Singing Cowboys Range Far From Siberia


Among the thousands of faceless volunteers working on Friday’s Rose Parade, few are more anonymous than Ralph Leighton.

That’s fitting, because among the 107 Tournament of Roses entries, none is more obscure than Leighton’s.

The 43-year-old Los Angeles man plans to send a trio of yodeling Russian cowboys clip-clopping and khoomei -ing down Colorado Boulevard.

They are Tuvans, members of a small band of nomadic Asians who live in southern Siberia and are known for their unusual ability to sing two notes at once.


For nearly two years, Leighton has been singing a one-note tune. Its message: Bring Tuva to the tournament.

But until Wednesday afternoon, when the three Tuvans stepped from an airplane at LAX, Leighton was on the verge of humming the blues.

The math teacher and writer who lives in the Mt. Washington area had proposed the visit as a salute to Richard Feynman, the late Caltech Nobel laureate who had a longstanding interest in the remote Tuvan land.

He persuaded tournament officials to reserve Space 102 for the singers between the parade’s two quietest entries--the City of South Pasadena and the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs floats. That way, the Tuvans’ singing--called khoomei-- can be heard by spectators.

Then Leighton secured visas for the visitors and purchased airline tickets with proceeds from the sale of Tuva T-shirts and tapes to members of an informal group called Friends of Tuva.

But the Tuvans missed their flight from Kyzyl, the town 3,000 miles from Moscow where they live. That meant they lost their Aeroflot seats on a flight last week to San Francisco. And that meant Leighton spent Christmas scrambling to find them alternative transportation.

On Wednesday, Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoly Kuular and Kongar-ool Ondar had barely collected baggage containing the fur hats, shiny silk robes and curved-toe boots they will wear in the parade when Leighton rushed them to a stable to introduce them to the horses they will ride.

He said his next challenge may be to rein the Tuvans in. “They won’t be able to ride like they’re used to,” he laughed. “They gallop when they herd reindeer and yak.”

Yahoo? No, ekii.

“It’s pronounced eh-key ,” Leighton said. “It means hello. If people at the parade shout it out, the Tuvans will sing for them.”