The National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a wonderful, powerful and influential experience for us. (I wrote about it here.) Right after that first visit I went in search of Yiddish music. That was how I discovered and fell in love with The Barry Sisters.
Born in the 1920s in the Bronx, New York, Clara and Minnie Bagelman began performing as children. They eventually took the stage names Claire and Merna Barry. First generation Jewish girls of Ashkenazi descent, they sang in Yiddish, Hebrew, English and other languages. They became international stars known as The Barry Sisters. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show sixteen times, so chances are good I saw them more than once. But unfortunately my strongest memories of that show are mostly of The Beatles, Topo Gigio and various comedians.
Claire and Merna have powerful, beautiful voices. Their singing can be haunting, moving, exhilarating and charming. Yes, some of the arrangements are certainly of an era and to some, may feel a little dated; a little campy; a little schmaltzy. But I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Mottola, Perry Como, Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Patti Page - - - you get the idea! So when I first heard The Barry Sisters, I was an immediate fan.
The photo above is one of my favorites. It was used on their album “Their Greatest Yiddish Hits”. That was the album that drew me in. You can still find many reissued and compilation albums for The Barry Sisters on Amazon and elsewhere.
Sadly, Merna died in 1976. She was only 51 years of age.
Her sister Claire died last Monday. She was 94.
Zichrona liveracha ~ May their memories be a blessing.
The Jewish Daily Forward published a nice write-up about Claire’s passing.
Here is Claire’s more comprehensive obituary from the Music section of The New York Times.
And here is Merna’s 1976 obituary, also from The New York Times.
Aleha hashalom ~ Peace be upon them
This is one of my favorite songs by The Barry Sisters...