Do you remember Bert Sommer? Chances are you wouldn’t unless you were at Woodstock. Forty years ago he had captive audience as a frizzy-haired 20-year-old singing his love ballad “Jennifer” before the teeming masses at Max Yasgur’s Farm in upstate New York.
As a member of the Broadway cast of “Hair,” Bert Sommer so embodied the hippie look that his picture was even used as the show’s playbill. With a ten-song set at Woodstock, Sommer seemed like he had a golden ticket to instant fame.
It was 1969 when Sommer started that Friday evening set with “Jennifer.”
The hauntingly sweet folk song is captured in a new documentary.
Ira Stone, who played the guitar that day while his wife Maxine was a backup vocalist for Sommer, still remembers the sheer size of the crowd.
“It looked like hundreds of thousands of colors and it was really the people,” Stone said.
Even with the monument that stands, marking the site of the legendary music festival, you would never know Sommer played. His name is not among the Baez’s, Hendrix’s and others.
“Bert Sommer was the lost bard of Woodstock,” Wall Street Journal pop and rock critic Jim Fusilli said. “For me, Sommer did a wonderful set on the first day … then he completely disappeared from the mythology of Woodstock.”
Everyone was sure Bert was going to be a star; he was devastated when his Woodstock appearance was ignored.
“You see bands like Santana and artists like Richie Havens and Meanie who were not particularly well known at the time, whose careers just exploded because of Woodstock,” Fusilli said. “For Bert, nothing.”
A picture of the backup band appeared in a special LIFE magazine at the time, but Sommer was cropped out.
He was also missing from Michael Wadleigh’s legendary documentary and never appeared in any of the soundtrack albums. His friends think they know why.
“Bert was on Capital Records,” Stone said. “His record company was not included because Warner had rights to the whole thing, so Bert never got into the original movie or the first album.”
While other Woodstock bands rocketed to stardom, Sommer settled in upstate New York to play his music in relative obscurity. He died on July 23, 1990 of respiratory failure. He was 41.
Forty years after Woodstock, Sommers is getting the recognition he never knew during his life.
Victor Khan, a friend Sommer’s has created a memorial website. Three of Bert’s songs will also soon appear on a new Rhino Records box set.
And thanks to a clip on YouTube, new fans are discovering Burt Sommer. More than 122,000 have viewed the video to date.
“It’s great to finally see that there has been a second chance here given for people to hear just how talented he really was,” Stone said.
It’s an encore long overdue.
ABC News’ Erin Keohane and Felicia Biberica contributed to this report.