Her father, Gerhard Froboess, was born in Weisswasser, Germany, May 10, 1906. At the age of 11 he was playing his accordian in restaurants, entertaining the guests with dance music. Later, he put together a small band with some school mates and gave afternoon performances at a silent movie theatre. A fan of American jazz, Gerhard formed a new band in high school, the Ohio-Jazzband. They played some lively numbers, and it wasn't long before they were the most popular dance orchestra in Leipzig -- an unexpected development, to say the least. He acquired the nickname "Professor Hot".
It was this facility for electronics that made Gerhard "indispensable" and kept him out of the war, allowing him to continue with his music. He had his first records during the war, "Ich liebe nur dich allein" ("I Love Only You"), "Treppauf treppab" ("Upstairs, Downstairs"), and others. His wife Margaretha, herself a gifted singer, joined him, and they entertained the troops in Wehrmacht programs. Margaretha's singing career was cut short when she became pregnant. Gerhard was hoping for a boy, and had already chosen a name: Sebastian Cornelius. The couple fled to the town of Wriezen to escape the bombing of Berlin.
Cornelia grew up at 27 Gottschalk Street in Berlin's Wedding district, a working-class neighbourhood. She was a little brat who was used to getting her way, and called her father Dicker ("thick") with playful impudence, though she sometimes called him Papi. An only child, her parents doted on her and filled her bedroom with dolls and toys, though she slept on a folding bed.
|Cornelia packing her dolls -- and maybe even her badehose|
Cornelia went home and burst into her father's music room complaining about an old man with long teeth and "as little hair as you", and that he stunk like a thousand men. The children had been throwing sand at him and he had threatened to call the police. She told the story with hands on her hips, as though she were in the right! Clearly she wanted to get her side in first, in case a policeman should come knocking.
|The little troublemaker, no doubt taunting her neighbours|
But one day in February 1951, Gerhard was struggling with a new arrangement for a song written by Werner Muller and Hans Bradtke called An der Ecke steht ein Schneemann ("On the Corner Stands a Snowman"), while 7-year-old Cornelia sat in the corner playing with her dolls. The session dragged on until Muller, leader of RIAS Tanzorchester (dance orchestra), and Gerhard, his musical director, concluded that what the song needed was a children's choir. Cornelia jumped to her feet and insisted that she sing the Snowman song. Cornelia was used to hearing her father banging away at the piano for hours while composing, and would learn the melodies almost unconsciously. Humouring the little girl, all were astonished by her untutored vocal talent as she belted out the tune without hesitation or flaw, despite being an impromptu performance. That same day, Gerhard made a demo tape recording of Cornelia singing the Snowman song with the Metropolitan Vocalists.
Another of Gerhard's lyricists, Hans Bradtke, was an architect who found work as a cartoonist after the war. He also designed covers for the sheet music published by Froboess and Budde and, realising that one could make money writing the words underneath all those little notes, decided to give it a try. His first effort was Pi-pa-paddelboot in 1948.
|Hans Bradtke and Gerhard Froboess|
|"Dicker, lass mich doch det singen!"|
|With Hans Bradtke (top) and Dad, from HOR ZU #36 (1951)|
|With the Schnoneberg Boys' Choir|
|DER SPIEGEL, August 6, 1952|
The Schoneberg Boys' recording of Pack die Badehose ein went unnoticed, but when Electrola released Cornelia's version soon after in June 1951, just in time for summer, it was an instant hit! "Die Kleine Cornelia" shot to fame.
|Cornelia's first music book|
The song was popular even in the U.S. -- at least in Pittsburgh. Disc jockey Art Pallen played Cornelia's Pack die Badehose ein on his program at WWSW. According to an article by Win Fanning in the October 2, 1952 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Apparently thousands of Pittsburghers were laying out some 89 cents for a record in a language they didn't understand, whose title they didn't know, sung by a little girl with an odd name in a distant land..."
|Singing the "snowball fight" song. (From EINE NETTE BESCHERUNG.)|
Cornelia's concerts were taking her all over Germany and other parts of Europe. She was especially popular in the Scandinavian countries. And everywhere she went Gerhard accompanied her.
|DAS STERNCHEN, a children's magazine supplement, from STERN #44 (November 1953)|
She was amused by her fame. Kids came in droves to get her autograph, and she was happy to accommodate them. There's no telling how many photo cards she signed, which she did slowly and precisely, neatly and legibly, as though she were in school practising cursive letters. Nary a photo was taken of her in which she didn't have a big bow in her hair, certainly her trademark.
1953 was a far less productive year, with three records constituting Cornelia's entire output. But she still had a busy concert schedule and travelled extensively, and was featured on magazine covers.
|Postcard with still from STARPARADE|
|Scene from AN JEDEM FINGER ZEHN|
Two records were released that year. Bimbo, backed with Eine kleine Mandoline, was released just after she'd turned 12, and it would be her last as "Die Kleine Cornelia".
|South African EP, late 1950s|
She more or less took a break from music, and Die Kleine Cornelia was quickly forgotten. She reinvented herself in the late 1950s as a teen idol named "Conny", making hit records and starring in a number of movies. Conny was far more successful than Die Kleine Cornelia ever was, and the younger girl has mostly faded into obscurity. Gerhard Froboess died February 26, 1976 in Berlin.
It's unfortunate that Cornelia's potential as a major child star of the early 1950s was never fully realised, but at least Die Kleine Cornelia left one indelible mark: "Pack die Badehose ein" is still a catchphrase in Germany, even if few people remember where it came from.