Comedian Harmonists – Classic Times to Contemporary Tributaries
Comedian Harmonists – They’re not comedians but classical pop harmony artists.
The Comedian Harmonists were as popular as ever in Germany and the rest of Europe during the early 30’s. Originally composed of Harry Frommermann (buffo-tenor), Robert Biberti (bass), Josef Roman Cycowski (baritone), and Erich Abraham Collin (second tenor), the remaining Comedian Harmonists from the Nazi era were later joined by Ari Leschnikoff (first tenor), Robert Biberti (bass), and Erwin Bootz (piano) to produce a music of a European Teutonic sense combined with an eclectic twist of jazz, cabaret, film and opera music, and of course a German pop flavor.
The close harmony ensemble (5 singers and 1 pianist) were among the acclaimed of international Europe artists before the WW II for their vocal talent to imitate musical instruments. The group’s superior vocal performance is represented in their best tunes as Wochenend und Sonnenschein (Weekend and Sunshine), Die Dorfmusik (The Village Music), and their popular renditions Creole Love Call by Duke Ellington and songs by Fritz Rotter, peter Kirsten, R. Gilbert, and Milton Ager – enough to earn them the following of likewise popular personas as rock critic Lester Bangs and folk and rock producer Joe Boyd.
And the Comedian Harmonists success didn’t end in the 30’s, not at all during the First World War that reproved three of its Jewish members. It was in the 90’s that the Comedian Harmonists’ saga continued and began anew, in particular, with the release of the first US officially licensed compilation of their works for Hannibal in 1999, and then following was the Broadway musical Band in Berlin inspired by their story, and the film The Harmonists.
However although the group themselves starred in 12 films, toured the US, and adapted the Mills Brothers and US hot pop music and jazz as inspiration in their recordings, the Harmonists in fact was not as popular in the US during their times until they finally disbanded in 1941. But thanks to filmmaker Eberhard Fechner, a memoir of the Harmonists appeared in the form of a 4-hour television documentary aired over two nights in Germany in 1975. By then the groups’ interview in the film revived the interest in their music. Their records were resold and sales provided for the surviving members of the Comedian Harmonists aging and scattered all over the world. They were also honored by the King’s Singers in 1980 who recorded their music “A Tribute to the Comedian Harmonists”. And still it goes – Harmonists’ based Broadway shows, imitator fan groups, and then the 1997 German biopic film The Harmonists released in the US, the 1999 compilation hits for Hannibal, and now, the 21st century Harmonists discography available at any record bars and the internet.