BEI MIR BIST DU SCHON
James A. Landau
JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Thu Feb 3 23:38:05 UTC 2005
The following story, forwarded to me by Cantor Ralph Goren of Congregation
Beth El in Margate New Jersey, may be of interest to the ethnic-music historians
on the list:
They called themselves Johnny and George, and they played the Apollo
Theatre and any other gigs they could get one hot summer in the 1930s. Somewhere
along the way, they managed to get a booking at Grossinger's up in the
Catskills. Not bad. Free meals, you make a few bucks and you're out of New York City
for a little while, beating all that August heat that could blow down the
sidewalks of 125th St. like a blast furnace. One day Jenny Grossinger showed them
the music sheets for this Yiddish song called "Bei Mir Bist du Schon," and
Johnny and George had a little fun with it, with never a clue that what they had
here was going to become one of the biggest hits of their time - but not for
So summer's over now, and Johnny and George are back down at the
Apollo, and they decide to open with this Grossinger's song. They sing it straight
through in Yiddish, but they kick up the beat and they get it rocking. And
then they get it rocking more. The crowd goes wild. Everybody's dancing. The
Apollo has never heard anything like this. Two black guys singing a swing version
of a Yiddish song? In Yiddish?
Watching all this from the balcony that night were two up-and-coming
songwriters, Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, and they both knew a sensation when
they heard one. Who owned the rights to this song? they wondered. And what
would they want for them?
Checking it out, Cahn and Chaplin learned that the lyrics had been
written by one Jacob Jacobs, who, with his music-writing partner Sholom Secunda,
had composed "Bei Mir Bist du Schon" for a Yiddish production called "I Would
If I Could." They'd already tried to sell it to Eddie Cantor, with no luck.
When Cahn offered $30, they were happy to accept. This was nothing unusual for
them. They'd sold hundreds of songs for $30 apiece.
Cahn and Chaplin went straight to Tommy Dorsey with their new $30
song, urging the bandleader to play it at the Paramount. Dorsey wasn't
interested. Well, it was in Yiddish, he explained.
So Cahn and Chaplin translated the lyrics into English.
And then they took the tune to this new group of girl singers. The
Andrews Sisters, they called themselves.
It happened that the sisters were then recording a Gershwin song
called "Nice Work if You Can Get It," and it was decided that "Bei Mir Bist du
Schon" would work okay as the B side:
Of all the boys I've known, and I've known some
Until I first met you, I was lonesome
And when you came in sight, dear, my heart grew light
And this old world seemed new to me
... And so I've racked my brain, hoping to explain
All the things that you do to me
Bei mir bist du schon, please let me explain
Bei mir bist du schon means you're grand
The Andrews' record was released a few days after Christmas 1938. By
New Year's Eve it was playing over and over again on every radio station in
New York City.
It started when "The Milkman's Matinee" on WNEW picked it up and
played it on the all-night show. Soon there were near riots at the record stores.
Crowds would line up and the song would be played out into the street from
loudspeakers. Traffic would back up for blocks. By the end of January, "Bei Mir
Bist du Schon" had sold more than 350,000 copies.
"Bei Mir Bist du Schon" fever spread across the land. "It's wowing
the country," reported one New Jersey paper. "They're singing it in Camden,
Wilkes-Barre, Hamilton, Ohio, and Kenosha, Wis. The cowboys of the West are
warbling the undulating melody and so are the hillbillies of the South, the
lumberjacks of the Northwest, the fruit packers of California, the salmon canners of
And it was huge hit in Yorkville: "The Nazi bierstuben patrons yodel
it religiously, under the impression that it's a Goebbels-approved German
I could say Bella Bella, even say Voonderbar
Each language only helps me tell you how grand you are.
Over in Germany, Hitler himself was a big fan. Finally, the Third
Reich had a tune, it could hum to.
At least until it was discovered that the song had been written by
two Jews from Brooklyn.
Over the years, "Bei Mir Bist du Schon" made millions of dollars for
a lot of singers and record companies. Finally, in 1961, after standing on the
sidelines and watching the royalties ring up over the years for a song that
they'd made 15 bucks each on, Secunda and Jacobs got the rights back.
As for Johnny and George, who started all the excitement one night at
the Apollo up in Harlem, it goes unrecorded whatever became of them, or even
what their last names were.
Originally published on November 5, 2004
Get a load of this from Exodus 19:4
"Al kanfei nesharim."
"I have lifted you up on Eagles' wings.."
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