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Episode 9: Did the Comedian Harmonists actually perform with Josephine Baker?

Marlene Dietrich, Baker, Albert Einstein were just some of the people the real-life Harmonists knew and worked with. Learn about the celebrities in their circle in the podcast “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’” — produced by Broadway News and “Harmony.”

Josephine Baker (Credit: Gilles Petard)

In Broadway’s “Harmony,” the Comedian Harmonists sing backup for Marlene Dietrich, meet Albert Einstein in their dressing room after a show and sing with Josephine Baker. But how many of these people did the real-life Comedian Harmonists rub elbows with? All of them, in fact.

For starters, the group — then called the Melody Makers — were part of a 1929 revue with Dietrich (as listeners will learn in episode nine of the podcast “Who Were the Comedian Harmonists? The True Story Behind Broadway’s ‘Harmony’”).

The relationship with Einstein was a lot more personal. As in “Harmony,” Einstein knew Erich Collin. The renowned scientist was friends with Collin’s father, and Erich grew up spending time and even playing violin with him. The scene in “Harmony,” in which Einstein visits the Comedian Harmonists backstage after a performance in the U.S., isn’t known to have taken place. But, Einstein did play a large part in the fate of the group’s second tenor. 

He wrote a reference letter on Collin’s behalf so that the singer could make himself a new life in America. Listen to the episode to hear Einstein’s words.

Then, there’s Josephine Baker. The internationally acclaimed triple threat not only knew the group, she collaborated with them. By the time they recorded together, the original Comedian Harmonists had split into two groups: the exile group, the Comedy Harmonists, and the German group, the Meistersextett. Baker sang with the Comedy Harmonists, recording two French songs in September of 1935. Things went so well, she recorded two more with the ensemble later that year.

“I feel like the styles are the same,” said Allison Semmes of Baker and the Harmonists. Semmes portrayed Baker in “Harmony.” “The [group’s] harmonies are so luscious and clear and playful. And so it only made sense that they have this playful music with a singer [like Baker] who is just as playful.”

Learn more details about the true relationships between the Comedy Harmonists and the celebrities seen in “Harmony” in this week’s 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.

Listen to “Episode 6: Ari Leschnikoff, the nightingale” here.

Listen to “Episode 7: Erwin Bootz, the virtuoso” here.

Listen to “Episode 8: “The Women Beside the Men” here.