Ben Bernie, born Bernard Anzelevitz, was an American jazz violinist and radio personality, often introduced as The Old Maestro. He was noted for his showmanship and memorable bits of snappy dialogue.
By the age of 15 he was teaching violin, but this experience apparently diminished his interest in the violin for a time. He returned to music doing vaudeville, appearing with Phil Baker as Baker and Bernie, but he met with little success until 1922 when he joined his first orchestra. Later, he had his own band, “The Lads,” seen in the early DeForest Phonofilm sound short, Ben Bernie and All the Lads, featuring pianist Oscar Levant. He toured with Maurice Chevalier and also toured in Europe.
Bernie’s orchestra recorded throughout the 1920s and 1930s; Vocalion, Brunswick, Columbia, Decca, and ARC. In 1925 Ben Bernie and his orchestra did the first recording of Sweet Georgia Brown. Bernie was the co-composer of this jazz standard, which became the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters.
His musical variety radio shows through the 1930s, usually titled, Ben Bernie, The Old Maestro, were hugely successful, with ratings placing him among radio’s top ten programs. He was heard on radio as early as 1923, broadcasting on WJZ and the Blue Network in 1930-31, sponsored by Mennen. After a 1931-32 run on CBS, sponsored by Pabst Beer, he was heard Tuesdays on NBC from 1932 to 1935, also with Pabst. His announcer during this period was Jimmy Wallington.
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