“Danke Shoen” (Bert Kaempfert/Kurt Schwabach/Milt Gabler)

“Danke Schoen” (a.k.a. “Danke Schön”) is one of Bert Kaempfert’s best-known and most loved compositions.

It all came about when the German composer was asked by his American publisher, Hal Fein, to write a piece like “Mack the Knife,” a hit for Bobby Darin in 1959. Within moments, Kaempfert crafted the melody “Candlelight Café.” Indeed, the song appears under that title on the original issue of the bandleader’s 1963 album Living It Up!

But when producer Milt Gabler (writing as Roy Ilene) added English-language lyrics, the song became “Danke Schoen.” Surprisingly, It was first recorded by little-known British singer Craig Douglas, yet his version attracted very little attention in Britain…or anywhere else for that matter.

Lyricist Kurt Schwabach added German lyrics to the song (keeping Gabler’s title) and “Candlelight Café” was reborn as “Danke schön!” – notably using the correct German spelling. This was first recorded in early 1963 by the Croatian singer Ivo Robić in collaboration with Kaempfert’s orchestra.

Back in America, Fein – who had originally intended on placing the song with Bobby Darin – instead opted to give “Danke Schoen” to Wayne Newton, after seeing the-then 21-year-old singer perform in Las Vegas. It was a prescient decision and a perfect choice: Newton took the song all the way to number 13 in the summer of 1963.

Oddly, though, Kaempfert’s own single of “Danke Scheon” never even charted. But many covers of “Danke Schoen” ensued – including those by Martha and the Vandellas, Brenda Lee (who worked with Kaempfert in Germany around this time) and even actress Patty Duke. The song was surprisingly translated in many different languages as well. Indeed, American singer Connie Francis alone recorded the song in French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese versions. 

There were also several (easy) jazz covers of “Danke Schoen” by such players as trumpeter Chet Baker (with The Mariachi Brass) and guitarist Howard Roberts. But the one cover of “Danke Schoen” that likely pleased Bert Kaempfert most of all, though, was the superbly swinging one Duke Ellington cut in 1964 with the smoking tenor of Paul Gonsalves out in front.

“Danke Schoen” later found life for a whole new generation when Matthew Broderick memorably lip-synced Wayne Newton’s recording, “one of my personal favorites,” as his character says, on a parade float in New York City in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.