Bei Mir Bistu Shein / Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Schoen): selected early recordings, part 1 (1937)

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See part two:

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Selected 1937 recordings chronology:

  • Andrews Sisters –recorded on Wednesday, 24 November 1937; issued on Decca 1562 as the B-side of “Nice Work If You Can Get It”
  • Russ Morgan & His Music, vocal: Russ Morgan — recorded on Friday, 10 December 1937; issued on the 78 rpm single Brunswick 8037, c/w “I Double Dare You”
  • Music in the Russ Morgan Manner, vocal: Russ Morgan — issued on (Germany France?) Brunswick A 81454; recording date unknown
  • Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians — recorded on Wednesday, 15 December 1937; issued on Victor 25739, b/w “It’s Easier Said Than Done”
  • Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol — recorded on Friday, 17 December 1937, and issued on Vocalion 3908, c/w “Two Dreams Got Together”
  • Jerry Blaine and his Stream Line Rhythm, vocals: Phyllis Kenny and chorus — recorded on Friday, 17 December 1937; issued as Bluebird 7344-A, b/w “The Big Dipper” (Larry Clinton)
  • Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with vocal by Martha Tilton — from a broadcast transcription recorded live at the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, on Saturday, 18 December 1937
  • Benny Goodman Quartet, vocal Martha Tilton — Victor 25751 (Side A), recorded on Tuesday, 21 December 1937
  • Ella Fitzgerald & Her Savoy Eight — recorded for Decca on Tuesday, 21 December 1937, in New York City
  • Belle Baker with orchestra directed by Gene Kardos — recorded on Tuesday, 21 December 1937; issued on Brunswick 8042, c/w “You’re a Sweetheart”
  • Kate Smith — recorded on Tuesday, 28 December 1937; issued on Victor 25752, c/w “There’s a Gold Mine in the Sky”
  • Benny Goodman Quartet plus Ziggy Elman, vocal Martha Tilton Victor 25751 (Side B), recorded on Wednesday, 29 December 1937
  • Maurice Winnick and his Sweet Music, vocal: Al Bowlly — recorded on Wednesday, 29 December 1937; issued on Decca (UK) F-6591, c/w “Kiss Me Goodnight”
  • Arthur Tracy (as “The Street Singer”) — recorded on Thursday, 30 December 1937; issued on Decca 1610, c/w “Shake Hands with a Millionaire”

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Bei Mir Bistu Shein (Yiddish: בייַ מיר ביסט דו שיין, “To Me You’re Beautiful”) is a popular Yiddish song composed by Jacob Jacobs (lyricist) and Sholom Secunda (composer) for a Yiddish musical, I Would If I Could (in Yiddish, Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht, “[Y]ou could live, but they won’t let you”) in 1932 that closed after one season. The score for the song transcribed the Yiddish title as Bay mir bistu sheyn.[1]

The original Yiddish version of the song (in C minor) is really a dialogue between two lovers who share lines of the song.

In 1937, Sammy Cahn heard a performance of the song, sung in Yiddish by African American performers Johnnie and George at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel proprietor Jenny Grossinger claimed to have taught the song to Johnnie and George while they were performing at the resort.[2] On seeing the audience response, Cahn convinced his employer to buy the rights so that he together with Saul Chaplin could rewrite the song with English language lyrics and rhythms more typical of swing music. The songwriters, Sholom Secunda (photo below, with the Andrews Sisters) and Jacob Jacobs (photo above, left), sold the publishing rights to the song for a mere US $30. Cahn then convinced the still unknown Andrews Sisters to perform the song (recorded November 24, 1937). It became their first major hit, earning them a gold record, the first ever to [be awarded to] a female vocal group. — adapted from Wikipedia

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Yiddish Radio Project provides a similar description of the “discovery” of the song by Sammy Cahn, but indicates that the publishing rights had been sold by the songwriters years earlier:

Lyricist Sammy Cahn and pianist Lou Levy were catching a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when two black performers called Johnnie and George took the stage singing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” — in Yiddish. The crowd went wild. Cahn and Levy couldn’t believe their ears. Sensing a hit, Cahn convinced his employer at Warner Music to purchase the rights to the song from the Kammen Brothers, the twin-team music entrepreneurs who had bought the tune from Secunda a few years back for the munificent sum of $30.

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Regarding the sale price, in a 2010 article titled “Bay mir bistu sheyn: A brief history of Yiddish theatre’s most enduring song,” published at the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, the composer is quoted (from a 1961 New York Times interview) as saying,

At the time, it was considered good publicity in Yiddish theater circles to have your songs published. 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.

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On the Title:
ASCAP’s online ACE catalog gives the primary title of the Chaplin-Cahn rewrite of the original as Bei Mir Bist Du Schon. The absence of an umlaut over the “o” in “Schön” appears to be due to a technical limitation of the site, since none of the 19 or so similar variants of the title listed by ASCAP have diacritics either. See my Jan 01, 2012 @ 21:19:15 comment regarding reasons for variant spelling and pronunciation in recorded versions. ACE credits the four songwriters mentioned above: Sholom Secunda, Jacob Jacobs, Saul Chaplin, and Sammy Cahn. I’m unable to link to search results in ASCAP’s ACE catalog, but here is a link to the title search page should you wish to perform a search yourself: ASCAP ACE song title search.

The label (right) of the 1937 Andrews Sisters recording, with Decca catalog number 1562 B, bears the title Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand). Early covers of the 1937 song seem to have come primarily under this title, with or without the subtitle, or the close variant Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, in which “ö” is replaced by “oe” in the final word.

Regarding what seems to be an odd pronunciation of this final word in the title phrase (in versions sung in English), Wikipedia provides an explanation in reference to the later popular song Danke Schoen:

The word schön [beautiful, handsome] is pronounced throughout in the song as it is in Yiddish, שיין [ˈʃɛjn], approximately rhyming with “pain,” rather than as German schön [ˈʃøːn] (sh-URN). Note that the German letter “ö” can also be written using the older typography “oe”, of which the umlauted O is a typesetting contraction, when umlauts are unavailable or not readily accessible.

Greta Keller’s and the Swedish versions included below are exceptions. In the Swedish versions, “schön” is sung in a dialect approaching standard German. The word is evidently rhymed with Swedish words. Keller sings the song in English with the mixed language title phrase intact, but she sings the word “schön” in a standard German dialect. Her version therefore lacks the rhymes with “explain” and “refrain” heard in the Andrews Sisters version and most covers sung in English.

According to various sources, the title phrase is not a common expression in German and sounds awkward in that language, but it may have (so they say) literal interpretations, including the following: “By me, you are beautiful,” “(Standing) With me, you are beautiful,” and “Compared to me, you are beautiful.”

English translation summary:

  • bei mir, bay mir (romanized Yiddish) = to me
  • bistu / bist du (romanized Yiddish / German) = you are
  • shein, sheyn, shayn, etc. (romanized Yiddish) = beautiful
  • schön (German) = beautiful or handsome
  • schoen = schön (G.) — “Ö” or the letter “o” with umlaut is frequently replaced by “oe” in languages without the umlaut in the regular alphabet. According to the Wikipedia quote immediately above, “oe” predates “ö” in typography usage.

(7 October 2014 addition) Original 1932 Yiddish lyric (in Hebrew script), romanized Yiddish transliteration, and translations into French and English:

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A final note on the shayn to schön modification: In a comment at the lyrics forum mudcat.org, dated 7 January 2006, Bev and Jerry said:

According to Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World by Henry Sapoznik [book published in 1999], this song was popular with klezmer bands in the 1930s and the final word of the title was written “shayne” when transliterated to English. When the Andrew Sisters recorded it, the last word was written as “schoen” mit an umlaut over the “o” [It’s spelled “Schön” on the label.] so it would appear to be from German instead of yiddish in order to sell more records in those antisemitic times.

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Bei Mir Bistu Shein (m. Sholom Secunda, w. Jacob Jacobs)

Budapest Klezmer Band — Yiddish lyric version, performed by a currently active band, founded in 1990; video uploaded by on 22 March 2008

website:

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Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (or “Schoen”) music: Sholom Secunda; words, original Yiddish: Jacob Jacobs / words, English version: Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn —  See above notes regarding songwriting credits

1937 recordings

Andrews Sisters – recorded on Wednesday, 24 November 1937; issued on Decca 1562 as the B-side of “Nice Work If You Can Get It”

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Russ Morgan & His Music, vocal: Russ Morgan —  recorded on Friday, 10 December 1937; issued on Brunswick 8037, c/w “I Double Dare You”

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(below) Music in the Russ Morgan Manner, vocal: Russ Morgan — issued on (Germany France?) Brunswick A 81454; recording date unknown (However, the provider indicates that it was recorded on Friday, 10 December 1937, the same date as the “& His Music” version.)

I initially mistook this for the same recording as the one above, attributed to Russ Morgan & His Music, until careful comparison revealed differences. While the same arrangement is evidently used in each, the vocals are similar but not identical. Even the enunciation of the first five words of the chorus — the verse is omitted in each — the title phrase, is subtly different in the two versions. For a clearer distinction, compare the phrase “Each language only helps me” in the two recordings. In the first, there is a pause (at 1:22) between “helps” and “me.” In the second (1:37), there isn’t.

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Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians — recorded on Wednesday, 15 December 1937; issued on Victor 25739, b/w “It’s Easier Said Than Done”

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Dolly Dawn, inscribed 11937 Bei Mir Bist Du Schön, Dolly Dawn, Vocalion 3908 (1)

Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol —  recorded on Friday, 17 December 1937, and issued on Vocalion 3908, c/w “Two Dreams Got Together”

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Jerry Blaine and his Stream Line Rhythm, vocals: Phyllis Kenny and chorus  — recorded on Friday, 17 December 1937; issued on Bluebird 7344, b/w “The Big Dipper” (Larry Clinton)

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Martha Tilton 3Martha Tilton, CBS 1

Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with vocal by Martha Tilton — from a broadcast transcription recorded live at the Madhattan Room of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, on Saturday, 18 December 1937. I’ve dated it in accordance with the LP Benny Goodman at the Madhattan Room, Dec. 18, 1937, Sunbeam SB 126*, released in the 1970s (c. 1972?), and the 1995 CD The Complete 1937 Madhattan Room Broadcasts, Vol. 6, Viper’s Nest Gold VN 176.

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(below) Benny Goodman Quartet and Benny Goodman Quartet with Ziggy Ellman 1937 — both sides of the 78 rpm single Victor 25751 are included in the video, each with vocal by Martha Tilton, with side B beginning at about 3:33

  • Victor 25751 (Side A) Benny Goodman Quartet — recorded on Tuesday, 21 December 1937
  • Victor 25751 (Side B) Benny Goodman Quartet, [plus] Ziggy Elman (trumpet) — recorded on Wednesday, 29 December 1937  [Bravura trumpet parts by Elman lead the long interlude and the coda.]

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Ella Fitzgerald & Her Savoy Eight — recorded for Decca on Tuesday, 21 December 1937, in New York City

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1937 Bei Mir Bist De Schön, Belle Baker with Gene Kardos, Brunswick 8042

Belle Baker with orchestra directed by Gene Kardos  — recorded on Tuesday, 21 December 1937; issued on Brunswick 8042, c/w “You’re a Sweetheart”

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Kate Smith — recorded on Tuesday, 28 December 1937; issued on Victor 25752, c/w “There’s a Gold Mine in the Sky”

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Maurice Winnick 2Al Bowlly-2-e1mt

Maurice Winnick and his Sweet Music, vocal: Al Bowlly — recorded on Wednesday, 29 December 1937; issued on (UK) Decca F-6591, c/w “Kiss Me Goodnight”

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Arthur Tracy (as “The Street Singer”) — recorded on Thursday, 30 December 1937; issued on (US) Decca 1610 (different catalog number on Australian release displayed in the video), c/w “Shake Hands with a Millionaire”

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Orchestre Sondor — (dated 1937 by the video provider) recording date unknown; issued on (Belgium) Sondor P7002

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* See also the Benny Goodman on Sunbeam Records discography at linkclub.or.jp.

Martha Tilton-2a

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. RCohen
    Jan 01, 2012 @ 16:46:58

    Thanks for sharing this. I received info on it in email a few days ago and couldn’t get to it via email. I searched the site and found it. I love it.
    Thanks

    Reply

    • doc
      Jan 01, 2012 @ 21:19:15

      This response has been significantly revised. The latest edit was on 23 January 2014.
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      RCohen, You’re welcome. Perhaps I included too much explanation regarding the titles and lyrics. This was primarily done out of curiosity. I’d occasionally noticed variant spellings in the titles of different versions, and wanted to know why this was so. Reasons for spelling and pronunciation variation among recorded versions include the following:

      1. In 1937, the title was modified, evidently with the intent of making it look somewhat German, except to those familiar with the language, but without phonetically altering the sound of the original title.
      2. Linguistic, regional, and ideosyncratic variation. There is no universally applied system for transliterating Yiddish using the Roman alphabet. For example, Wikipedia says that Hanukkah is “also romanized as Chanukah, Chanukkah, or Chanuka,” while according to the Google translator, it is spelled Hanoukka in French, Jánuca in Spanish, and Chanoeka in Dutch.
      3. When adapting the lyric of a song from one alphabet (Yiddish) to another (Roman or Latin), the process may depend, in part at least, upon listening and transcribing what is heard rather than upon transliteration from written words. Since we don’t all hear and interpret sounds and vocalized words alike, errors and variants are bound to be introduced through this method.

      Reply

  2. Anonymous
    Feb 18, 2012 @ 21:55:43

    I thoroughly enjoyed all the information, and listening to the various versions. Thanks for all your research!

    Reply

  3. Mike Ivers
    Jan 03, 2013 @ 08:59:30

    A lovely presentation of a delightful story and record samplings of an old chestnut.

    Reply

  4. Nathan
    Feb 08, 2013 @ 02:27:46

    Great article!

    To answer your question about “bist du” being interrogative: in German, the verb is mostly fixed at the second position. To illustrate with the verb “gehen” (to go), if you say “Ich gehe heute am Strand” (I’m going to the beach today), but want to emphasize the timeframe, you’d say “Heute gehe ich am Strand” (today I’m going to the beach). So the word order reads perfectly natural in German.

    Reply

    • doc
      Feb 08, 2013 @ 03:14:27

      Nathan,
      Thanks very much for the brief lesson in German grammar! I’ve been a bit lazy about following up on that question.

      Reply

  5. Lillian
    Jul 02, 2013 @ 05:23:54

    Looking for a copy of piano music for Bei Mir Bitz du Shoen 4 part harmony, women. Could you help me?
    Lillian

    Reply

  6. Kevin DF Highnight
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 18:40:44

    The song was also recorded in June 1938 by Judy Garland for the film, LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY. Unfortunately it was not included in the film, but the song has been available for years on many Judy Garland collections. It’s quite a unique take on the song – starting very slow and bluesy then taking off in full swing with some parody of the song added to it.

    Reply

    • doc
      Mar 31, 2014 @ 23:13:31

      Kevin,
      Thanks. I very much appreciate you’re taking the time and effort to provide this information.

      I found the recording in a Russian video library, but I haven’t a good video embedding tool for non-YouTube libraries which WordPress doesn’t provide a shortcode for since the VodPod Firefox tool disappeared a couple of years ago. There’s Gigya. However, my attempts to use it fail to produce functioning players far more often than not. I’ll look for an audio file of the recording when I find some time.

      Reply

    • doc
      Oct 14, 2014 @ 16:22:35

      Kevin,
      I added two players containing audio files of the 1938 Judy Garland recording today. Thanks again for your help.

      [4 April 2017 note: These audio files are now in part 2 of the feature: Bei Mir Bistu Shein / Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Schoen): selected early recordings, 1938.]

      Reply

  7. Björn Ekman Lund SWEDEN
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 09:52:26

    WONDERFUL to READ

    Reply

  8. doc
    Apr 04, 2017 @ 22:01:44

    Thanks, Björn

    Reply

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