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Theo Bikel: Biography

Theo Bikel: Biography
General November 14, 2010
  • Born in Vienna before moving to Palestine at the age of 13, Theodore Bikel arrived in New York from London, where he had already begun to make a name for himself as an actor. He made his Broadway debut in 1955 in The Love of Four Colonels, before making his film debut in The African Queen two years later.

    At the time, Bikel had no ambition to record, but Jac Holzman saw him perform at a Greenwich Village party where “he blew the lid off the place.” Holzman suggested he record an album of Israeli folk songs, released in 1955 as Folk Songs Of Israel. It began a long, 15-album partnership between Bikel and Elektra that lasted until 1967.

    Bikel’s Israeli series along with two albums of Russian folk songs – 1958’s Songs Of A Russian Gypsy and the 1960 album Songs Of Russia Old And New, both cut from the same cloth – were easily among Elektra’s best selling albums of the ‘50s.

    Theodore Bikel’s consistently healthy record sales gave Elektra financial stability, but had a greater importance to Jac Holzman.  “Theo’s success was critical in so many ways. Besides Josh White, he was the first person whose name on an Elektra album would encourage someone to pick it up and look at it twice.”

    Bikel passed away on July 21, 2015 at the age of 91.

Geneva's picture
on November 14, 2010 - 12:00am

Born in Vienna before moving to Palestine at the age of 13, Theodore Bikel arrived in New York from London, where he had already begun to make a name for himself as an actor. He made his Broadway debut in 1955 in The Love of Four Colonels, before making his film debut in The African Queen two years later.

At the time, Bikel had no ambition to record, but Jac Holzman saw him perform at a Greenwich Village party where “he blew the lid off the place.” Holzman suggested he record an album of Israeli folk songs, released in 1955 as Folk Songs Of Israel. It began a long, 15-album partnership between Bikel and Elektra that lasted until 1967.

Bikel’s Israeli series along with two albums of Russian folk songs – 1958’s Songs Of A Russian Gypsy and the 1960 album Songs Of Russia Old And New, both cut from the same cloth – were easily among Elektra’s best selling albums of the ‘50s.

Theodore Bikel’s consistently healthy record sales gave Elektra financial stability, but had a greater importance to Jac Holzman.  “Theo’s success was critical in so many ways. Besides Josh White, he was the first person whose name on an Elektra album would encourage someone to pick it up and look at it twice.”

Bikel passed away on July 21, 2015 at the age of 91.

Artist: 
Theo Bikel