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Episode 6: The golden nightingale of Germany

Learn about the high tenor of the famed Comedian Harmonists in the sixth episode of the podcast “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’” — produced by Broadway News and “Harmony.”

Ari Leschnikoff (Credit: Bettman/Getty Images)

On nearly every recording of the Comedian Harmonists, there is a voice floating high above the rest. It’s the voice of the group’s high tenor Asparuch David Leschnikoff, better known as Ari. “More like soprano than tenor,” said actor Steven Telsey, who played Leschnikoff in Broadway’s “Harmony.” “Ari had these beautiful, golden, effortless pipes, and it’s one of the most brilliant sounds I’ve ever heard come out of a singer’s mouth. Truly.”

Telsey isn’t the only one to think so. At the height of the Comedian Harmonists’ fame, world-champion boxer Max Schmeling bumped into the group and signed an autograph for Leschnikoff addressed to “the golden nightingale.”

“There’s a video of him singing later in his life, well into his sixties in Bulgaria, way after the Comedian Harmonists, and he’s sitting on a couch smoking a cigarette,” Telsey described, “and he still sounds exactly the same.”

Leschnikoff was born and raised in Bulgaria. He learned to sing from his mother and moved to Berlin to study music. He lived in student housing and worked at a restaurant as a singing waiter. In 1926, Leschnikoff became a member of the chorus at the Berlin Schauspielhaus, where he met Robert Biberti. Soon enough, Biberti had recruited Leschnikoff to join the Comedian Harmonists. In turn, Leschnikoff brought on the piano player from his restaurant gig: Erwin Bootz. It was all coming together.

Indeed, Leschnikoff’s voice is a stamp of the Comedian Harmonists’ sound. His appreciation of beauty and presentation also became a signature of the group’s appearance. “Leschnikoff was responsible for the exterior, for the tail coats, the hair…” said podcast historian Jan Grübler.

In “Harmony,” there is one night with a wardrobe malfunction. The musical depicts the group scrambling after someone steals their suits; they go onstage in waiters’ jackets and not much else. The incident, while not exactly how it happened, is based on a real occurrence. “They went before to the wardrobe and dropped down all their things and their clothing, and when they came back at night to get ready for the stage, then I think three of their tailcoats were stolen,” Grübler explained. 

To find out the real story of that night and learn more about Leschnikoff, his upbringing, his relationships and more, listen to the sixth episode of “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’”:

Want to know the specifics of the fortune and fate of the group and its members? Listen to the full debut episode of “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’” with the player above or download and subscribe to the podcast on platforms including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. New episodes of “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists?” (produced by Broadway News and “Harmony” A New Musical and edited by Daniel Piñeiro) are released on Wednesdays.

Listen to the podcast’s trailer here.

Listen to “Episode 1: The Comedian Harmonists” here.

Listen to “Episode 2: Harry Frommermann, the founder” here.

Listen to “Episode 3: Erich Collin, the intellectual” here.

Listen to “Episode 4: Josef Roman Cycowski, the peacemaker” here.

Listen to “Episode 5: Robert Biberti, the manager” here.