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Space Age Music Maker

Borrah Minevitch

  • Born 2 November 1905, Kiev, Russia
  • Died 26 June 1955, Paris, France

Borrah Minevitch led perhaps the oldest all-harmonica group, formed in the 1920s and performing well into the 1950s. Emigrating to the U.S. in 1913, Minevitch studied piano and violin but developed a real love for the harmonica. By the time he was 20, he was already performing as a featured soloist at both vaudeville and concert halls.

In 1925, he came up with the idea of hiring a dozen or more boys between 15 and 19, teaching them some basics of the harmonica, and dressing them up in white tie and tales. Although the group only performed one song--the only song they'd rehearsed--at their first appearance, the novelty of a whole harmonica band, using the full range from huge bass to tiny alto harmonica, made a terrific impression. Within a year, Minevitch and his Harmonica Rascals were one of the hottest acts on the vaudeville circuit.

When sound came to motion pictures, producers were desparate for material, and between 1932 and 1942, the Harmonica Rascals appeared in over two dozen shorts, as well as a number of feature films. Minevitch had a real knack for keeping the group in the press, going so far at one point as to stage his own kidnapping by Corsican pirates.

Among the alumni who apprenticed with the Harmonica Rascals are some of the most popular harmonica players of the Space Age Pop era: Leo Diamond and his brother, Abe, worked as Rascals for over a dozen years, leaving in 1940 to form his own trio. Johnny Puleo, a midget who was the subject of physical comedy in the Rascal's live performances, also left the group to work as a solo artist, but Minevitch quickly pulled him back by pointing out the fine print in Puleo's contract. That brought in Jerry Murad and Al Fiore, who went on to form the even more succesful Harmonicats. Richard Hayman was another alumnus, having played with and arranged for Minevitch in the mid-1940s.

Minevitch retired from performing in 1947 and moved back to Europe, settling in Paris. He worked intermittently as a movie producer, but died suddenly of a heart attack as he was driving alongside Lydia, his wife of three weeks. Years later, Lydia briefly and unsuccessfully attempted to revive the Rascals as a stage act.

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