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February 02, 1990 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-02-02

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from the studio to my home with all my
makeup on, and still wearing the costumes in
which I had played a sailor or a schoolboy."
Although he hated practicing — "God forbid
I practiced" — Rosenow emerged into a top-
notch musician. He formed his own band in
1937 with piano, saxophone, violin, drums and
trumpet and found work playing dance music
in cocktail lounges.
With Hitler's rise to power, Rosenow and his
musicians, all of whom were Jewish, were lim-
ited to performing for Jewish groups. Rosenow
realized he had to leave Berlin.
"But every door was closed to me," he says.
"I tried to go to South America, to England.
But they didn't want musicians. They wanted
the arbeiter, the working people, like
Only Shanghai was ready to accept Rosenow.
So he boarded a ship — "the captain got very
mad if you called it a boat" — and headed for
his new home.
"Not a penny in my pocket," Rosenow made
money playing on board. After a brief stop in
Italy, the ship landed in Shanghai on April 27,
1939. Some 5,000 Jews already had settled in
the city.
Rosenow took a one-room apartment with a
toilet downstairs. "And if you wanted to take a
bath, you had to go a mile away, to the refugee
camps. It wasn't always rosy, but I managed to
survive.because of my music."
He found work playing piano at cocktail
lounges, bars and at clubs owned by Soviet
Jews who had settled in Shanghai after the
1917 Bolshevik Revolution. He usually earned
enough for two meals a day and considered
himself fortunate. Thousands around him
were dying, he says.
Rosenow spent nine years in Shanghai,
where he "learned a little Chinese and met my
wife," also a German Jew. The two, along with
Rosenow's parents, who followed their son to
Shanghai, left in 1948 for the United States.

His first job in Detroit was as a factory
worker, where he earned $30-$45 a week. But
he couldn't forget his music and in 1953,
Rosenow left the factory and created his own
band. Four of those original musicians still
play with him.
He called himself "Eric aus Berlin," Eric
from Berlin, and called his band the Continen-
tals "because it sounded European."
Rosenow was quick to find work at b'nai
mitzvah and weddings. He wanted to look good
for the shows, so he picked out snazzy blue,
black and white uniforms for the band.
Rosenow says he will never forget one wed-
ding at an Oak Park congregation. "Two peo-
ple fainted at this. It wasn't the couple; it
wasn't the parents. It was the sister and the
brother of the bride. I won't mention the
He also took jobs at some of Detroit's top ho-
tels and ball rooms, like the Vanity on Jeffer-
son Avenue, which had a long and elegant
staircase. "Boy, do I remember schlepping our
instruments up those stairs," he says.
He performed in Cleveland, Chicago and
Toronto and worked at a 25-room hotel in the
Catskills where "the room I played in was only
as big as a table."
And in his spare time, Rosenow gave piano
lessons. He had 58 students and traveled to
their homes to teach. "I remember I had one
student who had a short finger. I didn't ever
think he'd make it, but now he's a professional
It was a lot of work, Rosenow agrees. "But in
America you had to be ambitious or you would
never make it."
Active in the B'nai B'rith Einstein Lodge,
the Israel Cancer Society, Magen David Adorn
and others, Rosenow has cut down on his con-
cert schedule, though he still appears
throughout the area with a full band.
He stopped giving piano lessons eight years
ago. "By then, my patience was running out."

Sam Barnett with his orchestra
in the 1960s (top) and at a
wedding in 1989.

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