East German singer Brigitt Petry fled to West Germany in the mid-1960s and released a string of great singles. She lent her soulful vocal style to a range of material but never enjoyed the success she, arguably, deserved.
She was born in Berlin on 14 March 1943 and grew up in on the eastern side of the city after it was divided. After leaving school she enrolled in a music conservatory in Halle.
In the early 1960s, she landed a recording contract with Amiga and issued a number of records in East Germany and, through its distributors, in the rest of the Eastern Bloc. Releases included When the saints go marching in, … Dann wird Liebe aus der Liebelei, Blue beat and I saw Linda yesterday.
In 1965 she fled communist East Germany, taking a route via Yugoslavia and Austria to end up in West Germany. Her flight earned her a certain notoriety and she was quickly offered a contract with the Polydor label.
The disappointing Jeder geht einmal den Weg in das Glück was issued as her first single in the West later that year but didn’t land the singer a hit. (Fans now prefer to flip the record over for Sunny-Honey-Boy.)
The moodier Vergessen was issued as her first single of 1966, though a typo on the label added an ‘e’ to her first name, leaving her billed as Brigitte Petry. When it flopped, the record label entered her for the Deutsche Schlagerfestspiele, held in June that year, as a way of boosting her profile. Her entry, So alt wie die Welt, was atypically downbeat for the contest but defied the odds by finishing a respectable fourth, ahead of songs by better-known German girls, including Marion and Mary Roos. (Norway’s Wencke Myhre won the contest with her Schlager-beat gem Beiß nicht gleich in jeden Apfel.)
Her relative success led to a slot in neighbouring Switzerland’s final to find a song for the 1967 Eurovision song contest. Sadly, her Karussell, Karussell lost out to Swiss singer Géraldine’s Quel coeur vas-tu briser, and remained unreleased. (Brigitt’s disappointment was tempered when her rival finished in last place at the contest in Vienna, having scored no points.)
After Sie sind so wie wir, issued later that year, failed to impress German record buyers, she was teamed with German singer Jack White (later better known for his song writing) for I love you (Was kann ich denn dafür) in 1967. The song, a cover of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s Somethin’ stupid, probably seemed like a sure-fire route to a hit, but it wasn’t to be.
Jack-less – and with a new blond hairdo – she recorded Kannst du verzeih’n, a terrific version of US singer Sandy Posey’s I take it back, but the song was consigned to the B-side of the dreary Wenn die Glocken läuten later that year.
In 1968 she became involved in writing her own material. Both the rather camp Hey, hey Boy (Von Liebe war niemals die Rede) and its flip, Traumland, gave her writing credits.
By this time, she was earning industry respect for her appearances in the stage version of the musical Hello Dolly! and in various other stage, TV and film roles. However, without a chart hit, Polydor pulled the plug on her contract.
Undeterred, she switched to EMI Columbia and issued one of the best records of her career, ...Da beisst ein Goldfisch an, which was credited simply to Brigitt. The A-side was a take on The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation’s Watch ‘n’ chain. It is the flip, Lass die Hände von Bill Bailey, a cover of New Zealand-born Gale Garnett’s You’ve been talkin’ ‘bout me baby, however, in particular, that has caused fans to rave.
With an eye the success enjoyed by Alexandra, Brigitt – who had regained her surname – had a hand in penning the Russian folk-inspired Babuschka, issued as a single in 1969, but it proved another flop.
Later that year, when Northern Irish singer Clodagh Rodgers scored a top 40 hit with Come back and shake me but failed to record a German version, Brigitt filled the gap in the market with Komm her und lieb mich.
She switched labels again in 1970 to CBS, where she issued the funky Lovebutton, another song she helped write. Sadly, it proved her last. She was killed on 28 April 1971, when her car ploughed into a concrete post. Unsubstantiated rumours at the time had it that her death was an act of retaliation by the Stasi, the East German intelligence outfit.
With thanks to Jens Keller for additional sound files.
Follow the links to hear other singers’ versions of Brigitt Petry songs
Kannst du verzeih'n
Liliane Saint-Pierre: Je retire tout
Our pick of the pops
Lass die Hände von Bill Bailey
Kannst du verzeih'n
So alt wie die Welt
Hey, hey Boy
Komm her und lieb mich
Da kam der and're Mann