The team of Johnny and George – vocalist Johnny “Baby Face” Macklin and pianist George MacLean – were Philadelphia-based entertainers who often made the train ride north to perform in Manhattan. The two debuted as a piano/vocal duo in 1937 at the 20th Century Club in Philadelphia. Their popularity at the club brought them bookings in Manhattan at Leon and Eddie’s, and slightly later the Yacht Club. During the summer of 1937 they worked in the Catskills where they first heard the Yiddish tune “Bei Mir Bist du Schon.” They reinterpreted the tune in “swingtime” and it was an immediate hit with the guests.
An engagement at the Apollo Theater followed and they probably introduced “Bei Mir Bist du Schon” during their January 1938 appearance. One story, with some truth possibly hidden here and there, had songwriter Saul Chaplin (and perhaps Sammy Cahn) listening in from the Apollo balcony, and soon after purchasing the rights from lyricist Jacob Jacobs and composer Sholom Secunda. In the hands of the Andrews Sisters it became a massive hit.
For fifteen years Johnny and George bounced between Philly and Manhattan. In Manhattan they played the Apollo Theater, 51 Club, Famous Door, and Greenwich Village Inn. In Philadelphia they were booked in a number of stylish nightclubs, although they spent much of their time at Kaliner’s Little Rathskeller. The team was active until at least 1952, performing mostly for their fans in Philadelphia. “There Are Eighty-Eight Reasons Why,” a composition by pianist MacLean, begins with an untitled boogie woogie improvisation, then moves on the song per se, with a vocal by Macklin. The easy swing and intimate presentation are delightful and is a clear indication why the two were such a successful in nightclubs, as well as the Panoram screen.