Thursday, April 9, 2009

Borrah Minevitch And His Harmonica Rascals



Specialty acts were commonplace in the early days of show business, when high visibility meant working steadily in Vaudeville.    After all, you could hone an act over the years, and perform it basically unchanged for decades, and never run out of audiences.


Of course, television destroyed that.    In one  short TV appearance a specialty act could `burn’ their entire repertoire in front of a national audience.  


But while it lasted, particularly during the heyday of Vaudeville up to the early days of television, specialty acts were in great demand.


One of the best was Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals.   


Minevitch, who was born in Kiev, Russia immigrated to the United States at the age of 8, and studied piano and violin, but he fell in love with the harmonica. 


In 1925 (at the age of 20) he came up with the idea of a `specialty act’; he hired a dozen or so young boys, taught them the basics of the harmonica, dressed them in formal attire, and formed a `harmonica orchestra’.


Within a year, the Harmonica Rascals were one of the hottest acts in Vaudeville.


When sound came to the movies, Minevitch (who was a consummate promoter) worked his ensemble into a dozen shorts and some feature films.   His act featured physical comedy, along with harmonica musical antics.



An early appearance of the Harmonica Rascals was in One In A Million, circa 1936.   Here you’ll hear them play the title song to the movie, in a medley with Ravel’s Bolero, and the classic Lime House Blues.




One of his best short films came in 1942, with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica School.   We’ve a couple of clips from that film.



Harmonica School  1943

Borrah Minevitch - Dave Doucette - Carl Ford - Ben Burley - Ernie Morris - Hugh 'Pud' McCaskey - Sammy Ross - Etto Manieri - Pat Marquis - Frank Marquis - Bill McBride

Song titles:
1. "Always In My Heart"
Words and Music by Cole Porter
2. "Begin the Beguine"
Words and Music by Cole Porter
3. "American Patrol"
Written by F.W. Meacham
4. "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"
Written by David T. Shaw
Arranged by Thomas A. Beckett
5. "The Red, White and Blue"
Arranged by Thomas A. Beckett
All performed by Borrah Minevitch and His Harmonica Rascals




In the next clip the first vocalist is Bill McBride.



(Dbl Click To View)




Minevitch would retire in 1947, and die suddenly of a heart attack in 1955.   He paved the way, of course, for other Harmonica specialty acts that would follow – most notably the Harmonicats.

1 comment:

Robin said...

I just saw a harmonica in an antique shop in Salamanca, NY engraved with "As played by Borrah Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals" Thanks for the info.