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Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Ben Bernie list................

Ben Bernie (May 30, 1891, Bayonne, New Jersey - October 23, 1943), born Bernard Anzelevitz, was an American jazz violinist and radio personality, often introduced as The Old Maestro. He was noted for his showmanship and memorable bits of snappy dialogue.

By the age of 15 he was teaching violin, but this experience apparently diminished his interest in the violin for a time. He returned to music doing vaudeville, appearing with Phil Baker as Baker and Bernie, but he met with little success until 1922 when he joined his first orchestra. Later, he had his own band, "The Lads," seen in the early DeForest Phonofilm sound short, Ben Bernie and All the Lads (1924-1925), featuring pianist Oscar Levant. (I POSTED THESE EARLIER TODAY**) He toured with Maurice Chevalier and also toured in Europe.

Bernie's orchestra recorded throughout the 1920s and 1930s; Vocalion (1922-1925), Brunswick (1925-1933), Columbia (1933), Decca (1936), and ARC (Vocalion and OKeh) (1939-1940). In 1925 Ben Bernie and his orchestra did the first recording of Sweet Georgia Brown. Bernie was the co-composer of this jazz standard, which became the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters.

His musical variety radio shows through the 1930s, usually titled, Ben Bernie, The Old Maestro, were hugely successful, with ratings placing him among radio's top ten programs. He was heard on radio as early as 1923, broadcasting on WJZ and the Blue Network in 1930-31, sponsored by Mennen. After a 1931-32 run on CBS, sponsored by Pabst Beer, he was heard Tuesdays on NBC from 1932 to 1935, also with Pabst. His announcer during this period was Jimmy Wallington.

On the Blue Network from 1935 to 1937, Bernie's sponsor was the American Can Company. He returned to CBS in 1938, sponsored by U.S. Rubber. With Half-&-Half Tobacco as a sponsor, he did a musical quiz program of CBS from 1938 to 1940. From 1940-41, Bromo Seltzer was his sponsor on the Blue Network. Wrigley's Gum sponsored The Ben Bernie War Workers' Program (1941-43). He also made guest appearances on other radio shows.

His theme was "It's a Lonesome Old Town" and his signature trademark, "yowsah, yowsah, yowsah" (also spelled "yowsa" or "yowza"), became a national catch phrase.[1] The term was memorably used by a character in the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, and revived by the band Chic in 1977 with their hit "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)".

Announcers for Bernie's programs included Harlow Wilcox, Harry von Zell and Bob Brown. With comedy from Lew Lehr and Fuzzy Knight, the line-up of vocalists included Buddy Clark, Little Jackie Heller, Scrappy Lambert, Pat Kennedy, Jane Pickens, Dinah Shore and Mary Small.

To boost ratings, Walter Winchell and Bernie, who were good friends, staged a fake rivalry similar to the comedic conflict between Jack Benny and Fred Allen. This mutually beneficial "feud" was a running gag on their radio appearances and continued in two films in which they portrayed themselves: Wake Up and Live (1937) and Love and Hisses (1937). They are also caricatured in the Warner Brothers cartoons The Woods are Full of Cuckoos as "Ben Birdie" and "Walter Finchell" and The CooCoo Nut Grove (1936) as "Ben Birdie" and "Walter Windpipe".

Ben Bernie was noted for always having a cigar in hand and some speculate this hastened his death in 1943.


Born into a large family in New York City, Bernie's parents encouraged his musical education because he showed such brilliance with the violin. At just 15, he taught violin in a music school that was short-lived. But soon after that, he enrolled in a technical college, where he became involved with the college shows.

After leaving school, Ben started in Vaudeville with monologues and fiddle playing, touring the eastern and midwestern states. Though his novelty act exhibited humor and wit, it was never well received and bookings were scarce. By early 1914, things were so desperate that he was reduced to playing in some pretty sorry places. His big break came when New York's famed Reisenweber's Restaurant decided that his speaking voice and personality made him the MC they needed for their shows.

It was a good job for Ben, but performing was in his blood and he couldn't resist another shot at vaudeville. About this time, Ben met another performer, accordionist Phil Baker, whose routines included some gags. This new team then worked up a banter and music vaudeville act that proved successful, and they even made some recordings in the 'nineteens', prior to WW1.

After World War I, bandleading was to become his professional career. In the early 1920s, he was so impressed with Paul Whiteman's "symphonic" approach to the 'new' Jazz that he decided to create 'Ben Bernie and His Orchestra'; employing the musicians of a band formerly led by Don Juelle.

New York's Roosevelt Hotel had just been built and Ben's orchestra were the first group to play there. Though only scheduled for a short engagement, the orchestra was so popular with the guests that the residency was extended from 1923 to 1929. Bernie's first local New York broadcasts were remotes from this Hotel, and it was here that he developed his radio style into the 'Yowsah' talking form for which he would be forever known.

**The recordings from the Roosevelt days are at times very original and jazzy. However, by the early 1930's as the Jazz Age closed, his band had evolved into a 'Pop' or 'Sweet Music' type of orchestra.** (My note...It really shows in these recordings)** From the earlier recordings of "A Little Bit Bad" and "Sleepy Time Gal", the band transitioned to "I'm Bringing A Red, Red Rose", "Out Where The Little Moonbeams Are Born", and "Following You Around". The band even enjoyed a European tour.

In the great Stock Market crash of Oct. 1929, Ben, in common with most of the world, suffered heavy losses. However because of his prior work in Radio during the early 1920s, he was able to now find work in the medium, bouncing around between networks and sponsors while his shows gained popularity. Bernie's light banter and his vocal insertions of 'yowsah' into the music was a real audience pleaser.

Bernie indulged in a radio "feud" with the famed newspaper gossip columnist Walter Winchell. There were even Motion pictures, in which they both starred as feuding adversaries. But, in reality, they were good friends on and off stage. Both of them benefitted by the publicity. Bernie's band was seen on film starting with 1935's 'Stolen Harmony'. Perhaps his best film was 1937's 'Wake Up and Live' which, in addition to the title song, gave the world the hit "There's A Lull In My Life".

At one time or another, Bernie's band had vocalist Dinah Shore, Dick Stabile, (sax) and Lou McGarity (t'bone). Bernie once fought to keep his new girl singer, Dinah Shore, on his radio show over the objections of the sponsor who felt she sang too softly. He had to let Dinah go and eventually Eddie Cantor hired Dinah and Cantor got the credit for the discovery of a new star.

"The Old Maestro" - Benjamin Anzelwitz was purported to be one of the nicest, fairest and most generous and supportive of all the band leaders of the time. 'Ben and 'all the lads' remained popular into 1940s. Bernie never quite caught the swing bug, but continued to play the same danceable ballads that the public loved so well. Indelibly imprinted on our imagination is the picture of the 'ol Maestro, standing before the band, holding his violin and chain smoking cigars. A sudden illness in 1943 resulted in his death. His show's closing words still remain with us:
"Yowsah yowsah yowsah..and au revoir chil'en. This is your Ol' Maestro, Ben Bernie and all the lads..saying God bless you and pleasant dreams..."

Damn! this is a huge list..seemed to take forever.........*sigh* :) enjoy! (Be it the jazzy stuff, or the "Sweet" music............I've always enjoyed this band very much, hope y'all like this stuff, too!!....A note...recording qualities and bit rates vary, I've tried to locate the best versions of the recordings that I have in my collections)

He's the last word
A little bit bad
Baby, Oh where can you be
Back in you own back yard
Canon ball rag
Dream kisses
I can't believe that you're in love with me
I love her
It all depends on you
Makin' whoopie
1927 v-Speed Boys
Mine all mine
1927 v-Speed Boys
I want to be bad
1929 v-Zelma O'Neill
Deep down South
w/ Bix Beiderecke 1930
Ain't she sweet
1927 v-Scrappy Lambert
Because my baby don't mean maybe now
Bell hoppin'
Calling me home
For instance
Highway to heaven
I kiss your hand, Madame
I'll get by
I'm looking over a four leaf clover
Just a gigolo
Looking at you
Miss Anabelle Lee
Muddy Water
The man i love
v-Bebe Daniels (radio)
1931 v-Ben Bernie
Can't help lovin' that man
Hello Swanee hello
It goes like this
It's a lonesome old town
Lady be good
The kiss waltz
Ain't that marvelous
Bigger and better than ever
Cherie I love you
Cryin' for the Carolines
Fallen arches
I'm in love again
I'm yours
Living in the sunlight, lovin' in the moonlight
Make believe
I've got a feeling I'm falling
I'll tell the world
v-Frank Munn

Rhythm King
She's still my baby
Sleepy time gal
Sweet Georgia Brown
Swingin' down the lane
Up and at 'em
When Polly walks through the hollyhocks
Why can't you 1929

Yes, Sir, that's my baby
Swanee shore
Out where the moonbeams grow
To whom it may concern
We won't have to sell the farm
What? no Mickey Mouse?
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,
There's a lull in my life
v-Jane Pickins 1937  (from 'Wake up and live')
Side by side
v-Keller Sisters and Lynch
I got a woman crazy for me
No one
Rosy cheeks
Somebody loves me
Ten little miles from town
There goes that tune
To my mammy
What's this thing called love
Who's sorry now
You gotta be a football hero
Till we meet again
v-Scrappy Lambert 1929
There's a cradle in Carolina
v-Vaughn Deleath 1927
Rose Marie medley
She's such a comfort to me
Someone is losin' Susan
Song of the bayou
Telling it to the daisies
There must be somebody else
Would there be love
(From 'Stolen Harmony' 1935)
v-Al Goering
Pretty little baby
v-Arthur Fields
Reaching for the moon
Pleasant dreams


  1. Thank you so much for posting all of this! Bernie was my great-uncle and I know very little about his life and music. If there are any biographies or rich sources, I would love to know about them.

    Josh Brown

  2. Wow! how cool! Hmmm....any published bio info? not that I know of...a bit of info online, but it requires a bit of digging to find it. I'm so glad that you like the list :)

  3. Hello!
    I've Only Recently Discovered Your Site - But What A Great Site It Is (A Giant Tip Of The Hat To You!)
    I Was Wondering If,At Some Point,You Could Repost This Great Ben Bernie Selection.It Would Be Greatly Appreciated!
    In The Meantime,Keep Up The Wonderful Work!
    All The Best,
    Colonel Dan