timeframe was much longer. All of its singers were elderly at the time they performed in Baku. But they brought a warmth and sincerity that few could match.

The cornerstone of it all was Natalya Pugacheva. You may not know her by name, but you’d know her by sight. She was the shortest singer of the group and the one who, during the bridge of “Party for Everybody”, carried a tray of baked goods, arms extended as if to nourish the world. She’s passed away aged 83.

Alexander Brechalov, the leader of the Russian federal region of Udmurtia, announced the sad news on Twitter on Saturday.

He wrote: “The national favourite, Pugacheva Natalia Yakovlevna, the soloist of Buranovsky Babushki, has passed away. My condolences to family and friends.”

That the region’s head of government would announce the news suggests how central she was to the fabric of Udmurtia, a region west of the Ural Mountains. The group rose to prominence well before Eurovision by covering pop songs — from “Yesterday” to “Let It Be” to “Hotel California” — in their own unique way. Sure, their popularity stemmed partly from the fact they were grannies. But on some level it was also about inspiration — people living their best life and doing what they could with what they had. And these ladies had joy, humour and, above all else, warmth in spades.

At the Russian national final, they faced stiff competition from the iconic duo of Dima Bilan & Julia Volkova — singers with far bigger followings and far more wealth — and had to contend with a panel of sneering judges. No bother. The women sang “Party with Everybody” with conviction and glee. They seemed to push away their haters using their walking sticks.

Here’s how we reviewed the song ahead of Eurovision.

I love a good Susan Boyle moment—and the Buranovskiye Babushki gave me six of them during the Russian final. Re-watching the YouTube video, I can’t help but melt when I see the pure joy on the babushki’s faces as they dance (very slowly) and repeat “boom, boom” with smiles as wide as Siberia. The smug, almost scornful looks of the jury make the granny’s victory even sweeter. 

The song itself isn’t spectacular. I’m not going to be playing it at my daughter’s wedding. But I might just turn it up during the after party! Eurovision has never been about the best song. It’s about the best act. And this one comes with attitude, spunk, spirit, and the belief that you can keep on moving no matter what your age.

For Natalya the celebrity that came with Eurovision brought rewards that few can understand. Entering the public eye helped her find the grave of her father — a soldier who disappeared while fighting the Nazis in 1942. She was only six years old at the time. After the group’s selection to sing for Russia, volunteers got to work, eventually locating him in a mass grave in the village of Malaya Vereika in the Voronezh region.

“I sobbed,” she told reporters. “So many years, so many winters, I didn’t know.”

After making the connection, she wanted her mother, who had long since passed, to have closure too, if only in the spiritual sense. She took a handful of soil from her mother’s grave and mixed it with soil from her father’s so they could once again be together.

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Anita
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Anita

I would consider myself as extraordinary happy having such a face and eyes full of joy in old age. I guess she was a happy and humorous person and loved to live. When you had such a live it is not so difficult to die – it’s what I hope.

A random russian guy
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A random russian guy

RIP

Žutokljunac
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Žutokljunac

R.I.P.

Ern
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Ern

No, I loved the grannies!!

They were such a fun act.

Jake
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Jake

I’m so sad 🙁 RIP, you will always be remembered by ESC community! We won’t forget you.

Steve
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Steve

How sad ? . I loved her so much. Mere looking at her face gives me warmth… William, your article left me in tears. I’m speechless. RIP Natalya…

Fionn
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Fionn

She was such a cutie like . Rest in peace

TheDr Mistery
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TheDr Mistery

While it’s not my favorite Russian entry, you can’t deny the enthusiasm of those ladies and Natalya Pugacheva was arguably the essential part in transmitting the charm to the viewers which allowed them to take the runner-up position (thankfully Loreen was there, though).

William got carried away with his “iconic duo of Dima Bilan & Julia Volkova”. Even ESC bubble has its limits.

Richard
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Richard

This is a beautiful tribute to Natalya. She was a real bundle of joy during that memorable performance, it must have been such an amazing time for her. Condolences to the family and thanks to William for this sensitive piece.

Joe
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Joe

It also goes without saying that I’d take this over Dima Bilan or any of the prettyboy types any day of the week. Get silly again, Russia! This is the most endearing entry they’ve ever sent.

Craigeemac
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Craigeemac

No one was going to beat Loreen that year, but I am really glad these ladies did so well. I will always remember Natalya with her tray of baked Ural Mountain realness, offering those goodies to the world. Her smile made me smile. RIP

Joe
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Joe

Much respect to her. Always loved this song, damn what other fans say. RIP.

Trash KAN
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Trash KAN

She had us with her smile and small dance. You will be remembered by fans. R.I.P.

Bella
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Bella

Such sad news, she was so cute and looked so happy on stage (and that’s def my favorite Russian entry!). RIP.

Veta
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Veta

For me these news are double-sad. I’ll tell why. You can definitely call the “Party For Everybody” performance one of the most remarkable and legendary for Eurovision viewers, but unfortunately it didn’t help to bring any real change for Udmurt language’s fate in Russia. No work was done since then to save it. By every year that passes, less people speak it. Most of them are elders just like our beloved Natalya was. The language is dying together with them. Recently Albert Razin, a 79-years-old Udmurt scientist and an activist for Udmurt language, committed a suicide by burning himself alive… Read more »

Mr. Vanilla Bean
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Mr. Vanilla Bean

I feel like she was the sole reason they came second.

Beathyra
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Beathyra

Rest In Peace dear Natalia.

Roy Moreno
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Roy Moreno

Their song and performance will always be remembered for bringing joy to the continent and beyond and for inspiring us to keep on doing what we love no matter our age
She’s a true icon who will always be a part of the Eurovision family and I send lots of love and support to her friends and family
I’ll forever be grateful for het contribution to the contest, hence to my life
Definitely sad news… May she rest in peace <3

Margaret
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Margaret

Truly a sad news. May she rest in peace (*)

Skiwalko
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Skiwalko

Terribly saddening news. Though their song might have gotten a mixed reaction from the ESC fans, endless love and admiration for their inspirational work and spirit is something, that I think unites all of us. Natalya truly felt like the heart of the group, and although she’s no longer with us, the ESC community’s memory will surely last long after her death. RIP

Roelof Meesters
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Roelof Meesters

The story about her father is absolutely beautiful and touching. I’m happy Eurovision fave het this oppurtunity to reach closure. May she rest in peace.

Weli
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Weli

She was the cutest grandma ever. May she rest in peace. <3