The Comedian Harmonists Biography

In 1928 German tenor Harry Frommermann (12 October 1906, Berlin, Germany, d. 29 October 1975, Bremen, Germany), formed this close harmony vocal sextet with bass Robert Biberti (b. 5 June 1902, Berlin, Germany, d. 2 November 1985, Berlin, Germany), Bulgarian tenor Asparuch Leschnikoff (b. 16 June 1897, Haskovo, Bulgaria, d. 31 July 1978, Sofia, Bulgaria), Polish baritone Josef Roman Cycowski (b. 25 January 1901, Lodz, Poland, d. 9 November 1998, Palm Springs, California, USA), tenor Erich Abraham Collin (b. 26 August 1899, Berlin, Germany, d. 29 April 1961, Los Angeles, California, USA), and pianist Erwin Bootz (b. 30 June 1907, Stettin, Pomerania, Germany, d. 27 December 1982, Hamburg, Germany). Hugely popular in Germany, their records sold well elsewhere. In addition to singing, some members mimicked musical instruments. Their repertoire included ‘Veronika’, ‘Der Lenz Ist Da’, ‘Mein Kleiner, Grüner Kaktus’, ‘So Schön Wie Heut’, ‘Wochenend Und Sonnenschein’ and ‘Musik! Musik! Musik!’. In the early 30s, the sextet was confronted with Nazi-party anti-Jewish legislation. Frommermann, Collin, and Cycowski were Jews, as was Bootz’s wife, and Cycowski’s wife had converted. On 25 March 1934, with Jewish members of the group banned from performance, the Comedian Harmonists gave their last concert. The films they made did not survive. Later, Frommermann, Collin, and Cycowski formed the Comedy Harmonists, with Ernst Engel, Hans Rexeis and Rudolf Mayneder, and resumed performing outside Germany. Meanwhile, Leschnikoff, Biberti and Bootz remained in Germany forming Das Meistersextett with Herbert Imlau, Alfred Grunert and Fred Kassen.

The magic was gone, however, and by 1941 both new groups had disbanded. Later, Frommermann lived in the USA and led a group, Harry Frohman And His Harmonists, returning to Germany in 1960. Biberti worked outside music in Berlin. Leschnikoff returned to Bulgaria and was honoured in East Germany in 1965. Collin also lived in the USA, working outside music. Bootz continued playing piano and composing, first in Canada and later in Germany. Cycowski became cantor at a Palm Springs, California synagogue. Interviewed the year before his death at the age of 96, Cycowski observed, with a little exaggeration perhaps, ‘Had we not been forced to split up, we would be more famous today than the Beatles.’ Some later groups were influenced by the Comedian Harmonists and others pay tribute to their innovations. In Germany groups such as Matz And Friends and Die Mex Brothers have kept alive the concept with concerts and recordings.

A 1976 film documentary, Comedian Harmonists, by Eberhard Fechner was released and he also published a book in 1988 on the sextet. In 1997 a stage show, Harmony, based on the vocal group, opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, USA. Also that year a feature film was released in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Comedian Harmonists. The following year this film was released in the USA under the title, The Harmonists.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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