Bert Kaempfert

Active - 1962 - 1962  |   Born - Oct 16, 1923   |   Died - Jun 21, 1980   |   Genres - Comedy, Adventure, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Bert Kaempfert was a multi-threat talent in music, a composer, bandleader, and producer -- in that last capacity, he was the first man to sign the Beatles to a recording contract, during their Hamburg period; and in the first capacity, he wrote what became Frank Sinatra's comeback to the top of the singles charts. The latter single, "Strangers in the Night," was actually a product of his mid-'60s movie film work. Born Berthold Kaempfert in Barmbek, a working-class section of Hamburg, Germany, in 1923, he was musically inclined as a boy, and found that interest indulged by an act of fate when he was six years old -- an insurance settlement over a car accident allowed his mother to buy him a piano, at which he became very proficient; he later took up the clarinet and the saxophone, and studied at the Hamburg Conservatory. Kaempfert's special interest was American-style big-band music of the late '30s and early '40s -- his multi-instrumental skills allowed him to enter the field early, though his time in a pop orchestra was interrupted by the war, and he was later drafted and served as a bandsman in the German navy, before being captured and interned as an Allied prisoner.

After the war, he founded a band of his own and toured American military installations in Germany. Kaempfert's reputation in Hamburg attracted the attention of Polydor Records, which hired him as an arranger, producer, and music director during the second half of the 1950s. He also enjoyed a huge international hit of his own as arranger, producer, and band leader on an instrumental entitled "Wonderland by Night." Over the next few years, he revived such pop tunes as "Tenderly," "Red Roses for a Blue Lady," "Three O'Clock in the Morning," and "Bye Bye Blues," bringing them all high onto the pop charts internationally, as well as composing pieces of his own, including "Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)," "Danke Schoen," and "Wooden Heart," which were recorded by, respectively, Al Martino, Wayne Newton, and Elvis Presley (with Joe Dowell charting the hit single of "Wooden Heart"). He eventually became so successful as a recording artist, that he was compelled to give up his activities as a producer, but not before he signed the Beatles to a recording contract for a series of early sessions in Hamburg that played a small but key role in their subsequent rise to fame.

It was inevitable, with a string of a dozen successes across the early 1960s, that he would move into film work, which he did in 1965. His second effort at scoring, for A Man Could Get Killed, yielded a piece that became "Strangers in the Night," which Frank Sinatra propelled to the top of the American and British charts. He followed this up a year later with another hit for Sinatra, "The World We Knew (Over and Over)." Ironically, his success in the mid-1960s was limited by his vast range of activities, and Kaempfert never found a repeat of that early hit. He only did two more film scores before his death in 1980. His music has since been tracked into feature films, mostly for period and atmsopheric effect.