Borrah Minevitch

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A greatly talented Russian harmonica player, his big band was a frequent visitor to the silver screen in the 1930s.
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b. 5 November 1902, Borovin, Minsk, Belarus, d. 26 June 1955, Paris, France. Minevitch went to America with his family in 1906. After studying piano and violin, he chose the harmonica. His playing skill allowed him to play in vaudeville theatres and on the concert platform. In 1925 he formed a harmonica band, its members dressing formally and playing on the entire range of instruments in the harmonica family, many of which are seldom seen or heard. The band, which he named his Harmonica Rascals, caught on and were a hit in vaudeville and also appeared in Good Boy (1928), which ran for 253 performances, and Sweet And Low (1930), which starred Fanny Brice and George Jessell and ran for 184 performances. With the arrival of sound, the band was in demand in Hollywood for short films and also for spots in full-length features, including One In A Million (1936) Rascals (1938), Hit Parade Of 1941 (1940), Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1942), and Top Man (1943). In the mid-30s the band made a concert tour of Europe and visited London.

Among the 100 or so musicians who played in Minevitch’s band over the years were Ben Burley, Irvin Crane, Ben Dansky, Lou Delin, brothers Abe and Leo Diamond, Dave Doucette, Louis Feldman, Al Fiore, Carl Ford, Al Furbish, Eddie Gordon, Richard Hayman, James Kenneth, Harold Liechtenstein, Hugh MacKaskey, Etto Manieiri, brothers Pat and Frank Marquis, Ernie Morris, Jerry Murad, Alex Novelle, Pete Pedersen, Sammy Ross and Johnny Puleo (a midget who played a giant harmonica). In later years, two ex-Rascals, Fiore and Murad, went on to form their own band, the Harmonicats.

With his band, Minevitch played popular songs of the day as well as many light classical pieces specially arranged, sometimes by Minevitch himself, for their unusual instrumentation. Minevitch also composed some music, including, with Leo Diamond, ‘Suite Philharmonica’. In 1947, Minevitch retired to live in Europe where he occasionally worked in the production side of the motion picture industry and also appeared briefly in Botta E Risposta (1950, English-language title: I’m In The Revue). After his death in June 1955, his wife, Lucille, whom he had married only a few weeks beforehand, revived the Harmonica Rascals under Novelle’s leadership, but times had changed and the act quickly folded.