The March on the Drina: A Standard of International Music

By Carl Savich

“The March on the Drina” by Stanislav Binicki is not only a Serbian standard. It is also an international standard, a musical work that is an integral part of world music. The song has had a major impact on Western music and world music.

The lyrics to the song were written after Stanislav Binicki composed the music, by poet and journalist Miloje Popovic, in 1964 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Cer. English lyrics were added in 1964 by American songwriter Vaughn Horton for a recording by Patti Page under the title “Drina (Little Soldier Boy)”. German lyrics were added by Walter Rothenburg in 1974 and Bert Olden in 1976. Milutin Popovic Zahar added Serbian lyrics to a version entitled “Svirajte Mi Mars na Drinu” in 1989.

An eponymous 1964 Yugoslav film was made by the Avala Film studio in Belgrade that featured the march in a historical dramatization of the 1914 Battle of Cer. The film was directed by Zivorad Mitrovic starring Aleksandar Gavric, Ljuba Tadic, and Nikola Jovanovic. The screenplay was by Zivorad Mitrovic and Arsen Diklic. The film was released in Yugoslavia on July 17, 1964.

First Allied Victory of World War I: The Battle of Cer

Stanislav Binicki composed the march to commemorate the Serbian military victory at the Battle of Cer fought from August 15, 1914 to August 24, 1914 between the Serbian Army and the Austro-Hungarian Army. The battle was a milestone and a landmark as the first Allied military victory of World War I.  The Austro-Hungarian Army had invaded western Serbia from Bosnia-Hercegovina, crossing the Drina River that divided Serbia from Bosnia. The battle was fought at the Cer Mountain region around the city of Sabac. The Austro-Hungarian attack resulted in the seizure of Sabac and the surrounding towns of Rasulijaca, Velika Glava, and Kosanin Grad. A Serbian counter-attack, however, was able to retake the towns and the city of Sabac. The Austro-Hungarian forces were shattered and began to retreat in disarray across the Drina River back into bases in Bosnia.  Radomir Putnik, the Chief of Staff of the Serbian Army, wrote: “The main enemy has been defeated in Jadar and on Mount Cer, and our troops are in hot pursuit.” Although outmanned and outgunned, the Serbian Army was able to defeat the invading Austro-Hungarian Army invading from Bosnia across the Drina River.

Stanislav Binicki dedicated the march to Colonel Milivoje Stojanovic, the third commander of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Serbian Army, which participated in the battle. Stojanovic was killed in the fighting.

Anatomy of a Global Hit

How did the march become an international hit and a staple of world music?

The song created a sensation in Sweden in 1963 when it was played on a television program on Yugoslavia. As reported in Billboard on September 14, 1963, in the story “TV Tune Sets Phones Ringing” by Henry Fox, the music was instantly popular: “The telephones went hot following a TV program about Yugoslavia to find out the name of the tune played on that program. People phoned from all over the country, and only a short time later ‘Marchen Til Drina’ (The March to Drina) was on the top lists. The tune has some similarity to ‘Harry Lime Theme’ and the world rights were bought by Felix Stahl of Stockholm Musikproduktion, who now is on a business trip to France, England, and Italy to place that song. There have also been negotiations for the U.S.A.”

Felix Stahl was instrumental in the international exposure of the song. He not only acquired the global publishing rights to the song, but was able to promote the song worldwide. As reported in Billboard, October 19, 1963, page 36, International News Reports, Publishers Business, Stahl was able to reach an agreement with United Artists in London: “In London Felix Stahl of Stockholm Musikproduktion concluded an important deal with Noel Rogers of United Artists Music for the rights of a Yugoslavian tune that’s the current sensation of Europe, ‘Drina’. After securing the rights from the heir of composer Stanislav Binicki, Stahl got the tune inserted in a Swedish TV program — the start of considerable interest in it. When Stahl arrived in London, Rogers called UA Vice-President Mike Stewart in New York who sanctioned a considerable advance for the tune. ‘I gave it to UA because they gave me a guarantee of it being used in a major film,’ Stahl told Billboard.”

The popularity of the song exploded thereafter. Stahl sought to have the song released in the United States. On December 17, 1963, Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann’s recording of the song as “Marchen Til Drina” was no. 1 in Denmark. It would stay at no. 1 for two weeks. The single would also be released in the UK, France, Germany, and in the U.S. on ATCO Records. As reported in Billboard by Henry Fox in Stockholm, January 4, 1964, page 23, Stahl revealed his plans for the release of the single on Decca in the U.S.: “Felix Stahl says ‘Drina’ is going to be rush-released by Decca in America. Jorgen Ingmann’s recording is no. 2 in Denmark.”

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The Billboard Hits of the World chart, January 4, 1964, page 22, showed that on the Denmark chart, Jorgen Ingmann was no. 1 with “Marchen Til Drina” climbing from no. 2 last week. The single was released on Metronome Records. The song was published by Stockholms Musikproduktion.

The popularity of the song continued to grow. More and more artists recorded the song, including rock bands such as the Swedish group The Spotnicks and the Belgian band The Jokers. As reported in Billboard, April 25, 1964, page 42, in the Music As Written section by Christian Toersleff in Hamburg, Stahl noted that the song had been recorded by various artists: “Publisher Felix Stahl says there are now 17 records of ‘Drina-Marsch’ and that the English singer Adam Faith will record the title in German language.”

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The Jorgen Ingmann recording was also released as a 45 single in the U.S. on ATCO Records in 1963. The recording was reviewed in Billboard where it received three out of four stars: Billboard, November 9, 1963, page 20. Singles Reviews. Popular. Jorgen Ingmann. **** The Fourth Man Theme (Metorion, BMI). (2:34) — *** Drina (Stahl-Unart, BMI) (2:59) ATCO 6277.

“The March on the Drina” by Stanislav Binicki thus became a major hit in Europe and was released in the United States in the 1960s. The song became a global hit becoming a no. 1 song in Denmark and a top ten hit in the Netherlands. The song continued to be recorded internationally into the 1970s and into the 21st century. How did a Serbian military march commemorating the Serbian military victory over Austria-Hungary in 1914 become an international pop phenomenon?

International Hit

“The March on the Drina” had created a phenomenon in Scandinavia when it was part of a TV feature on Yugoslavia in 1963. The song was detailed in a Billboard story “TV Tune Sets Phones Ringing” by Henry Fox. Felix Stahl bought the rights from the estate of Stanislav Binicki. The tune was then recorded by Jorgen Ingmann as a pop hit and reached no. 1 in Denmark released on the Swedish Metronome record label based in Stockholm. Who could have predicted or even imagined that “March on the Drina” would become a major pop and rock and roll hit?

Music such as “The March on the Drina” does not just come out of the air and is not a public domain or traditional folk tune. It is a musical work which was composed. And no question, as a musical work it is a standard of world music.

“March on the Drina” became a popular hit in both Europe and the United States in the 1960s and in the 1970s. The song was recorded and released in Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, Italy, Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, and at the United Nations. The worldwide popularity of the song continued into the 21st century. Good music is enduring and has longevity. It does not matter what genre it is classified in or where it comes from.

Stanislav Binicki

Who was Stanislav Binicki, the composer of “March on the Drina”?

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Stanislav Binicki was a conductor, composer, and educator. He was born on July 27, 1872 in Jasika, Krusevac, Serbia. He studied composition under Joseph Rheinberger at Munich in Germany. He composed the one-act opera Na Uranku, At Dawn, in 1903. He was trained as a violinist and flutist. He was the director of the Serbian National Theater and co-founded the Serbian School of Music and conducted the Belgrade Military Orchestra and the Kornelije Stankovic Choir. He composed “The March on the Drina” to commemorate the Serbian military victory at the Battle of Cer against the Austro-Hungarian Army at the start of World War I in 1914. His other compositions were “Jezeva molitva”, “Taras Buljba”, “Irmos”, “Duhovne pesme”, “Svecani mars (Mars kraljeve garde)”, “Gardiski mars”, “Mars ‘Hajd junaci’” in 1905, and “Mars ‘Kreni, kreni’”.  He also wrote songs such as “Grivna” with lyrics by Aleksa Šantić, “Kad ja vidjeh oči tvoje” and “Da su meni oči tvoje”, both with lyrics by Jovan Ilić, and “Po polju je kiša pala” with lyrics by Jovan Jovanović Zmaj. He died in Belgrade on February 15, 1942.

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Staple of World Music

The song quickly became a staple and standard of world music in the 1960s.

The original recording by Jorgen Ingmann in 1963 was released on Metronome in Denmark showing the composer as Stanislav Binicki and the title as “Mars na Drini” or “Marchen Til Drina” in Danish. The B side was “Ukraine”. The song was published by Stockholms Musikproduktion.

Jorgen Ingmann originally released the song in 1963 as “Marchen Til Drina” with a picture sleeve as a Metronome 45, B1575, Matrix # K 1001, in Denmark. Jorgen Ingmann showed that the song could work as a guitar instrumental and as a pop or rock and roll song. His recording was stark and mesmerizing featuring an electric guitar with bass and percussion. Once he achieved his breakthrough, other recordings followed internationally. “March on the Drina” is a longer work with an orchestral opening and closing. The version that is usually performed is just the bolero part, more in the style of the popular 1963 version by Jorgen Ingmann.

The single quickly became a smash hit in Denmark. Jurgen Ingmann would eventually reach no. 1 with the song in Denmark.

The December 7, 1963 Billboard magazine, The Hits of the World chart, showed that “March Til Drina” by Jurgen Ingmann on Metronome Records was at no. 2 on the Denmark pop singles chart behind Trini Lopez’s “If I Had a Hammer”, the song co-written by Pete Seeger and first recorded by The Weavers. On the December 7, 1963 Danish chart, Elvis Presley is at no. 8 with “Bossa Nova Baby” and The Beatles are at no. 10 with “She Loves You” while “March on the Drina” is at no. 2. Who would think it possible that a military march could chart higher than Elvis Presley and The Beatles? A military march on the pop charts?

Jorgen Ingmann reached no. 1 on the Denmark pop singles chart on December 17, 1963 with “Marchen Til Drina”. Elvis Presley was at no. 2 with “Bossa Nova Baby” from the Fun in Acapulco movie soundtrack.

The single remained at no. 1 for the week of December 24, 1963 on the Danish Top 20 chart. The single was no. 1 for two weeks on the chart.

The Top 20 chart for December 31, 1963 showed “Marchen Til Drina” by Jorgen Ingmann had dropped to no. 2, with “Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis at no. 3, and “She Loves You” by The Beatles at no. 5.

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Jorgen Ingmann’s 1963 Metronome recording of “March on the Drina” was also released in Germany as “Drina-Marsch” where it reached no. 5 on the German pop singles charts in 1964.

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Jorgen Ingmann emerged as a solo jazz guitarist in the 1950s. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark as Jorgen Ingmann-Pedersen in 1925. He had been a guitarist in the orchestra led by jazz violinist Svend Asmussen in the 1940s and into the 1950s. During the late 1950s he changed his stage name to Jorgen Ingmann and His Guitar. Under this name he recorded “Apache” in 1961, his highest charting single in the U.S., which peaked at no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard pop singles chart, no. 1 in Canada on the CHUM Chart, no. 9 on the Billboard R&B chart, no. 4 on Cashbox, and no. 6 in Germany. His other releases included “Echo Boogie”, “Anna”, “Violetta”, “Jorgen’s Boogie”, “Cherokee”, “Zorba”, “Pepe”, and “Love in the Open Air”. He and his wife Grethe Ingmann won the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest representing Denmark with the song “Dansevise” or “Dance Ballad”. They had earlier won the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix competition in Denmark in 1963.

Ingmann also released the  song as part of a Columbia EP, 549263, in the UK featuring “March on the Drina” in 1964. The recording was also released in Germany and France by Metronome with a picture sleeve.

In 1965, the recording by Jorgen Ingmann was released on an album on Metronome Records, Drina Marsch und andere Gitarren-Hits mit Jorgen Ingmann, The Drina March and other Guitar Hits of Jorgen Ingmann, MLP 1547, pressed in Germany.

“March on the Drina” thus became a popular hit in the 1960s in Europe. The song also became a popular trans-Atlantic composition with recordings in the United States.

U.S. versions

There were notable versions of the song by Patti Page, Chet Atkins, and Frankie Yankovic in the United States.

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Patti Page released the song in 1964 on Columbia Records as an A side 7” 45 vinyl single backed with “Promises”, 43078, Matrix # JZSP 78055. Her recording used the music by Stanislav Binicki with new English lyrics added by American lyricist Vaughn Horton, inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971. Her title was “Drina (Little Soldier Boy)” arranged and conducted by Mort Garson. CBS also released the Patti Page recording as part of the Patti Page “You Can’t Be True” EP in Portugal with a picture sleeve under the title “Drina” as CBS 6195. She was the top-selling female artist of the 1950s in the U.S. Patti Page received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

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Chet Atkins recorded “March on the Drina” on his 1966 RCA Victor album From Nashville with Love. His version was as a guitar instrumental in the style of the Jorgen Ingmann recording. The album reached no. 26 on the Billboard country albums chart and no. 140 on the Billboard pop albums chart that year. The album was also released in the UK as RD-7838, with liner notes by composer John D. Loudermilk entitled “A Labor of Love”. Chet Atkins had worked with Elvis Presley on the “Heartbreak Hotel” sessions in 1956 playing rhythm acoustic guitar on the recording and was a key proponent of the new Nashville Sound. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His work as a producer resulted in the increased popularity of country music on the pop charts.

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Chet Atkins recorded a second version of the song in 1969. Along with Homer and Jethro, he recorded the song on their 1969 album as The Nashville String Band on RCA Victor Records, LSP 4274. This was a country version of the military march. Homer was on guitar and Jethro was on mandolin. The album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. The producers were Chet Atkins and Bob Ferguson.

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The song was recorded in different and varied genres and styles of music: From electric guitar instrumentals in the pop and rock genres to versions as a pop ballad with lyrics to arrangements for trumpet and accordion.

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Frankie Yankovic, “America’s Polka King”, recorded a polka version on accordion as “Drina (Little Soldier Boy)”, which appeared on the 1967 Columbia Records album Saturday Night Polka Party, Columbia CL 2759. His version was based on the 1964 Patti Page recording which omitted the lyrics.

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The “March on the Drina” thus became a massive pop instrumental smash in America and the world, popular in many different genres of music.

UK versions

The song was popular in Great Britain where it was recorded by The Shadows in 1966, by Leon Young in 1965, who released it as a 45 single, and where Adam Faith also planned to record the song.

In the UK, a 45 single version by the Leon Young String Chorale was released in 1965 on Columbia under the title “Drina” as Columbia 7236.

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The Shadows recorded the song in the UK in 1966. The Shadows were the major rock and roll band in the UK before The Beatles came on the scene in 1962. They backed vocalist Cliff Richard. Hank B. Marvin was the lead guitarist in the band, playing a Buddy Holly-inspired Fender Stratocaster. The rest of the group was made up of Bruce Welch on rhythm guitar, Brian Bennett on drums, and John Rostill on bass. They were a guitar instrumental band like The Ventures and were one of the most successful bands in Britain.

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The Shadows recorded the song on the 1966 Shadows LP Shadow Music on EMI Columbia, SX 6041, featuring “March on the Drina” as track 7 on side 2. The album was issued in May, 1966. The recording reached no. 5 on the UK album charts. “March to Drina” is credited to Stanislav Binicki and Swedish music publisher Felix Stahl. The album was also released as a Reel-to-Reel tape.

Ingmann’s recording was also released as a Columbia EP in the UK in 1964 featuring “March on the Drina” under the title “Drina” as part of a 4-track 7″ vinyl EP including “March To Drina”, “Desert March”, “I May Be Wrong”, and “Jeepers Creepers”, British Columbia Records SEG8340.

Dutch versions

The Swedish rock band The Spotnicks had a top ten hit with the song on the Dutch charts in 1964.

The Spotnicks recorded the song in 1963 and released it as an A side 7″ 45 single with picture sleeve on the Dutch CNR label in the Netherlands, F 330, under the title “Drina” backed with “Bach Goes to Sea”.

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The Billboard Hits of the World chart, March 14, 1964, page 31, Holland, showed that The Spotnicks reached no. 8 on the Top 10 singles chart in the Netherlands with “Drina Mars” on the Dutch CNR label. The song was published by Ed. Altona/Amsterdam in Holland. The Beatles were no. 1 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” that week. Their version was an arrangement for electric guitar as an instrumental in the style of Jorgen Ingmann, The Ventures, and The Shadows. They also released the song as part of an Extended Play single on the Swedisc label, SWEP 104, in Sweden. The EP was also released in Spain on Discophon, 27.271.

Bob Kaper’s The Beale Street Jazz Band released the song as “Drina-March” backed with “Dominique”, a 45 picture sleeve single, on RCA Victor, 47-9509, pressed in Amsterdam.

The Dutch band Boemerang recorded the song as “Drina Mars” which appeared on the various artists album‎ 84 Heerlijke Hollandse Hittroeven released in 2001.

German versions

The song became popular in Germany where it was recorded by orchestras and bands.

A recording by the German band led by Will Glahe from 1963 used the Felix Stahl/Jorgen Ingmann arrangement. Will Glahe released the song as “Drina-Marsch”, Mars na Drini/Drina (In den Bergen singt der Wind) on the album Die goldenen Zwölf, Nr.4, 1963, as Will Glahe’s Boheme Ballhouse Band.

Horst Wende released the song as a German 45 single in 1964 on Polydor as by Horst Wende Und Sein Orchester, “Drina Marsch”,  Polydor 52 172 A.

The song was featured on a 1964 German various artists compilation album, Das Waren Schlager 1964, on Polydor, 32 214-9, in a recording by German bandleader, arranger, and composer Horst Wende featuring the top song hits of 1964 which also included “Ain’t She Sweet” by The Beatles, “Napoli” by Connie Francis, and “Skinny Minnie” by Tony Sheridan.

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German trumpeter James Last recorded the song on his 1968 album Trumpet a Go Go, Volume 3, in an arrangement for trumpet on Polydor, 249 239, as “Drina-Marsch” .

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A recording by German clarinetist Henry Arland with the Hans Bertram Orchestra was featured on his 1972 album Clarinet Fascination released on Polydor in Germany, 2371 208. Henry Arland und Hans Bertram released the song as ‘Drina Marsch (Mars na Drini) (Drina (In den Bergen singt der Wind))”.

The song continued to be a popular global standard into the 1970s.

The German Army Band recorded “March on the Drina” in 1974 as Gunter Noris Und Die Big Band Der Bundeswehr. WM-Parade. Lieder Der 16 Nationen Zur Eröffnungsfeier Am 13. Juni ’74 Frankfurter Waldstadion, CBS,  80218. The album was released by Gunter Noris and the Big Band of the West German Federal Armed Forces on Columbia Records. The 1974 FIFA Soccer World Cup was held in West Germany from June 13 to July 7, 1974. The music was recorded to represent the 16 nations competing in the World Cup Soccer Tournament in 1974. For Yugoslavia, the national song chosen was Stanislav Binicki’s “March on the Drina” arranged by Wolfgang Forster as “Drina Marsch”.

The Fischer Choir, Fischer-Chore, also recorded the song “March on the Drina” in 1974 as “Drina-Marsch” on the Polydor album Das Grosse Spiel, The Great Game, Polydor 2371 500, in Germany. The orchestra was under the direction of Hans Bertram. This vocal version featured German lyrics written by Walter Rothenburg set to the music of Stanislav Binicki’s “March on the Drina”.

The Dutch duo Die Kirmesmusikanten released the song as an A side 7” 45 vinyl single as “Drina Marsch” with picture sleeve in 1975 as “Drina-Marsch” on RCA Victor in Germany, RCA 26.11335. Die Kirmesmusikanten consisted of Henny van Voskuylen and Coby van Voskuylen-Mol. The B side was “Jahreszeiten Tango”.

German trumpeter Walter Scholz released the song on the 2012 collection Rosen nur fur dich as “Drina”.

The song was also performed by Herbert Wetzler und seine Musikanten, Bert Landers and Konrad Grewe as “Drina Marsch” on the album Schlager-Cocktail: Die 16 Spitzenschlager, Kurt Henkels und sein Tanzorchester, and Bauernkapelle Mindersdorf on the 2008 album In der Musikscheune, Tyrolis, released in Germany.

Yugoslav versions

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The song was released as an A side single with picture sleeve by the Ansambl “Urosevic” featuring violinist Vlastimir Pavlovic Carevac in Sweden on Metronome and in Communist Yugoslavia on the Zagreb-based record label Jugoton in 1963.

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The song was released in Communist Yugoslavia in 1966 by Ljubivoje Vidosavljević with the Narodni Orkestar Carevac‎ as “Marš Na Drinu”, which incorporated the new lyrics written by Miloje Popovic in 1964, on the Belgrade-based record label PGP RTB, Produkcija gramofonskih ploca Radio televizije Beograd, as an EP, 12298.

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Radomir Mihailović Točak released the song as “Marš…” on side 1 and “…na Drinu” on side 2 on PGP RTB in 1984 in post-Tito Yugoslavia as a single with picture sleeve.

Belgium

The Belgian instrumental band The Jokers released the song as “Drina” on the Discostar and Brunswick labels as a 45 single in Belgium in 1963. They also released the song as a single on the Philips label. They also released the song on the 1964 album Beat Guitars in stereo on the Swedish record label Metronome Records, MLP 15154.

Italian version

Franca Siciliano released the song in Italy as “Drina” on Silver Record, XP 616, backed with “Ma cos’hai?” in 1966 as an A side 7” inch vinyl single with picture sleeve.

South Africa

South African Hammond organist Cherry Wainer released the song on the 1964 double LP album Hammond Organ: Light and Lively, Polydor, 583 570, in the UK, on the 1967 33RPM 12″ LP album Cherry Wainer and Her Magic Hammond Organ, on Polydor, 236 036, and on the LP Musik Im Blut: Cherry Wainer und ihre Swinging Hammond-Orgel, on Discoton, 75289, in Germany.

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“The March on the Drina” was released in South Africa as “Drina March” by Dan Hill and Sounds Electronic, ‘8’ LP, 42 Great Hits Perfect For Dancing, on RPM Records, 1037 S, in 1969.

Norway

The Arne Domnerus Sekstett released a recording of the song on the LP album Ja, Vi Älskar, on Zarepta, ZA 36010, in Norway in 1978. Arne Domnerus was a Swedish jazz alto saxophonist and clarinetist.

Slovenia

The Slovenian band Laibach released the song as “Mars on River Drina” on the album NATO (1994), which was released on the Mute label, based in London in the UK.

United Nations

On January 14, 2013, the Serbian Viva Vox Choir of Belgrade performed the song at the United Nations in New York in a vocalized version of the music without lyrics introduced by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.

International hit

In 1963, Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann released the song as “Marchen Til Drina” as a 45 single in Denmark on Metronome Records, B 1575, in an arrangement for electric guitar.

The composition became an international hit and a staple of world music after Jorgen Ingmann had a number one hit on the Danish pop singles chart in 1963 in a version arranged for solo electric guitar on the Swedish Metronome Records label. His recording was also released in West Germany, where it reached no. 5, in the UK, in France, and in the U.S. on ATCO Records, 6277. Patti Page, The Shadows, Chet Atkins, Frankie Yankovic, Horst Wende, The Spotnicks, The Jokers, and James Last also recorded the song.

Conclusion

The song is, thus, not only a Serbian classic, but an international classic as well. “March on the Drina” is an integral part of world music, a standard of international music.