Poland's Bing Crosby: The Influence of Mieczysław Fogg
default, Poland's Bing Crosby:
The Influence of
Mieczysław Fogg, Mieczysław Fogg with a band, festival in Sopot, 1970, photo: Jerzy Michalski / Forum, center, fogg-z-zespolem-sopot-1970-forum-0427787042.jpg
It’s hard to express the enormous impact singer Mieczysław Fogg had on both Polish culture and people's lives. Undeterred, Juliette Bretan takes us on a journey through his decades of touring and singing, even under fire during WWII, explaining why Fogg has such a uniquely special place in Poland’s musical history.
A very long time ago, a group of Polish archaeologists were excavating an Egyptian tomb. They suddenly tapped against a gleaming sarcophagus, and after pulling the dirt away, they saw it was decked out from top to bottom in gold and gemstones. They shouted to each other to ease the coffin from its chamber and, meticulously opening the lid, they began the careful task of unwrapping the mummy within, until its body was fully exposed.
The mummy sat up. It had recognised the Polish language used by the archaeologists and, with heaving breaths, came a rumbling sound – a short question – from the back of its throat:
‘Is Mieczysław Fogg still giving concerts?’
So goes one of the countless anecdotes, sprouting throughout the ages across the world’s Polish diaspora, about the country’s King of Song. That anecdote may be part fantasy, but Mieczysław Fogg’s musical legacy remains as lively – and as resurrected – as the mummy in that Egyptian tomb.
For his impact and influence on Polish culture, he deserved nothing less.
What makes Fogg so phenomenal?
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Ever debonair and ever wreathed in a warm smile, Fogg was the stock crooner of Polish 20th-century music, with a career spanning pre- and post-WWII. He had a voice – a full-bodied lyrical baritone – that could melt hearts and steal souls, performing silver-toned, schmaltzy, retro-pop ballads to his capital and his country. He immortalised so many of the light schlagers streaming from Polish pens; from Julian Tuwim, Marian Hemar, Andrzej Włast, Ludwik Starski, Emanuel Schlechter, Jerzy Jurandot and so many others.
Monikers abounded – he was known as the Polish Al Jolson, or Bing Crosby, or Maurice Chevalier – and, after the latter passed away in 1972, Fogg inherited the title of ‘oldest performing singer in the world’, with a career which ultimately lasted over 60 years. Like Chevalier too, he was always effortlessly ‘tall, dark and handsome’ – suave in the old 1920s style in double-breasted blazers, a sharp brilliantined side-parting and, on occasion, a top hat, just slightly – but ever-so dashingly – tilted atop his head.
Above all else, Fogg is best-known for being a diamond of Polish yesteryear, and stanchion of the Interwar musical boom. It was his post-war renditions of the gorgeous hits of the 1920s and 1930s which rescued them from oblivion – and which many consider his best legacy. Polish musical history has a lot to thank Fogg for; his sunny yet sonorous voice, always brimming with emotion and rinsed through with a palpable vibrato, brought back the sentimental atmosphere of Interwar culture after the horror of WWII as if it had never disappeared, even though so much had been lost. Somewhere in the world, someone is probably playing his version of To Ostatnia Niedziela right now.
But – as with all legends – there was so much more to the story than that…
Prologue to Fogg
The Rise & Fall of Polish Song
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Dan’s Choir . From left: Mieczysław Fogg, Tadeusz Bogdanowicz, Wincenty Nowakowski, Władysław Daniłowski, Adam Wysocki, 1932, photo by Jerzy Benedykt Dorys / Polona - The National Digital Library
Fogg Mieczyslaw portret chor polony.jpg
Born Mieczysław Fogiel in 1901, Poland’s greatest singing legend actually began adulthood with a rather more inconspicuous career working in trains, just like his father, employed by the Warsaw Directorate of Polish State Railways. Before then, he had volunteered in the 1920 Polish-Soviet war in the motor forces, where he was a driver and then an instructor. He would retain an avid interest in motoring for the rest of his life, participating in street car races once his career blossomed in the mid-1920s – as many well-to-do young Polish gentlemen or gentlewomen were wont to try in the period.
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It took intervention from an already-distinguished Ludwik Sempoliński, who by chance spotted the young Fogiel trying out singing in church choirs, for his artistic career to really begin. Sempoliński told him to take his singing seriously and directed him first to the music professor Jan Łysakowski; Fogiel scurried from mentor to mentor, bowing under the weight of a whistle-stop tour in vocal training and notation exercises, all borne out in extortionate fees and debts.
But this eventually paid off – beginning with stints singing opera arias, or working at smaller events like weddings and funerals, his renown in Polish musical spheres grew and grew. By 1926, he even adopted a shorter, stylish, more theatrical version of his name: Mieczysław Fogg. The extra ‘g’ was added to distinguish himself from the English word ‘fog’.
His big break came two years later, when he joined the now-legendary Chór Dana (Dan’s Choir). The group had been founded by Władysław Daniłowski and Leon Badowski in 1928 to take advantage of the growing global popularity of revellers choirs, drawn straight from the meteoric rise of one band in particular: the Mills Brothers.
Chór Dana, wanting to appear as sensational as possible, began with a performance in Qui Pro Quo under the name Coro Argentino V. Dano, with its five-strong performers – including Fogg – kitted out in suitable Spanish attire, with painted sideburns and a host of sombreros. Performing in Spanish, and riding on an entrancing wave of Argentine tango which was taking Poland by storm, they were immediately a hit, and went on to become the biggest name in Polish revellers choirs. They toured across the world too; in Estonia, Latvia, the USSR, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, France and Italy. And, when they made it to the USA, they duelled with their American counterparts, the Mills Brothers – and won.
Fogg in Fashion
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But this was only the start of Fogg’s own success. Though a prosperous career with Chór Dana beckoned, his mellow voice was gaining a distinctive reputation for itself – by 1930, he was recording solo pieces for Syrena-Electro, with an exclusive contract renewed every year until the war. It proved to be an incredibly lucrative deal for Fogg – who was able to purchase his first car, a Citroën – and of course lucrative for the recording company too, as Fogg recalls:
In the 1930s, I signed contracts for one hundred songs a year. I exceeded this limit by fifty.
It took very little time before Fogg was everywhere, even featuring on advertising for Syrena, for newspapers, and for many other must-haves of the era. He set a pre-war record for album sales, selling over 100,000 copies of his impassioned version of To Ostatnia Niedziela, first performed in 1935 – which, in his own words, ‘was a hit that lasted all year round!’ Head over heels with gratitude at this particular success, the boss of Syrena-Electro thrust a gift of gold and diamond cufflinks into his hands – though Fogg ultimately cashed these in during World War II.
Mieczysław Fogg -To ostatnia niedziela [Official Audio]
With renditions of the most popular hits of the age, and a dapper personality to match, by 1937, Fogg had won a nationwide competition held by Polish Radio for the most popular singer, gaining almost 50,000 votes. According to the ‘First Lady of Polish Humour’, Stefania Grodzieńska:
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When colleagues from the theatre sang about love, audiences listened to them with pleasure, but Mieciu’s performances were believed.
Similar was said of Fogg by Mira Zimińska, who describes him as ‘a classy boy - well mannered, elegant and charming’.
Although that was far from her attitude in the late 1930s when, packed with pianist Tadeusz Sygietyński into Fogg’s second car – a Renault Celta – to travel around 48 Polish cities in a tour of parody and song, the singer drove like an utter lunatic. Fogg recalls that she had to stop him from ‘pretending to be a racing driver’.
But despite tours across Poland and the world, Fogg – always the picture of that typical pre-war elegance – stuck close to Warsaw, the hub of Polish culture in that era. In 1939, it could only have been him who appeared on the experimental first broadcasts of Polish television, transmitted from the Prudential building in the city centre – then Warsaw’s tallest. He also made it to London that year to take part in more television.
In that golden musical summer of 1939, nobody believed the destruction of everything held dear was on the horizon. Artists were still performing even in the last dregs of the period in July and August; still laughing at the acerbic satires of Włast, Tuwim and Hemar; still delighting in the sentimentality of popular music at the time. In fact, the penultimate cabaret show, Orzeł czy Reszka, also featured Fogg, dressed as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, alongside Sempoliński as a pathetic version of Hitler, and other actors dressed as Mussolini and Goebbels.
Fogg also performed in the last cabaret revue show of Interwar Poland, Pakty i Fakty (Pacts and Facts) – to an almost-empty audience. As Kazimierz Krukowski – Poland’s beloved Lopek – recalled:
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The joke about Hitler ceased to be a joke – it became a grim reality.
Fogg at war
Krukowski’s words became even more pertinent when September came. As Fogg remembered:
On 1st September, Hanka Ordonówna called me: ‘Mieciu,’ she said to me excitedly, ‘we are going to sing at railway stations for wounded soldiers!’ [...] As soon as the first train with the wounded arrived at the station, we started walking from wagon to wagon singing songs. Soldiers, often in bandages, were tired but did not lose their spirit.
This was the start of a trend marking Fogg’s experiences during the war years, in which he gave performances to inspire and support the residents of Warsaw. With the permission of the Polish Underground, and donning the pseudonym ‘Ptaszek’ (Little Bird), Fogg first performed in cafes like U Aktorek and Café Bodo, alongside other pre-eminent Interwar artists, such as Karol Hanusz, Janusz Popławski and Hanna Brzezińska.
But alongside this, Fogg – ever renowned for his liberal and humanitarian values – was also instigating the escape of his Interwar friend and Qui Pro Quo musical director Ignacy Singer, known as Iwo Wesby, and his family from the Warsaw Ghetto. They stayed with Fogg in the basement of his apartment on Koszykowa until the end of the war – a rescue which ultimately resulted in Fogg being awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations in 1989. It is also recorded that the singer attempted to save the life of the recording engineer Stanisław Tempel, until he chose to return to his family in the ghetto, and presumably perished there.
And, when the Warsaw Uprising began in 1944, it was Fogg in particular who proved a cornerstone of the Polish resistance. Ordered to perform at cafés, concert halls and establishments across the city by Polish officials, Fogg enchanted troops with a repertoire of pre-war classics alongside pieces written during the uprising. Remembering these performances in his book Od Palanta do Belcanta (From Palant to Belcanto, Warsaw 2009), he wrote:
Remembering The Artists Of The Warsaw Uprising
I once participated in an official concert for Armed Forces Day, which took place in the auditorium of the Architecture department [of Warsaw Politechnic], accompanied by the clamour of machine gun shots in the streets. The room was filled with boys and girls. The young carried guns and atomisers, they had grenades hanging from their belts. [I wonder] how many singers in the world have had an audience like that?
That concert also featured works by Chopin, Wieniawski and Młynarski, as well as performances by Zimińska, and was remembered fondly by those in attendance – one of whom was Bohdan Dembiński, who had only just recovered from his injuries in a field hospital based in the same university.
Stanisław Komornicki’s memories also remember the significance of Fogg’s performances during the Warsaw Uprising:
Someone played a few chords in harmony. The room went quiet. From mouth to mouth the message was passed on: ‘Fogg, Fogg!’ The whisper turned into a murmur, and the murmur into applause. The grey haired man bowed and said that he devoted today’s songs to boys from the Old Town. Again, we applauded, and then one by one the melodies flowed, interspersed with applause, and each of them told of the love of our homeland and Warsaw, and women and life! The words of these songs were true, we felt the truth.
Songs were sent to Fogg’s apartment on Koszykowa through the sewers on stained paper, with the singer often given mere days to learn them by heart. Their importance to the Polish forces, however, was undeniable – even if the audiences did offer the singer vastly different gifts than the diamond and gold accessories of his pre-war years:
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One day I was ordered to sing at Emilii Plater, where a military unit was stationed (this building housed the US ambassador’s residence for many years after the war). After the recital (it was noisy!), the soldiers brought me a small meal, which consisted of two glasses of spirit and two tomatoes! I have long forgotten what the potatoes look like (it was at the end of the Uprising), and here tomatoes! I threw myself greedily at this rarity.
‘I couldn’t imagine tomatoes could be so delicious,’ I confided to the branch commander. The young lieutenant thought about something for a moment, then said:
‘I’ll be right back, don’t leave.’
Half an hour has passed, maybe more. It was already grey outside. And then I saw the young commander again, but this time he looked different. His face was red, he was all sweaty and dusty. He bore as many tomatoes as he could carry in both hands.
His concerts – in barricades and hospitals, as well as more formal venues – earnt him the name ‘the troubadour of the Warsaw Uprising’, and cemented his legacy as the bard of Warsaw. As Józefa Radzymińska in her Dwa Razy Popiół (Two Times Ash) puts it:
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Fogg sang and sang. The songs flowed one after another, unstoppable, without passing, a whole sheaf of songs, it seemed as if he wanted to saturate us with the song of Warsaw, let us forget about hunger and what else we would endure here. We were leaving late at night. The sky was clear and starry. It struck me with its beauty, haughty peace of eternal things, matters far from fire and destruction, distant and still unlimited. I walked quickly to the quarters, to Hoża, and after me the girls hummed Fogg’s songs, as if they came out of a real concert, the theatre or the revue. Time got entangled for a moment. I thought it was just a September night, there was no war, no uprising. Everything became unreal: ruins and barricades, sand hills with crosses stuck in, melodies, old-fashioned peace, Fogg. Maybe I heard it only on the radio, at home on Tykocińska, lying in clean sheets? It was far away; a happy September before the war – there’s father next to me, my mother and sisters, a beautiful and interesting life awaits me?
The archives of the Home Army Information and Propaganda Offices record that Fogg performed 104 shows during the Warsaw Uprising. He was ultimately awarded the Cross of Valor and the Gold Cross of Merit with Swords, awarded by the London Government, and his uprising armband is on display in the Warsaw Uprising Museum – a testament to his importance for Polish forces during that dark period.
The music lives on
After escaping to Złotokłos following the uprising, Mieczysław Fogg returned to Warsaw on 19th January 1945, days after the Germans had abandoned the city. His house on Koszykowa was still standing – and though the flat was looted, his piano survived too. Fogg’s own survival meant he became one of the only Polish artists to bridge the gap between pre- and post-WWII cultural life, resurrecting the sounds of an era which had almost been lost to history.
And, only two months after his return, Fogg commandeered a slice of one of the still-standing buildings of Warsaw, 119 Marszałkowska – and opened the first post-war café in Warsaw. Its interior décor was constructed from metal ruins from the city – Fogg describes it as having resembled more a ‘Wild West pub’ than an establishment evoking the elegance of Polish Interwar dining. But though it may have lacked electricity, light and gas, and though it was situated in a completely decimated landscape, it did feature performances from the stars of the age alongside coffee and cake, and the best wine on tap, excavated from stashes hidden underground during the uprising – and illustrious clientele, like his pre-war champion Sempoliński. Under a twisted metal sign bearing the words ‘the most exquisite café in the capital’, suspended atop the ruins of the city, came a new dawn for the Polish light music loved by so many in the Interwar years. Fogg writes that:
Marszałkowska 119 // Café Fogg
Listen to our geo-locative audio show Unseen about how a legendary singer decided to open a café after WWII in a ruined building in the centre of town.
I wanted to give a bit of relaxation and joy to Warsaw residents returning to the city. I did not think then that ‘Café Fogg’ would in some sense become the seed of life for stage performance in the capital.
[…] A unique event in the short history of Cafe Fogg was the first ‘Afternoon tea at the microphone’ after the war. How poor, modest were the café’s doors at Marszałkowska Street compared to the elegant raspberry room at the Bristol Hotel in Warsaw, from where ‘Podwieczorki’ was broadcast before the war. But that did not offend artists or radio operators. I remember it today: first, the pre-war Polish Radio reporter Józef Małgorzewski took to the floor. Clearly emotional, he announced to radio listeners all over Poland the opening of the first ‘Afternoon tea at the microphone’ after the war, broadcast from ‘Cafe Fogg at 119 Marszałkowska Street.
The resurrection of pre-war culture was not all he did. Fogg’s first large-scale successful hit of the period, and probably the most poignant post-war tonic, was Piosenka o Mojej Warszawie.
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I found Albert Harris at the radio station, who began to get singing opportunities during the war. At one point Jurandot said to Harris: ‘Sing the song about “My Warsaw” to Fogg’... Harris, who was both the author of the music and the author of the lyrics, sat down at the piano (in the room called the radio studio) and began to sing... I was close to sobbing. In addition, the song was beautiful. My reaction touched those present – everyone had tears in their eyes. The memory of heroic Warsaw touched everyone deeply.
I turned to Harris: ‘If you give me the notes, I will sing the song in Warsaw.’ The singer and author – in one person – gave them to me with joy, giving the rights to exclusive performances. I did not think then that the song of Harris would be so strong, so suggestive, sung against the backdrop of the destroyed Warsaw, or that it would create such a sensation after its premiere at Cafe Fogg – first in the capital, then in Poland and finally reaching the breadth of the world. I sang Harris’s song in Café Fogg and at various concerts almost every day for five years. I sang it thousands of times.
From the teary audience at its debut on the streets outside Café Fogg, that song went on to be reproduced and performed time and time again by bands all over Poland – and was even reproduced in Danish. In his 1947 Red Star over Poland, the writer Edward S. Kerstein also mentions Café Fogg situated ‘amid the ruins of the Polish capital’, and that legendary song:
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The melody and words are heartbreaking in parts and stirring towards the end […] To fully appreciate ‘A Song about My Warsaw’ a person would have to hear the melody and the song sung in Polish.
Edward S. Kerstein
Mieczysław Fogg - Piosenka o mojej Warszawie
But – as the international appeal of Piosenka o Mojej Warszawie testifies towards – Fogg’s legacy was not an exclusively Polish initiative. Despite its closure, Café Fogg would be revived not merely in literal form a decade ago by Fogg’s great-grandson Michał, who established a real-life Café Fogg-cum-Interwar museum on Niecała Street, but also more recently with the Café Fogg compilation albums, which blend archive recordings of Fogg’s vocals with classic jazz, swing, reggae, funk, hip-hop and club music.
Fogg’s own post-war influence began by reinvigorating communities across Poland with a tour – delighting surprised fans who had been informed he had perished in the uprising. As Maja Staniszewska describes in the newspaper Wyborcza:
Before the war, aristocrats gave him gold and diamonds after the concerts. After the war, people brought bags of porridge to pay for the performance.
His first post-war tour came in 1947 when he visited Austria – during which he came across another pre-war legend.
I sang twenty songs, almost exclusively Polish. Among the viewers was a well-known Polish film lover, Aleksander Żabczyński, dressed in an officer’s uniform. An outstanding actor was on his way home.
But the following year came his biggest post-war enterprise yet: his establishment of a recording company, Fogg Record, which he describes in his memoirs:
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The studio was located in my apartment at 69 Koszykowa Street; the entire dining room was hung with woollen material, from ceiling to floor. This was required by acoustic rules. The recording apparatus was in... the bedroom. Sometimes this room resembled a bedroom by name only, as the recordings sometimes extended until after midnight.
And, of course, the label’s font was taken from the design of the logo for Ford cars – the avid motorist’s favourite brand.
Its pressing plant was located on Grójecka Street, with recording equipment found by his old friend Wesby. There, Polish pre-war classics and post-war hits were stamped out on confiscated German records, which had been melted down to produce new material. Fogg’s son Andrzej was the label’s chief technologist – together, father and son released over 100 titles on the old-guard 78 rpm discs.
But, much like the fate of Café Fogg, Fogg Records survived only until the early 1950s, when the newly communist Ministry of Culture banned all private gramophone recording companies from operating.
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In 1952, Życie Warszawy ran a feature under the title ‘Two Thousand Records, Twelve Thousand Performances’, on Fogg’s successes so far:
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It started about 25 years ago. Back then, a modest, slim young man with protruding hair fell in love with… Dan’s Choir. He fell in love to such an extent that he disregarded opera studies started with famous professors and devoted himself with all his heart – to song.
The article also mentioned Fogg’s international renown through touring. ‘But preferably,’ Fogg is quoted as saying, ‘of course I sing in Warsaw and for Warsaw.’ His current plans, described the article, were to wait for another Warsaw-based hit:
A nice song, homely and pretty, about somewhere like… MDM. Because we already have songs about Mariensztat and about the W-Z route – but, so far, about the pearl of Warsaw, about MDM – only silence. So I would like to appeal to the creators. To our writers and composers: finally write ‘something’ about MDM!
His plea was heard almost immediately, with the recording and release of Będziemy Mieszkać na MDM (We'll Live in MDM) around the time the article went to print. It was this taste for Polish nostalgia, suffused by the very streets of Warsaw he walked, that Fogg did best.
Halina Szpilman, wife of the pianist Władysław Szpilman, recalls meeting him in the early 1950s:
I met Mr Fogg and his wife in Zakopane on vacation. He was a very, very nice man. He had – I don’t know what kind of education – but he had a lot of culture. It is not easy to find this in a man who sings.
Mieczysław Fogg - W małym kinie [Official Audio]
Among Szpilman’s many post-war hits performed by Fogg was W Małym Kinie (In a Small Cinema), a sober, reminiscent piece mourning the loss of the traditionally cosy cinemas of Poland’s past. A video rendition in waning monochrome, taking place in a paltry-looking recording studio, is almost dream-like. Staid and sombre, Fogg, hands clasped together like an obedient schoolboy, has the camera on him almost the entire time, but he can stare only into the haunting space just above the lens, aloof in memory.
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In the song, the couple are alone in the snug sanctum of the film screening, with only Rudolph Valentino eavesdropping on their conversation from behind the screen. Fogg recalls an archetypal plot from Hollywood romantic flicks – where Valentino simply loves and dies for his sweetheart – but this is more than fiction.
‘For us,’ he concludes pensively, ‘it is true.’
But if it wasn’t for the technician pictured adjusting the recording equipment – and, naturally, completely oblivious to the real-life Fogg – the music, reaching a shrill pitch over and over again, would nearly evaporate into the air in a breath of pure wistfulness and nostalgia. That is, until a dramatic key change at the end interrupts and for the first time Fogg turns, smiling benignly, towards the camera.
Once again, the boundary between past and present, picture and reality, is suggested; framed by a receding record-sleeve, evoking that age-old and wholly retro filming technique of ‘iris-out’, Fogg contemplates the space between his current, cold existence and the older, more intimate way of life, which has now dissipated.
It really has been, as he sings, ‘like an old movie’.
Tours & travels
At the start of 1957, Fogg was offered a tour in America, where he first met up with Jan Kiepura in New York and then, when he arrived in Chicago, he ‘fell into the arms of the great pre-war singer Tadeusz Faliszewski’ and ended up staying with him there. Six months’ worth of concerts were planned – including a brief expedition in January to the UK to perform in London.
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In London, I was offered an effective desk clock depicting a globe (an allusion to my travels) with the following engraved dedication: ‘Heart in a song, and song in the heart is our Fogg.’ Often after the concert, the audience sang Sto Lat to me, and in Bedford the hall rang with the Polish anthem. They were truly unforgettable moments. Just as unforgettable was a letter with which the participants of the Warsaw Uprising welcomed me in England. Here are its fragments:
‘Dear and Beloved Singer of Warsaw, our beloved city, the city of our youth, the city of our constant longing, city of our dreams...We welcome you, Mr. Mieczysław, warmly, we former Home Army soldiers, Warsaw insurgents. Welcoming you are those who remember and with passion remember you and your songs, unceasing despite the roar of insurgent fighting, performed in the middle of macabre staging, but real songs, ones which no singer from any other city ever had... Your songs warmed up the strong ones, helped the weakening ones and were probably the last heard sound for those who gave their lives for their beloved city…’
The following year, he repeated his triumph from 21 years before, winning a Polish Radio competition for most popular singer.
Fogg also toured around Australia and New Zealand; in the 1960s, he made it to Brazil, Finland and Denmark. For his popularity in the States, he was awarded honorary citizenship of Chicago – and in 1972, he received the title of the city’s most popular Polish singer. He was also part of numerous concerts in Poland, including events commemorating the Warsaw Uprising, during which he performed uprising songs yet again.
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Billboard magazine also ran a feature on Fogg reaching the 40th anniversary of his career in 1969, including a photograph of him alongside their correspondent Roman Waschko:
Poland’s Bing Crosby, Mieczyslaw Fogg, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his career, during which 25 million copies of his records have been sold worldwide […] he sings both Polish and foreign songs.
But his music reached even smaller corners of the globe than that – Chris Kowalski, writing on Twitter, remembers how his father’s past disregard for Fogg’s music was transformed.
That changed when he was in the army and they played ‘To Ostatnia Niedziela’ whenever someone completed their obligatory time in the military as conscripted soldiers. Then it had a whole new meaning to it.
Jola Piesakowska-Jackson agrees. She is the creative mind behind MyLondyn, a campaign to collect photos related to the history of the Polish community in the capital of the United Kingdom, and published a photograph of Fogg as a beaming tourist in front of Buckingham Palace: ‘As a child in London in the 1960s and 1970s,’ she says, ‘we only knew him as part of the yearning our parents felt for their lost home, family, childhood friends and friends they fought alongside.’
Fogg has a similar meaning for Anna Kucewitz, who runs the blog PolishAtHeart. Born in the UK to Polish parents, Kucewitz’s works on bridging British and Polish cultures, promoting her heritage in the circles of international Polonia – and Fogg is at its heart.
‘Growing up in the UK with Polish parents and grandparents, the music of the 1930s was ever present,’ she recounts. Her grandmother performed classic Polish hits as a soloist at Akademie in the Polish Parish Centre – but also practiced at home, with songs that Fogg popularised, such as Złociste Chryzantemy and Waltz François.
For a child growing up in the forward-looking 1970s, this was like a secret wardrobe in which we lived amongst familiar memories of better times, comforting and homely. For me, these songs spoke of the real Polish world I should have been born into before the upheaval of the war that brought my family here, a world that felt more familiar than the English one surrounding me. I probably heard Fogg’s name mentioned and my grandparents may have had his records, but it was only at the funeral of a friend’s father, Witold Szablewski, a Powstaniec, that I heard Fogg’s Warszawa played at the crematorium and it totally summed up his devotion to this beloved city throughout his life. The day after, I bought a CD of Fogg’s music including this track and I listen to it often to remember my childhood and the people who surrounded me then. I also think Cafe Fogg is a great idea to bring Fogg’s music to a younger generation.
It is this continuation of Fogg’s legacy through thick and thin, across borders and nations, which testifies most to the singer’s vast influence in Polish culture – just as the man himself, and his music, survived through the horrors of the mid-20th century, and the changing face of popular Polish music. Crooning a standard pre-war ł, and always with a welcoming smile, Fogg could be described as everyone’s Polish grandfather – a grandfather to Warsaw, to the Polish diaspora, and of course to his own family too, who all ended up living close together in his city. He was always genteel and well-prepared for concerts – it has been calculated that, across his life, he gave 16,000 performances.
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Ludwik Sempoliński & Mieczysław Fogg - Czy jest różnica... (1974)
Jerzy Waldorff once wrote:
I see no logical reason why Mieciu should not live and sing forever.
Therefore, I foresee that he will appear in court at the Last Judgement in his festive tailcoat. Seeing the Ancient One, however, he will be a little scared and cry out:
To which the Lord will smile and answer:
‘My Fogg! Sing something for the angels first, and then I will judge you.’
And Mieciu will sing, and the delighted angels will beat their wings for a long time…
At the end of Fogg’s own memoirs, he too indulged in thoughts on his widespread success, wondering how long his career and music would be loved by Poles and non-Poles alike, near and far.
My head is grey and I am still learning, training…And I still feel full of creative forces. So I’d like to end my memories written on these pages with words that I often direct from the stage to the public:
‘I declare to you that I was young, I am young and I will be young as long as you will wish it so...’
art of the interwar period
Written by Juliette Bretan, August 2019.
Sources: ‘Od Palanta do Belcanta’, Fogg, 1976; ‘Moja Warszawska’, Kazimierz Krukowski, 1957; wyborcza.pl; fogg.pl; gazetakaszubska.pl; gazeta.pl.