Ben Bernie

Ben Bernie

Ben Bernie as seen on early 1930s sheet music.
Born May 30, 1891
Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S.
Died October 23, 1943(1943-10-23) (aged 52)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Jazz violinist, bandleader, radio personality
Ben Bernie pictured in an ad for his NBC radio series of 1932-35.

Ben Bernie (May 30, 1891 October 23, 1943),[1] was an American jazz violinist, bandleader, and radio personality, often introduced as "The Old Maestro". He was noted for his showmanship and memorable bits of snappy dialogue.

Early years

Bernie was born Bernard Anzelevitz (another source says Benjamin Anzelevitz)[2] in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Columbia University and the New York College of Music.[1] By the age of 15 he was teaching violin, but this experience apparently diminished his interest in the violin for a time.

Personal appearances

Bernie did vaudeville, appearing with Charles Klass as "The Fiddle Up Boys" in 1912[3] and 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 (1924–25), featuring pianist Oscar Levant. He toured with Maurice Chevalier and also toured in Europe.


Bernie's orchestra recorded throughout the 1920s and 1930s; Vocalion (1922–25), Brunswick (1925–33), Columbia (1933), Decca (1936), and ARC (Vocalion and OKeh) (1939–40). In 1923 Bernie and the Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra recorded Who's Sorry Now. 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 Vocalion and Brunswick records were always listed as Ben Bernie and His Orchestra; only his Columbia records used the moniker "Ben Bernie and All The Lads".)


Bernie and his orchestra were heard November 15, 1926, via a remote broadcast from the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City, on the first NBC broadcast.[1]

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 NBC Blue Network in 1930-31, sponsored by Mennen. After a 1931-32 run on CBS, sponsored by Pabst Beer (during Prohibition, they sold malt syrup, the primary ingredient in brewing "homemade beer"), he was heard Tuesdays on NBC from 1932 to 1935, also with Pabst. His announcer during this period was Jimmy Wallington.

On the Blue Network from 1935 to 1937, Bernie's sponsor was the American Can Company. He returned to CBS in 1938, sponsored by U.S. Rubber. With Half-&-Half Tobacco as a sponsor, he did a musical quiz program of CBS from 1938 to 1940. From 1940-41, Bromo-Seltzer was his sponsor on the Blue Network. Wrigley's Gum sponsored The Ben Bernie War Workers' Program (1941–43). He also made guest appearances on other radio shows. He appeared in two feature films Shoot the Works (1934) and Stolen Harmony (1935).

His theme was "It's a Lonesome Old Town" and his signature trademark, "yowsah, yowsah, yowsah" (also spelled "yowsa" or "yowza"), became a national catchphrase.[4] The term was memorably used by a character in the film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), Richie Cunningham in a 1976 episode of Happy Days, "They Shoot Fonzies, Don't They?" (1976), and by the band Chic with their hit "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)" (1977).[5]

Announcers for Bernie's programs included Harlow Wilcox, Harry von Zell and Bob Brown. With comedy from Lew Lehr and Fuzzy Knight, the line-up of vocalists included Buddy Clark, Little Jackie Heller, Scrappy Lambert, Pat Kennedy, Jane Pickens, Dinah Shore and Mary Small.

To boost ratings, Walter Winchell and Bernie, who were good friends, staged a fake rivalry similar to the comedic conflict between Jack Benny and Fred Allen. This mutually beneficial "feud" was a running gag on their radio appearances and continued in two films in which they portrayed themselves: Wake Up and Live (1937) and Love and Hisses (1937). They are also caricatured in the Warner Bros. cartoons The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937) as "Ben Birdie" and "Walter Finchell" and The Coo-Coo Nut Grove (1936) as "Ben Birdie" and "Walter Windpipe".


Bernie has a star at 6280 Hollywood Boulevard in the Radio section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was dedicated February 8, 1960.[6]

Personal life

Bernie and his first wife, Rose, divorced in 1935. They had a son, Jason. Bernie's second wife was Dorothy Bradley.[2]

Bernie was a freemason, member of Keystone Lodge № 235, New York City.


Bernie died from a pulmonary embolism in October 1943, aged 52, and was buried in Mount Hebron Cemetery, in Queens, New York.[7]

Selected discography

Ben Bernie and his orchestra on the cover of the sheet music for the 1922 hit song Carolina in the Morning.
Title Artist (s) Released Note
Marching Along Together Ben Bernie & All The Lads August 21, 1933 Columbia 2804-D, mx.W-152461-2
We Won't Have To Sell The Farm Columbia 2804-D, mx.W-152462-3
The Duke Is On A Bat Again Columbia 2809-D, mx.W-152475
Ain't That Marvelous Columbia 2809-D, mx.W-152476-2
This Is Romance Voc. Frank Prince Sept. 19, 1933 Columbia 2820-D, mx.W-152502-2
You Gotta Be A Football Hero Ben Bernie & All The Lads Sept. 19, 1933 Columbia 2820-D, mx.W-152503-1
Shanghai Lil Sept. 26, 1933 Columbia 2824-D, mx.W-152512
Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf Sept. 26, 1933 Columbia 2824-D, mx.W-152513


  1. 1 2 3 DeLong, Thomas A. (1996). Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 through 1960. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-2834-2. P. 32.
  2. 1 2 "Ben Bernie, Band Leader, Is Dead". Virginia, Fredericksburg. The Free Lance-Star. October 20, 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  3. "Empress New Show Big Hit". Kansas, Wichita. The Wichita Daily Eagle. December 31, 1912. p. 9. Retrieved February 5, 2016 via
  4. "ARF: Notes and Comments: SHEIK YERBOUTI: Dancin' Fool". Retrieved 2012-04-08.
  5. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) by Chic Songfacts at
  6. "Ben Bernie". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  7. "Ben Bernie Rites Attended By 1,200 - Friends of Stage, Screen and Radio Say 'Au Revoir' Here to the 'Old Maestro'". New York Times. October 29, 1943. p. 22. Retrieved 17 April 2016.

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