Well, the tradition was set! When my daughter and husband signed up for BroadwayCon, the first ever conference for Broadway fans, in January 2016, I tagged along – and I’m glad I did! I won’t go into details (you can find them on social media), however, one experience touched me in a big way.
You see, in a quiet snack area in the conference hotel, I had a nice chat with Michael Bernardi, son of Herschel Bernardi. Who? you ask. If you’re my age or older you may remember Herschel
|Michael Bernardi and I discussed our dads.|
Sadly, Michael was not yet 2 years old when he lost his dad at age 62; I was 62 when my dad died at nearly 93. Yes, our stories are different – on the other hand! (to quote Tevye) – as I told Michael, we are both perpetuating our dads’ legacy. I’m glad I approached Michael that day; it’s called synchronicity. And, who knows, maybe Harry and Herschel were there chatting, too. (By the way, Harry’s nickname back in the day was Heschel, no “r”.)
To complement my summary above, you’ll see two of Harry’s writings below. The first is a casual email that touches on his passion for show tunes. He wrote it to a young relative in 2010, when she was 18 and he 88. They were special “pen-pals” for a couple years, I later learned, and continued to keep in touch through Facebook. From their emails, I found out pieces of my dad's life I’d never known.
The second writing is one Harry posted on his original blog in 2011, in case you missed it. I added YouTube hyperlinks to his song titles, so you can click and listen if you like.
Harry's email – April 4, 2010
Here are some questions, if you want to answer them.
I got an album called “Showstoppers,” and it has some of the great songs from musical theater, both stage and screen. The trouble with me is that I get so carried away that I forget that most of these songs and most of the singers were popular long before you were born. I used to think that if you like musical theater you must naturally have to like all these old songs and performances, but I don’t think that way anymore. If you like all the musicals that became popular say in the last ten to twenty years, then chances are you won’t like these old songs and performances at all.
So, let me ask you a few questions. I’m going to list a bunch of the songs and the singers and ask you if you ever heard any of them, or even heard of any of them. For example, did you ever hear of Maurice Chevalier (a French star) who was in the movie “Gigi”? In that movie he sang, “Thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful way.” For that matter, the title song, “Gigi,” was one of the great showstoppers of our times. (That’s my times, not yours.)
Now here’s a few more – singers and songs from musicals. Tell me if you ever heard them or heard of them. Gene Kelly – Singing in the Rain … Fred Astaire – The Way You Look Tonight … Judy Garland – Over the Rainbow … Gertrude Lawrence – Hello Young Lovers … Marlene Dietrich – See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have … Judy Garland – The Man That Got Away … Ethel Merman – You’re the Top …
I could go on and on, but that’s enough. My point, and my question, is: Do any of these songs and singers interest you? My guess is that they don’t. Of course, most of the great musicals, both the stage shows and the movies, of the 1930s and 1940s, get remade every 15 or 20 years. “The King and I” has been performed with new casts six or eight times since the original Broadway performance, and so has “42nd Street,” and so has “Fiddler on the Roof.” In fact, I’ll bet all the old musicals of the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s are still playing somewhere in the country, or in the world, somewhere right now, today.
Anyway, have you heard of some of the great musical performers of my generation – like Mary Martin, Eddie Cantor, Noel Coward, Lena Horne, Al Jolson, Eartha Kitt, Ted Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker??? I would guess not, and I’d further guess that you would not be much interested in hearing any of their performances, either. And, I wouldn’t blame you at all, but, I thought I’d ask, anyway. Just so you know I’m thinking of you.
"Words and music"
Every now and then someone asks me which is more important in a song – the lyric or the melody. That’s like asking which leg is more important, your right or your left. But the question reminds me of the famous story about Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein. She was at a party once where she heard two women talking about the musical “Showboat”.
|Harry in his blogging days, 2011|
There are examples the other way, too. Richard Rodgers, in the first half of his musical career, worked closely with Lorenz Hart, the genius lyricist who gave us so many memorable songs. Rodgers would compose a melody and play it for Hart who would seem to forget it immediately. Days later he would scribble some words on a scrap of paper or an old envelope, and out of that process would come such unforgettable songs as Manhattan, My Funny Valentine, The Lady is a Tramp and dozens of others. So, in the end, who can say which is more important, the words or the music. We can only marvel at the poets of Tin Pan Alley, as they have been dubbed, and the masters of music who, together, gave birth to American popular music.
|These “Fiddler on the Roof” cast members inspired thousands with personal stories, at NYC's first BroadwayCon. Michael Bernardi (far left) is reviving his dad's role. I hope I'm able to see their show.|