Born: March 21, 1906 (New York City)
Died: July 6,1999 (New York City)
Note: Benny Bell, a pioneer in the field of Jewish comedy
recordings, was born “Benjamin Zamberg.”
Like so many others of his day who lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Benny Bell’s first language was Yiddish. He was drawn to the world of entertainment from an early age, already writing song lyrics and music as a teenager. The lure of show business beckoned and before long he was performing on the Vaudeville stage as Benny Bimbo. A natural comedian, Benny Bell enjoyed nothing more than making people laugh.
Starting his own record company in the 1930’s, he became a pioneer in the field of Yiddish comedy phonograph recordings. He produced a series of party records using different names, e.g. Paul Wynn, and which were considered risqué at the time, but are really quite mild by today’s standards. By the 1940s he had created more than 30 phonograph recordings. A true impresario, he was involved in every aspect of production, artistic creation, and performance. His created the very popular “Pincus the Peddler” in 1946. This act which featured American songs with a Yiddish flavor was a big hit among Jewish immigrants and their English-speaking children.
As the first half of the 20th century passed, so did interest in Yiddish comedy. The 1950s brought difficult times for the comedian. He was forced to accept menial jobs like busboy and bank messenger. But the world of entertainment had not yet heard the last of Benny Bell.
In the 1970s, a syndicated LA disc jockey began using Benny Bell’s song “Shaving Cream” as the theme song for his radio show. Overnight it renewed interest in Bell’s earlier recordings. “Shaving Cream” was eventually reissued, selling almost a million copies. His renewed popularity breathed new life into his live performances which he continued to do into his 90’s.
Chuck Samberg, Benny Bell’s son, remembers growing up in a home filled with humor. “My father was like a big kid, a Pied Piper.”
|Rights to Benny Bell's music courtesy of his son Charles "Chuck" Samberg.|
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