Chances are that you've never heard of a man named Bert Berns. But most likely you know the songs "Twist and Shout," "Piece of My Heart," "I Want Candy," "Here Comes the Night," and "Hang On Sloopy."
Those timeless tunes were written or co-written by Bert Berns, the many-hit wonder who thrived as a songwriter, record producer, and label chief with his own label, Bang Records. Not only did he write a string of hits, Berns also produced the iconic songs "Under the Boardwalk," "Brown Eyed Girl," and "Baby I'm Yours." What's more, he launched the careers of Neil Diamond and Van Morrison.
In the most tragic turn, Berns didn't start having hits until he was 30, and died of a heart attack at 38. But from 1960 to 1967, he had 51 chart toppers. "He did the trifecta, which no one else did," explains his eldest child, Brett Berns. "He was the songwriter of standards, the consummate record producer. He could maneuver in the business world and have a successful record label. And he was a great talent scout who discovered so many icons and legends of rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul music."
But even with all the hits, after Berns died in 1967, he drifted into obscurity. You won't find him in the Songwriters Hall of Fame or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "Why is he so obscure? Because he died young. He didn't have a press agent to get him that lifetime achievement award and he left behind bad bones with powerful record company people," says Brett. "The people who could have honored him, decided to bury him further. Time covered him up."
But that's just wrong. Just ask Sir Paul McCartney, who declares in an upcoming documentary about Berns' life, "Bert deserves to be elevated to his rightful place in the music industry and respected and honored for it."
47 years after his passing, Bert Berns is finally getting that recognition. His children Brett and Cassie Berns have placed their dad and his epic and brilliant musical repertoire front and center in the new bio-musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story. The music-packed show, which tells the story of Berns' triumphs and travails, is now playing at New York's Signature Theater. "We had to tell his incredible true-life story in order to get him recognized for his musical legacy," says Brett about the acclaimed musical, which was 15 years in the making. "That was the only way we could get my dad honored for his music."
Brett Berns shared some astounding facts about his father, his indelible influence on music, and the songs we continue to cherish. For all the details, go to this story at Parade.
(All photos used with permission.)