Berthold Heinrich Kämpfert, (16 October 1923 – 21 June 1980), better known as Bert Kaempfert, was a German orchestra leader and songwriter. He made easy listening and jazz-oriented records and wrote the music for a number of well-known songs, including “Strangers in the Night” and “Moon Over Naples“.
Kaempfert was born in Hamburg, Germany, where he received his lifelong nickname, Fips, and studied at the local school of music. A multi-instrumentalist, he was hired by Hans Busch to play with his orchestra before serving as a bandsman in the German Navy during World War II. He later formed his own big band, toured with them, then worked as an arranger and producer, making hit records with Freddy Quinn and Ivo Robić. In 1961, he hired The Beatles to back Tony Sheridan for an album called My Bonnie. The album and its singles, released by Polydor Records, were the Beatles’ first commercially released recordings.
Kaempfert’s own first hit with his orchestra had been in 1960, “Wonderland by Night“. Wonderland by Night couldn’t get a hearing in Germany. Instead, Kaempfert brought the track to Decca Records in New York, who released it in America in 1959; with its haunting solo trumpet, muted brass, and lush strings, the single topped the American pop charts and turned Bert Kaempfert and Orchestra into international stars. 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”, 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. For Kaempfert, little may have brought him more personal satisfaction than Nat King Cole recording his “L-O-V-E“.
As a producer, Kaempfert also played a part in the rise of The Beatles when he signed a Liverpool-based singer named Tony Sheridan, who was performing in Hamburg, and needed to recruit a band to play behind him on the proposed sides. He auditioned and signed the Beatles, and recorded two tracks with them during his sessions for Sheridan: “Ain’t She Sweet”, sung by rhythm guitarist John Lennon and the instrumental “Cry for a Shadow”, co-written by Lennon and lead guitarist George Harrison. Kaempfert’s recording of the Beatles, even as a backing band for Sheridan, provided an impetus to their subsequent success, even though none of the Kaempfert-recorded sides resembled the music for which they became famous. On October 28, 1961, a man walked into the music store owned by Brian Epstein to ask for a copy of “My Bonnie”, recorded by the Beatles (but, actually credited to Tony Sheridan). The store did not have it, but Epstein noted the request and was so intrigued by the idea of a Liverpool band getting a record of its own out, he personally followed up on it. This event led to his discovery of the Beatles and, through his effort, their signing by George Martin to Parlophone Records after getting clear of any contractual claim by Polydor.
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