I keep thinking I first heard the song “Bei Mir Bist du Shein” (translation: “To Me You Are Beautiful”) on a Bob Dylan “Theme Time Radio” show many years ago, but I can’t seem to find the episode in my archive. I had seen the title while perusing a list of songs by that great 40s vocal group, the ‘Andrews Sisters’. The Eclectic Vinyl Orchestra covers three or four of their songs (but more about that in a later blog). I remember looking at the title at the time and thinking that it was a strange title for a song. I stumbled across the song later on an Ella Fitzgerald record. That’s when we decided to cover it.
The story goes, that the original song was from a 1932 Yiddish musical. The great songwriter Sammy Cahn, who also wrote “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” to name a few, heard the song in 1937 performed by an African-American singer in Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. The singer sang the song in the traditional Yiddish. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to hear that. Cahn bought the rights to the song and wrote the English lyrics.
Once he had the rights, Cahn convinced the relatively unknown Andrew Sisters to record his version. It became their first major hit. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” was also the theme song for the 1938 movie, “Love, Honor and Behave” starring Wayne Morris and Priscilla Lane and in the 1993 movie “Swing Kids” sung by Janice Siegel (The Manhattan Transfer).
There is a story that he only paid $30 to the original music writer Sholom Secunda. Mr. Secunda then split the money with his writing partner and lyricist, Jacob Jacobs. Over the next 28 years, the songs is estimated to have grossed $3,000,000 dollars. The original writers got the rights back in 1961. I have a quote from article from this site.
“At the time, it was considered good publicity in Yiddish theater circles to have your songs published,” said Secunda in a 1961 interview with The New York Times. “Most of the time we would publish our songs at our own expense. If you could sell it to a publisher later on, you were that much richer. I had sold hundreds of songs for thirty dollars and was happy to get the money for this one. Jacobs and I split 50–50.”
We have a lot of fun playing the tune. I hope you can come out some night to hear us and to hear Jim rock the clarinet.