Born in the Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants, Berns contracted rheumatic fever as a child, an illness that would mark the rest of his life. Turning to music, he found consonance in the sounds of his African American and Latino neighbors. As a young man, Berns danced in mambo nightclubs, and made his way to Havana before the Cuban Revolution.
Berns also hit the charts in late 1962 with the Exciters' "Tell Him" on United Artists, and with Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me" on Atlantic Records. As an independent producer working with myriad record labels, Berns also made important records with Garnet Mimms ("Cry Baby") and Gene Pitney ("If I Didn't Have a Dime (to Play the Jukebox)").
His first hit record was "A Little Bit of Soap", performed by The Jarmels in 1961
Shortly after his return from Cuba, Berns began a seven-year run from an obscure Brill Building songwriter to owner of his own record labels. He signed as a $50/week songwriter with Robert Mellin Music at 1650 Broadway in 1960. His first hit record was "A Little Bit of Soap", performed by the Jarmels on Laurie Records in 1961.
Atlantic Records (1963–1965)
Berns himself had a short-lived career as a recording artist, and in 1961, under the name "Russell Byrd", Berns scored his only Billboard Hot 100 appearance with his own composition, "You'd Better Come Home", which peaked at Number 50. That song would later be recorded by the Isley Brothers, and featured as the B-side of their 1962 single "Twistin' With Linda". Also in 1962, the Isley Brothers recorded "Twist and Shout" on Wand Records, written by Berns and Phil Medley.
Atlantic Records (1963–1965)
Berns's early work with Solomon Burke brought him to the attention of Atlantic label chiefs Ahmet Ertegün and Jerry Wexler. In 1963, Berns replaced Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as staff producer at Atlantic, where he wrote and produced hits for Solomon Burke ("Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"), the Drifters ("Under the Boardwalk" and "Saturday Night at the Movies"), Barbara Lewis ("Baby I'm Yours" and "Make Me Your Baby"), Little Esther Phillips ("Hello Walls"), Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett and LaVern Baker.
The Drifters ("Under the Boardwalk" and "Saturday Night at the Movies"),
British Invasion (1964–1965)With many of Berns's songs being recorded by British Invasion bands such as the Beatles ("Twist and Shout"), the Rolling Stones ("Cry to Me") and the Animals ("Baby Let Me Take You Home"), Berns became the first American record producer to travel across the Atlantic to work in London.:222 He went to England three times between 1964 and 1965, where he produced a number of British Decca artists such as Van Morrison's Them ("Here Comes the Night", "Baby Please Don't Go") and Lulu.
Barbara Lewis ("Baby I'm Yours" and "Make Me Your Baby")
BANG Records (1965–1967)
Berns formed his own record label, BANG Records, in 1965. BANG Records was founded with his Atlantic Records partners, with the label's name derived from the initials of each of their respective personal names—in order, Bert Berns, Ahmet Ertegün, Nesuhi Ertegün, and Gerald (Jerry) Wexler. BANG was home to such artists as the McCoys ("Hang on Sloopy"), the Strangeloves ("I Want Candy"), Them's ex-lead singer Van Morrison ("Brown Eyed Girl"), and, most notably, Neil Diamond ("Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry").
Shout Records (1966–1967)
With BANG Records releasing predominantly rock and roll, Berns formed Shout Records in 1966 as an outlet for his greatest passions of R&B and soul music, recording artists such Freddie Scott ("Are You Lonely for Me Baby") and Erma Franklin ("Piece of My Heart"). "Piece of My Heart", one of his last songs, was covered shortly thereafter by Big Brother and the Holding Company, which the then unknown Janis Joplin fronted.
Them's ex-lead singer Van Morrison ("Baby Please Dont Go)
- Them guitarist Billy Harrison, interview with Wavelength
Neil Diamond ("Solitary Man" and "Cherry Cherry").
Berns formed Shout Records as an outlet for his R&B passions, recording Freddie Scott ("Are You Lonely for Me Baby")
and Erma Franklin ("Piece of My Heart")
Berns, who had a history of cardiac trouble, as a result of his heart being damaged from rheumatic fever contracted during childhood, died in his New York apartment of heart failure on December 30, 1967, aged 38. He was buried two days later, following a funeral service at Riverside Memorial Chapel on New York's 180 West 76th Street in Manhattan. His widow Ilene outlived her husband by nearly 50 years, passing away at the age of 73 on February 20, 2017.