Kaempfert, Bert

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Kaempfert, Bert

Kaempfert, Bert , German bandleader, composer, and arranger; b. Hamburg, Oct. 16, 1923; d. Majorca, June 21,1980. Kaempfert achieved international success with his recording of “Wonderland by Night” in 1960, then went on to release a series of instrumental albums, reaching the U.S. charts with 22 of them through 1971. He also composed the music for several hits, including “Wooden Heart,” “Danke Schoen,” and “Strangers in the Night.”

Kaempfert studied piano from the age of six and attended the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik, where he added clarinet, saxophone, and accordion. He served in the music division of the German army during World War II and conducted a band in a prisoner-of-war camp in Denmark in 1945. Returning to Hamburg after the war, he formed his own band in 1947 and in 1949 became director of North German Radio.

Kaempfert was signed to Polydor Records as a recording artist and as an A&R man; he achieved international recognition by arranging and producing “Morgen” (music and lyrics by Peter Mosser), recorded by Ivo Robic, which became a Top 40 hit in the U.S. in August 1959. His own instrumental recordings were picked up for American release by Decca Records, which issued the single “Wonderland by Night” (music by Klauss-Gunter Neuman, lyrics by Lincoln Chase) in the fall of 1960. It hit #1 in January 1961 and sold a million copies, and a Wonderland by Night LP also topped the charts and went gold.

Meanwhile, Kaempfert’s adaptation of a German folk song, “Wooden Heart” (music and lyrics by Fred Wise, Benjamin Weisman, Kathleen G. Twomey, and Bert Kaempfert), had been used in the Elvis Presley film G. I. Blues, which opened in October I960, and was featured on the top-selling soundtrack LP. Released as a Presley single in the U.K., it hit #1 in March 1961. In the U.S. it was covered by Joe Dowell, whose recording topped the charts in August. That summer, Kaempfert signed the then-unknown Beatles to a one-year contract and recorded them as the backing group for British singer Tony Sheridan and on their own, resulting in the Sheridan/Beatles single “My Bonnie” (music and lyrics traditional), which made the U.K. charts in 1963 and the U.S. Top 40 in 1964, after The Beatles had become famous.

Kaempfert himself returned to the American Top 40 in April 1961 with an instrumental revival of the 1946 song “Tenderly” (music by Walter Gross, lyrics by Jack Lawrence) and scored a second chart album in November with Dancing in Wonderland. He had two more LPs in the charts in 1962, one of which was Afrikaan Beat and Other Favorites, and the single of his composition “Afrikaan Beat” reached the Top 40 in March. Billy Vaughn scored a Top 40 hit in August with Kaempfert’s composition “A Swingin’ Safari,” later familiar to television viewers as the theme for The Match Game. Kaempfert charted with three new albums in 1963, but his greatest success for the year came as a songwriter when Wayne Newton scored a Top 40 hit in August with “Danke Schoen” (music by Bert Kaempfert, German lyrics by Kurt Schwabach, English lyrics by Milt Gabler).

In November 1964, Kaempfert released his second gold album, Blue Midnight, which hit the Top Ten in March 1965 due to the inclusion of the 1949 song “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” (music and lyrics by Sid Tepper and Roy Brodsky), which reached the Top 40 of the singles charts in February, and the 1921 song “Three O’Clock in the Morning” (music by Julian Robledo, lyrics by “Dorothy Terris,” a pseudonym for Theodora Morse), which reached the Top 40 in May. A Three O’Clock in the Morning LP charted in July, followed in September by The Magic Music of Far Away Places, which featured “Moon over Naples” (music by Bert Kaempfert), a tune that had entered the singles charts in July. Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder wrote a lyric to the melody, and it was recorded by Al Martino as “Spanish Eyes,” reaching the Top 40 in December.

Kaempfert wrote and conducted the score for the film A Man Could Get Killed, which opened in May 1966. A theme from the score was adapted into a song with lyrics by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder under the title “Strangers in the Night.” Recorded by Frank Sinatra, the song topped the charts in June and sold a million copies, also serving as the title song for a Sinatra album that hit #1 and went gold. It earned Kaempfert a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. His own Strangers in the Night LP was one of three albums he placed in the charts in 1966, along with Bye Bye Blues (a Top Ten hit in the U.K.) and the gold-selling Bert Kaempfert’s Greatest Hits.

Jack Jones had the next hit with a Kaempfert composition, “Lady” (music also by Herbert Rehbein, English lyrics by Larry Kusik and Charles Singleton), which reached the Top 40 and hit #1 on the easylistening charts in March 1967. Sinatra recorded Kaempfert’s “The World We Knew (Over and Over)” (music also by Herbert Rehbein, English lyrics by Carl Singleton), reaching the Top 40 in August and the top of the easy-listening charts in September. Kaempfert himself charted with two LPs during the year, though his sales had begun to fall off. He continued to place albums in the charts until 1971 and occasionally wrote film scores, such as 1970’s You Can’t Win ’Em All. He died of a stroke at 56 in 1980.


Wonderland by Night (1960); Dancing in Wonderland (1961); Afrikaan Beat and Other Favorites (1962); Lights Out, Sweet Dreams (1963); Living It Up! (1963); Blue Midnight (1965); Three O’Clock in the Morning (1965); The Magic Music of Far Away Places (1965); Bye Bye Blues (Decca; 1966); Bye Bye Blues (Taragon; 1966); Strangers in the Night (1966); Hold Me (1967); The World We Knew (1967); My Way of Life (1968); Warm and Wonderful (1969); Traces of Love (1969); The Kaempfert Touch (1970); Orange Colored Sky (1971); Bert Kaempfert Now! (1971); Fabulous Fifties…and New Delights (1973); Christmas Wonderland (1996); That Happy Feeling (1996); Swingin’ Safari (1998); Easy Loungin’ (1998); Tropical Sunrise (1998); Swing (1998); Free & Easy (1998); Safari Swing Again (1998); Love that Bert Kaempfert (1998); Yesterday & Today (1998); Forever My Love (1998); A Man Could Get Killed/Strange (1999); April in Portugal & Wonderland by Night (1999); Wonderland of & Dancing in Wonderland (1999); Latin Feeling, Vol. 6 (1999); One Lonely Night (2000); Live in London (2000); Spanish Eyes (2000); Bert Kaempfert’s Greatest Hits (1966); Red Roses (1993); The Best of Bert Kaempfert (1994); The Very Best of Bert Kaempfert (1995); Instrumental Favorites (1996); That Latin Feeling/Blue Midnight (1997); Hold Me/World We Knew (1999); The Sound in My Heart & Afrikaan Beat (1999); Lights Out, Sweet Dreams & Living It Up (1999); Famous Swing Classics (1999). The Beatles: Anthology 1 (1995). Brenda Lee: Wiedersehn Ist Wunderschon (1994). Wayne Newton: Best of Wayne Newton Now (1985). Hank Snow: Singing Ranger (1959).

—William Ruhlmann