Despite all his wonderful, soft, mellow, big bandish hits over the years, German composer, producer and artist, Bert Kaempfert is best known in many circles still as the man who first discovered, signed and produced a record by four young Englishmen from Liverpool, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best with singer, Tony Sheridan. Unfortunately for Kaempfert, the record generated no interest at his record company and the group, known then as The Beat Brothers, later returned to England.
But while the "experienced" record company moguls decided to pass on this first go-round, the group that was to become The Beatles proved for years to come, how right the Kaempfert musical ears really were.
But beyond discovering talent, Kaempfert was quite an enormous talent, in his own right, as a multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, record producer, and particularly a songwriter. The song that made the name, Bert Kaempfert, a household term at the top of the best-selling charts, was the 1961 instrumental, "Wonderland by Night," which established him as a worldwide hitmaker.
Born in October 1923 in Hamburg, he was sitting at the family parlor piano picking out one fingered tunes virtually as soon as he could walk. First given private tutoring, the youngster later was enrolled in the Hamburg School of Music. Two years later, when he was l6, he graduated with honors. An avid student, Kaempfert soon branched out from the piano, which he had already mastered, into saxophone and clarinet as well as accordion, all skills which helped land him a spot on the roster of the Hans Busch Orchestra. Here he also began developing his already obvious skills of arranging and composing until World War II caught up with his blossoming career.
He joined the German navy and became active performing in the service bands. In 1945, toward the end of the War, Kaempfert spent several months in a Danish prisoner of war camp (where he actually organized a band of fellow POW's. Upon his release, music continued to dominate his life. Arriving back in Germany, at Bremerhaven, he formed a sextet which worked frequently at officers' clubs of the occupying U.S. forces. In these surroundings, he became even more imbued with American swing music and the bands that played this style, at the same time perfecting his own signature sound.
Returning to his native Hamburg in the late '40s, Kaempfert played in clubs and radio station bands. During this period, through his ongoing work for the British Forces Network, he met fellow musician, Herb Rehbein, and the pair became close friends and songwriting colleagues for years to come.
Signed by Polydor Records in the mid-'50s, Kaempfert enjoyed his first recorded hit with the song, "Wonderland By Night," which was also issued in America. Ultimately, the record reached number one in many countries and brought Kaempfert the first of many gold records.
In 1961, the American Cash Box Magazine readers' poll named Bert Kaempfert's group, "the number one band of the future." The group's records featured the now highly identifiable sound of his special arrangements. By the same token, many of the tunes were co-written by Kaempfert and Rehhein, and many have become standards. Among the best known of the scores of titles are "Afrikaan Beat," "A Swingin' Safari," "The Maltese Melody," "Blue Midnight," "Sweet Maria" and "Happy Trumpeter."
Many of the songs found their way into the major leagues as well. Frank Sinatra, for instance, recorded "Strangers in the Night," (one of his biggest hits); "The World We Knew (Over and Over)," "You Turned My World Around," and "(You Are) My Way of Life." There were others as well, including "Spanish Eyes," by Al Martino; "L-O-V-E," with Nat King Cole; "Danke Schoen" and "Remember When" with Wayne Newton; "Lady," with Jack Jones; "Lonely Is the Name," with Sammy DavisJr., "Don't Talk to Me," with Johnny Mathis and "I Can't Help Remembering" and "Welcome to My Heart," with Dean Martin.
Bert Kaempfert died in 1980, at 56, just a year after the death of his friend and frequent co-writer, Herb Rehbein.