Mieczysław Fogg was Polish singer with a baritone voice. A legendary artist of pre-war Warsaw cabarets and revue theatres who continued his career after the war, Fogg excelled at sentimental songs. He was known for his excellent technique and the elegance of his performances. Fogg’s career lasted sixty years (he performed until the age of eighty-six), an unprecedented achievement in the history of Polish stage.
Polish singer with a lyric baritone voice.
He was born Mieczysław Fogiel on 30th May, 1901 in Warsaw, and he passed away in the same city on 3rd September, 1990. Always loyal to his native city, Fogg was popular with several generations of listeners in Poland and abroad. He performed famous tangos in a unique way and reached people’s hearts with his songs about love. His best known hits were the Tango Milonga, To Ostatnia Niedziela (This Is the Last Sunday), Jesienne Róże (Autumn Roses), Mały Biały Domek (Little White House), Już Nigdy (Never Again), Pieśń O Matce (A Song About the Mother).
‘I Remember the Days’
Mieczysław’s mother was a storekeeper and his father was a driver for a railway company. Fogg attended a technical secondary school on Jezuicka Street. In 1910, he joined the Polish scouts. As he entered adulthood, he enlisted in the Polish Army (1919-1921) and took part in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920.
In 1922, Fogg began working in the Warsaw Directorate of the Polish State Railways, a form of making amends to the ambitions of his father, who wanted him to pursue a career in engineering, transportation and road-building. From his early years, however, Fogg wanted to devote his life to music, and maintained a belief in his talent. Initially, he sang in church choirs, where he was noticed by Ludwik Sempoliński, who told him he should seriously consider an education in singing and sent him to Jan Łysakowski, a professor at the Department of Vocal Sciences of the Fryderyk Chopin Music School in Warsaw. Fogg’s ambition and talent were supplemented by hours of meticulous study: note reading, diaphragm exercises, back to note reading, and so on. His next musical mentors included Eugeniusz Mossakowski (1926-28), Michał Ardatti (1928-29), Anna Floriani-Zbierzchowska, Wacław Brzeziński, Ignacy Dygas, Stefan Belina-Skupiewski, Stanisław Kopf, and Adam Didur. Fogg began to earn money by singing at weddings and funerals, but, since the money did not cover the costs of his education entirely, he also had to moonlight as a claqueur at the opera.
In 1926, Mieczysław Fogiel adopted his stage name, Fogg. He debuted as a soloist with a number of opera arias on 10th December, 1928, in the concert hall on 14 Kredytowa St. In the same year, he became a member of Dan’s Choir, named after Władysław Daniłowski, the leader of the group. The quintet, hiding behind the Spanish-sounding name Coro Argentino V. Dano, debuted on 29th March, 1929 in the legendary Warsaw cabaret theatre, Qui Pro Quo. The members of Dan’s Choir later sang folk songs from the Tatra mountains and the Łowicz region in jazz arrangements. Fogg recalled:
After one of our shows, a man with a benevolent smile visited us in the backstage. ‘I really liked your jazz versions of the folk songs’, he said with admiration. The man’s name was Karol Szymanowski.
‘To Be Young, And Nothing More’
Fogg’s first albums with Dan’s Choir were recorded in July 1929, and his solo albums followed in March 1930. He toured with the choir in Estonia, Latvia, the USSR, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, France, and Italy. He received a wealth of offers. When the troupe were on their way to the United States aboard the Ile de France, a ‘duel’ ensued with one of the best US groups, the Mills Brothers. Dan’s Choir won 3:1 in encores.
In 1931, Fogg took part in music radio shows organised by the Gebethner and Wolff publishing house and began to give radio recitals. He performed on stage with Stanisław Nawrot’s orchestra, to the accompaniment of Ludwik Urstein. Fogg stayed with Qui Pro Quo until 1933 and later associated with other theatres and revues. He finally left Dan’s Choir and redirected his efforts into his solo career, recording up to 150 songs in a year. He later recalled:
In the 1930s, I signed contracts for a hundred songs per year. I exceeded that limit by fifty and earned the nickname, ‘worker ant’.
He collaborated with famous cabaret artists, both on stage and in recordings: he worked with Hanka Ordonówna, Stefcia Górska, Zula Pogorzelska, and Adolf Dymsza. He also set a record in prewar music sales with his To ostatnia niedziela album, which sold in more than 100,000 copies.
In 1937, Fogg won in a country-wide vote of the Polish Radio listeners for the most popular singer, gathering almost 50,000 votes (out of the 150,000 cast in total).
He opened his two-week tour in the United States with a performance in New York on 12th October, 1938, and went on to sing in the Rivoli theatre in Buffalo, NY, and the Congress theatre in Chicago, as well as Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, and Philadelphia. He also recorded an album for the famous record company RCA Victor.
Fogg was the first Polish artist to perform live on TV when he sang in London in 1939 in a British TV studio.
Poland's Bing Crosby: The Influence of Mieczysław Fogg
‘I’ll Be Back, My Love’
On the eve of the war, Fogg performed as Chamberlain at the Ali Baba cabaret theatre in a revue show Orzeł czy Rzeszka (Eagle or the Reich, a play on the Polish expression for ‘heads or tails’). The next show, Fakty i Pakty (Facts and Pacts), opened on 31st August, 1939. On 4th September, a bomb turned the theatre to rubble. In the first days of the war, Fogg performed for the Polish military. He recalled:
Hanka Ordonówna called me on September 1. ‘Mieciu’, she told me in an excited voice, ‘Let’s go to the railway stations, let’s sing for the wounded soldiers!’ … As soon as the first train with the wounded entered the station, we started going from car to car, singing songs. The soldiers, many of them with bandaged wounds, were exhausted but fearless. ‘We won’t give up!’ they shouted.
Fogg left Warsaw on 6th September, 1939, together with a group of actors from the Association of Polish Stage Artists (ZASP). He reached Lviv, where he performed for the radio and revue shows in the Stylowy nickelodeon until 29th October, 1939. He returned to Warsaw, where he spent the years of the German occupation. During that time, he performed in coffee houses that were open to Polish citizens.
The spontaneous reactions of the audience to Fogg’s first occupation-era song, Ukochana, Ja Wrócę (I’ll be Back, My Love), sung to the music of Tadeusz Müller and with the lyrics written by Eugeniusz Żytomirski, attracted the attention of a drunk Gestapo member who aimed his gun at the performer. Fogg, who was shortsighted, did not react, but the German officer chased him backstage, where, thankfully, the woman he came to the club with wrestled the gun out of his hands. The artist was called in for an interrogation by the Gestapo, where, luckily, he managed to talk his way out of the situation.
The Home Army (AK), a Polish resistance group, warned the singer that Germans had been observing him for some time. He temporarily suspended his singing career and worked for a while as a waiter.
‘A Song About My Warsaw’
Fogg, who was a member of the AK, helped organise clandestine instruction and performed during the Warsaw Uprising to uplift the fighters and civilians in the city.
According to the archives, he performed 104 times in war shelters, field hospitals, and at the barricades. He was wounded several times and was later given the Cross of Valour and—as the fourth Pole—the Gold Cross of Merit with Swords, an award of the Polish Government in Exile. His armband from the Uprising is now part of the collection of the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
During the occupation, Mieczysław Fogg shielded his Jewish friends in his apartment. The Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded him the Righteous Among the Nations medal.
Following the Uprising, Fogg left Warsaw together with the civilians. He settled in Złotokłos, a village near Tarczyn, south of Warsaw, only to return to Warsaw on 18th January, 1945. He performed in 1945-46 in the ruins of the building at 119 Marszałkowska St, giving recitals in an artistic coffeeshop he opened. The host of Café Fogg was famous for his performances of Piosenka o Mojej Warszawie (A Song About My Warsaw), written in the last days of the Uprising. He recalled:
A little over a year had passed and, upon the advice of my doctor, I had to close the coffeeshop. Working and singing in the smoke-filled building was dangerous to my health, not to mention my voice.
Marszałkowska 119 // Café Fogg
‘A Grey Hair’
In 1947, Fogg left for Austria for his first post-war performances abroad. In 1948, he started his own music publishing company, Fogg Record, in his apartment on 69 Koszykowa St. He published over a hundred albums. He commented, ‘the albums published by my record company were produced in few copies. It was like an infant that never grew. By 1951, I was done with my business.’
At the turn of 1958, Fogg toured the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France. In 1958, he repeated the success of twenty-one years prior, winning the Polish Radio’s vote for the most popular singer.
On his next tour, he visited Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. On his way back to Poland, he gave a recital in Jakarta. In 1961, he played concerts in Brazil and in 1963, in Finland and the United States, for the fourth time. He also visited the USSR, in 1969 he performed in Denmark. He went to the US again in 1970 and 1972. When Maurice Chevalier died in 1972, Fogg became the oldest performing singer in the world.
In Poland, he was a guest performer at the Syrena Theatre, as well as at a number of shows. Together with the Chmielna Street Orchestra, he raised funds for the reconstruction of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
Throughout the sixty years of his career, Fogg, according to reputed sources, gave around sixteen thousand concerts in twenty-five European countries as well as Brazil, Israel, and Sri Lanka. He also performed for Polish émigré circles in New Zealand, Australia, and—numerous times—the US and Canada. His repertoire included over two thousand songs. He was often referred to as the ‘Polish Bing Crosby.’
He last performed publicly in 1988. His voice was immortalised on albums released in Poland and abroad, including the United Kingdom, the USA, and Australia. The total count of his albums exceeded twenty-five million copies. He produced many records with the orchestras of Zygmunt Karasiński, Stanisław Nawrot, Jan Cajmer, Władysław Kabalewski, Tadeusz Sygietyński, Władysław Skoraczewski, Jerzy Harald, Stefan Rachoń, Piotr Szymanowski, Tadeusz Suchocki, Jerzy Abratowski, and Marek Sewen.
For many generations, Mieczysław Fogg became a symbol of the Polish song. He recorded twenty-five episodes of memoirs for the Polish Radio. His diary, Od palanta do belcanta (From a Ninny to Belcanto), was published in 1971. The book closes with the following statement from the artist: ‘I hereby declare that I have been young, am still young, and will be young for as long as you want me to…’
‘What’s Left For Us From Those Years’
The songs of Mieczysław Fogg, propelled by the wave of the so-called retro-pop, have found their way to the repertoire of artists working on club music, such as Cinq G, The Bumelants, DJ Twisters, as well as Aleksandra Nieśpielak, Marysia Sadowska, and Mika Urbaniak. The most popular songs were recorded on the album Fogga Ragga (Cinq G, 2006), as well as Café Fogg (2008) and Café Fogg 2 (2009), published on the initiative of Michał Fogg, the grandson of the artist and consisting of remixes and arrangements of Fogg’s songs, as performed by various singers.
'The strength of my grandfather’s art was that as the decades passed, he stayed true to his style,’ Michał Fogg says. ‘Many tried to convince him to change with the times, but he refused. He incorporated many innovations, but the only compromise he ever agreed to was his collaboration with the big-beat bands such as Klipsy i Karaty and, later, Baby Jagi, whose music he complemented with his sentimental tunes.
[Michał Fogg, ‘Śpiewająca Mrówa’, an interview with Jacek Cieślak, Rzeczpospolita, September 27, 2008.]
The Mieczysław Fogg Polish Festival of the Retro Song has been taking place since 2004, supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Fogg family.
[All quotations from Mieczysław Fogg come from his book, Od palanta do belcanta (Warsaw: Prószyński i S-ka, 2009).]
‘Tango Milonga’: The Remarkable Journey of a Polish Interwar Hit
art of the interwar period
- Mieczysław Fogg śpiewa piosenki swojej młodości (Mieczysław Fogg Sings the Songs of His Youth, 1960, vinyl – 33rpm, Muza SX 0187 – Polskie Nagrania)
- Wspomnienia dawnych dni (Memoirs of Old Days, 1965, vinyl – 33 rpm, Polskie Nagrania XL 0272)
- Co nam zostało z tych lat… (What’s Left For Us From Those Years, vinyl, Polskie Nagrania)
- Oczarowanie, (Enchantment, 1968, vinyl, Polskie Nagrania, XL 0432 HI-FI)
- Zapomniana piosenka (A Forgotten Song, 1969, vinyl, Polskie Nagrania XL 0525)
- Ukochana ja wrócę (I’ll Be Back, My Love, 1981, vinyl – 33 rpm, Muza SX 2344)
- Niezapomniane przeboje (Unforgettable Hits, 1987, vinyl – 33 rpm, Muza SX 2467)
- Starszy pan (An Older Gentleman, 1992, CD, Polskie Nagrania PNCD 198)
- Złote przeboje (Golden Hits, CD, AKAR AKCD-013)
- Złota kolekcja – Jesienne róże (A Golden Collection: Autumn Roses, 2001, CD, EMI)
- Ta ostatnia niedziela (seria: Polskie perły) (This Last Sunday, part of the Polish Jewels series, CD, Polskie Nagrania)
- Od piosenki do piosenki (seria: Gwiazdozbiór muzyki rozrywkowej) (“From One Song to Another, part of the Constellation of Popular Music series, CD, Polskie Radio)
- A ja sobie gram na gramofonie. Przeboje Mieczysława Fogga 1933-1939 (And I Just Play the Grammophone. The Hits of Mieczysław Fogg, 1933-1939, CD, 4ever Music 2007)
- 40 Piosenek Mieczysława Fogga (seria: 40 piosenek) (The 40 Songs of Mieczyslaw Fogg, part of the 40 Songs series, 2011, 2CD, Polskie Nagrania)
EP, singles (selection)
- Mieczysław Fogg śpiewa piosenki swojej młodości (Mieczysław Fogg Sings the Songs of His Youth, EP N 145)
- Siwy włos / Kochana (A Gray Hair / My Love, Pronit)
In the interwar period, together with Dan’s Choir:
- 1930 – Niebezpieczny romans (A Dangerous Love Affair, dir. Michał Waszyński)
- 1930 – Na Sybir (To Siberia, dir. Henryk Szaro)
- 1931 – Straszna noc (A Terrible Night, dir. Konstanty Meglicki)
- 1931 – Dziesięciu z Pawiaka (The Ten from the Pawiak Prison, dir. Ryszard Ordyński)
- 1932 – Ułani, ułani, chłopcy malowani (Uhlans, uhlans, the Painted Boys, dir. Mieczysław Krawicz)
- 1932 – Rok 1914 (The Year 1914, dir. Henryk Szaro)
- 1932 – Pałac na kółkach (The Palace on Wheels, dir. Ryszard Ordyński)
- 1932 – Biała trucizna (White Poison, dir. Alfred Niemirski) – no copy survived
- 1932 – Sto metrów miłości (One Hundred Meters of Love, dir. Konrad Tom)
- 1934 – Parada rezerwistów (Parade of the Reservists, dir. Michał Waszyński)
- 1935 – Wacuś (dir. Michał Waszyński)
- 1935 – Panienka z poste restante (The Young Lady from General Delivery, dir. Jan Nowina-Przybylski, Michał Waszyński)
- 1936 – Dodek na froncie (Dodek at the Front, dir. Michał Waszyński)
- 1937 – Parada Warszawy (The Warsaw Parade, dir. Konrad Tom)
- 1939 – Ja tu rządzę (I Am the Boss Here, dir. Mieczysław Krawicz)
- 1939 – Przybyli do wsi żołnierze (Soldiers Came to the Village)– no copy survived
After the war:
- 1972 – Sentymentalny pan (A Sentimental Gentleman), documentary, biographical film (dir. Ludwik Perski) – protagonist
- 1976 – Sercem śpiewane (Sung with the Heart), documentary, biographical film (dir. Marian Kubera) – protagonist
- 1980 – Dom (House, dir. Jan Łomnicki), TV series, ep. 3: ‘Warkocze naszych dziewcząt będą białe’ (The Braids of Our Girls Will Be White) – as himself, the owner of Café Fogg
- 1981 – Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy (Love Forgives All, dir. Janusz Rzeszewski) – as a spectator
- 1995 – Na przekór modom, czyli M. Fogg i jego piosenki (Against Fads, Or M. Fogg and His Songs, dir. Ryszard Wolański) – the subject of a commemorative TV show
- Subject of a biographical entry in the TV version of the Lexicon of Polish Popular Music (episode 19)
- 1944 – Cross of Valour
- 1944 – Gold Cross of Merit with Swords
- 1952 – Gold Cross of Merit
- 1954 – Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
- 1955 – The Medal of the 10th Anniversary of People's Republic of Poland
- 1961 – Gold Medal of Merit for Warsaw
- 1962 – Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
- 1967 – Thousand Years of Polish Statehood Decoration
- 1976 – Distinguished Cultural Service Award
- 1976 – Second Class of the Order of the Banner of Work
- 1981 – First Class of the Order of the Banner of Work
- 1986 – Commander’s Cross with Star of The Order of Polonia Restituta
- 1987 – Golden Badge of Honour of the Polonia Society
Awards, achievements, titles (selection)
- 1957 – the chief of the Tuscarora people established blood brotherhood with the artist, bestowing upon him the name of Singing White Eagle
- 1964 – Golden Badge of the Warsaw Fund for the Rebuilding of the Capital
- 1968 – the award of the chairman of the Committee of Radio and Television, ‘for highly valuable recordings for the Polish Radio’
- 1968 – the Golden Cormorant award at the show band festival in Olsztyn
- 1969 – Gold Badge of Honour for merits for Warsaw
- 1970 – Lifetime Achievements Golden Record awarded by the Polskie Nagrania record company
- 1970 – Mieczysław Fogg Day in Buffalo (October 28), proclaimed by the mayor of the town
- 1972 – The most popular singer of the year title, awarded by listeners of Bob Lewandowski’s radio show in Chicago
- 1976 – diploma of the Minister of Foreign Affairs
- 1977 – Homo Varsoviensis – title and award given to distinguished Varsovians
- 1979 – First Class of the Prime Minister’s Award in the domain of art and performance, awarded on the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of People’s Republic of Poland for ‘a lifetime of distinguished artistic achievement’
- 1989 – Righteous Among the Nations – a title awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem
- 2000 – Eighth place in Gazeta Wyborcza’s poll for the Varsovian of the twentieth century
Author: Janusz R. Kowalczyk, August 2013. Translated by AM.
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