Swing and Easy Listening – catchy tunes and foot-tapping rhythms – have been back in fashion over the past few years. What better opportunity, then, to learn the inside story of Bert Kaempfert (1923-1980), one of the most famous representatives of Easy Listening, in a film portrait of the great bandleader and arranger. He crafted his own inimitable style early on and wrote music history with numbers like Danke Schoen, A Swingin’ Safari and Red Roses For A Blue Lady. He discovered and produced the Beatles, arranged for Elvis Presley and gave Al Martino his comeback with Spanish Eyes. He enjoyed his own greatest success with Strangers In The Night, one of the hits of the century. International stars like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald have sung his compositions. However, Bert Kaempfert had a long hard road to tread before he made his breakthrough.
Born in Hamburg, he would have been 80 this autumn. Bert Kaempfert must surely be seen as the prophet without honour in his own country, for it was in America that he first enjoyed the success he had long sought. He is the most fascinating export from Germany since Dietrich – in the words of a Sunday Ledger Inquirer article of 1961 on Kaempfert’s big success with Wonderland By Night, the first No. 1 hit by a German in the USA.
Some 400 compositions and over 750 arrangements were penned by Kaempfert, ensuring him evergreen fame. By 1980 he had sold more than 150 million gramophone records. After receiving a string of awards, he was posthumously awarded what must be the ultimate international accolade in 1993 along with his friend and co-author the late Herbert Rehbein: at a gala ceremony in New York, they were admitted to the Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame. Bert Kaempfert also received the Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously from the American collecting society BMI. Up to the present day, Strangers In The Night has airplay figures of more than five million plays, corresponding to 28.5 years of unbroken transmission.
How did an unknown German make it in the United States against competition from world-famous orchestras? Who was this reserved figure whose evergreens have stood the test of time? What truth is there in the persistent rumours that Strangers In The Night was written by someone else? Why did Bert Kaempfert die when he was only 56 years old?
The German journalist and film-maker Marc Boettcher, who recently published the first biography of Bert Kaempfert, shines the spotlight behind the scenes of show business and takes in the history of twentieth-century culture from the frantic Twenties to the disco era. Relations, colleagues and friends like Freddy Quinn, James Last and Brenda Lee have their say, and we are musically reunited with artists like Caterina Valente, Nat "King" Cole, Al Martino and Count Basie, to name but a few.