Minnie Bagelman (April 6, 1923 - October 31, 1976) and Clara Bagelman (October 17, 1920 - November 22, 2014), best known under the stage names Merna and Claire Barry, were popular American Klezmer and jazz entertainers from the 1940s to the early 1970s.
Minnie and Clara were born in the Bronx, New York to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, Herman and Ester, from the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires, respectively. Minnie and Clara also had two younger sisters, Celia and Julia. When Minnie and Clara decided to entertain by singing in Yiddish, as The Bagelman Sisters, their father told them they would need to do it in the manner of the Old World and not with American accents.
The young girls got their first break as singers on WLTH Radio's "Uncle Norman" show for children and were still then known as The Bagelman Sisters. They made their first recordings with Victor Records in the late 1930s. They made a name for themselves as Yiddish jazz singers. When the Andrews Sisters' version of the Yiddish song, "Bei Mir Bistu Shein" (as "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön"), became a hit, musician and composer Sam Medoff, known professionally as Dick Manning, started his "Yiddish Melodies in Swing" radio program on New York's WHN. Before joining the radio show, the sisters made a change of their stage surname from Bagelman to Barry.
From 1937 until the mid-1950s they performed on the program, where they would sing jazz recordings in Yiddish. Their recordings included popular tunes, such as "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", translated into Yiddish ("Trop'ns Fin Regen Oif Mein Kop"). They also performed in New York's Catskills resort hotels. They eventually toured with Mickey Katz. During the height of their popularity, they made appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, The Jack Paar Program and The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. They were one of the few American acts to tour the Soviet Union in 1959. The sisters entertained Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War. The Barry Sisters "didn't look like the typical Yiddish theater stars or singers of that era", said Breier. "They looked glamorous. And they spared no expense for their orchestrations--they always had the best orchestrations possible."
Merna Barry, later Mrs. Emanuel Pine, was born on April 6, 1923 and died on October 31, 1976, aged 53 (not 51 as was misreported) from a brain tumor following a lengthy hospitalization in Manhattan's Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital.
Claire Barry (later Mrs. Easton) was born on October 17, 1920 and died on November 22, 2014, aged 94, in Aventura, Florida, having survived her younger sister by 38 years. She was survived by a daughter, Joy Pargman. Claire Barry Easton was featured in the 2002 NPR radio show, The Yiddish Radio Project.
The sisters' 11th and final album, Our Way, was issued in 1973.
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