From "Tell Him" to "Twist and Shout": Piece of My Heart Looks at the Man Behind the Music

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06 Jul 2014

Bert Berns with
Bert Berns with

The new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story examines the life and legacy of pop songwriter Bert Berns.


What Rolling Stone called "one of the great untold stories of rock and roll" is finally being told. Currently at book stores in a recently-released hardcover called "Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues" by former rock critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joel Selvin — and now in musical form at the Signature Center with Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story.

Both titles are songs among the 51 pop-chart singles Berns created in his seven years as a songwriter and record producer, creating hits like "Twist and Shout," "Hang On Sloopy," "Cry to Me," "Cry Baby," "Tell Him," "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," "I Want Candy," "Brown-Eyed Girl," and more, for such artists as The Beatles, Neil Diamond, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, Lulu and The Isley Brothers.

All of these were written on borrowed time and with a broken heart. At 14, Berns got rheumatic fever and was told he wouldn't live to see 21. He ended up living to see all of 38. Berns died Dec. 30, 1967 from a heart attack. As Selvin put it, "You know, when Berns died, it was all over."

Berns rubbed elbows with other musical theatre muses like Carole King (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (Smokey Joe's Cafe), Ellie Greenwich (Leader of the Pack), Burt Bacharach (What's It All About?) and the like in the corridors of songwriting factories like The Brill Building and other musical Meccas in Manhattan in the 1960s. Now, it's time for Berns's story to be sung.

Piece of My Heart looks at both the past, and the present — the past being the world of the 60s during Berns's meteoric career; the present viewed through the eyes of his grown daughter, Jessie, struggling to get his music catalog from her mother and find the father that she never knew.


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