James and I are thrilled to be hosting #SongoftheDay this week. Music is what brought us together. We met singing in church, while he was music director at St. Mary the Virgin in Times Square, and I was a last-minute soprano sub for an Evensong service (quartet!) in May 2010. The rest is history, as they say. We celebrated our wedding in July 2016 in the Berkshires, with an additional blessing ceremony in the UK at Jesus College, Cambridge (James’ alma mater) in August. I had toyed with the idea of singing this song at our wedding in July, but in the end we were happy not to be performing on our memorable day!
Growing up, this tune was one of my absolute favorites. Jay Lichtmann, one of our dear family friends (and principal trumpet for many years with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, where my mom is still a violist) made me a mix tape in 1986 with jazz standards sung by Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. Needless to say, I fell hard and fast for these amazing ladies. I sang all the time: in choir, around the house, while I was practicing the violin. I am happy to share this song on our first day hosting #SongoftheDay for NYFOS. I love the history of this song, and the lyricist shares the name of my paternal grandfather, who was Dr. Jacob Werne (of Russian Jewish origin). Fun fact: both of my paternal grandparents were pathologists, who lived in Jamaica, Queens; they were avid classical music fans and devoted patrons of Carnegie Hall. The Andrews Sisters made this song quite famous (it became their first major hit, earning them a gold record, the first ever to a female vocal group), though Ella’s rendition is my favorite. The orchestration reminds me of some fabulous evenings spent at Henry’s listening to the Goyishe Christmas program. Since it was recently the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, I wanted to recognize her centennial with our first post of the week. This is also a fitting tune to dedicate to my dear, darling husband on the week of his birthday (May 5th)!
History courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Bei Mir Bistu Shein” (Yiddish: בײַ מיר ביסטו שיין, “To Me You’re Beautiful”) is a popular Yiddish song composed by Jacob Jacobs (lyricist) and Sholom Secunda (composer) for a 1932 Yiddish comedy musical, I Would If I Could (in Yiddish, Men Ken Lebn Nor Men Lost Nisht, “You could live, but they don’t let you”), which closed after one season (at the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn, New York City). The score for the song transcribed the Yiddish title as “Bay mir bistu sheyn”. The original Yiddish version of the song (in C minor) is a dialogue between two lovers.