For almost half a century, from the 1930s to 1976, The Barry Sisters, Claire and Merna, were the voice of Jewish jazz in recordings, nightclub acts, and television appearances on The Jack Paar Show, The Tonight Show, and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Claire Barry died last week in Aventura, Florida, at the age of 94. Her sister Merna died in 1974, but Claire kept performing until 2009.
Born in the Bronx to Yiddish speaking immigrants from Kiev, Clara and Minnie Bagelman started out in show business using their real names as The Bagelman Sisters, but after awhile, Clara became Claire, Minnie became Merna, and Bagelman became Barry. They performed songs in nine languages.
Looking glamorous and sparing no expense for their orchestrations, they sang to a full house at the Concord and other Catskills resorts.
The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation reissued The Barry Sisters’ last album, 1974’s “Our Way,” in 2008. As the liner notes for the album put it,
If adapting Jewish music to the rhythms and contours of the American pop landscape can be considered one of the dominant aesthetics of early twentieth century popular music, then the Barry Sisters ought to be considered crucial bi-cultural pioneers, part of the same treasured artistic genealogy that usually starts and stops with the Tin Pan Alley likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Harold Arlen. They didn’t turn America Jewish, they made Jewish sound more American.Here is an audio clip (videos of the sisters in actual performance are virtually non-existent) of The Barry Sisters singing Chiribim.
(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS. YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)