Elfriede Katharina Nehrupt was born December 16th 1899 in Cologne, Germany.
Encouraged by her doctor father she came to Berlin aged 19, shortly after the first world war, to study classical music and song at the Stern Conservatory.
Fiercely political and drawn to the bohemian world of the west Berlin cabaret scene she was soon discovered by Rosa Valetti, and four days after her 20th birthday appeared for the first time at the Cafe Megalomania, to great acclaim.
Also around this time she met and married the sculptor Karsten Kühl.
Nicknamed ‘The Red Nightingale’, over the next ten years, she went on to perform in all the major cabaret venues of the time including the Wilde Bühne, Kadeko and the Katacombe.
( image – Ullstein Bild)
Described by Felix Joachimson as ‘The Mother Courage of the Literary Cabaret’, she was famed for her interpretations of the works of some of the greatest songwriters of the period, Friedrich Hollaender, Werner Richard Heyman and most significantly Kurt Tucholsky. She was also highly regarded by writers such as Erich Kästener and Bertolt Brecht.
So much so that she was cast as ‘Lucy’ in the premiere production of Brecht and Weill’s ‘ Die Dreigroschenoper’ ( The Threepenny Opera) in 1928.
In 1933, she fled Berlin and survived the war working in provincial radio. Returning to Berlin in 1945, she became a member of one of the new breed of cabaret troupes “den Außenseitern” performing works by Brecht. She began recording her material and also appeared in productions by the Berliner Ensemble, founded by Bertolt Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel.
She remained artistically and politically active right through the 1950′s and early 1960′s and could still be found performing in midnight cabarets in the city in 1961.
During the latter part of the 1960′s she withdrew from performing and political activities and, after the death of her husband in 1964, lived a very secluded life in an apartment in Berlins Westend district, suffering from diabetes.
She died on January 29th 1970, aged 70, and is buried in the Friedhof Heerstraße.
She has been honoured with a star on the Cabaret Walk Of Fame in Mainz.
“Kate Kühl, with her dumpling cheeks and big, amusingly startled eyes, and with a voice that sounded like a scratchy clarion. She could trumpet straight into people’s hearts. She sounded so full of optimism, with a lovely, severe, and terse freshness… A queen with her hands on her hips.”
- Friedrich Luft
Kate Kühl performs Tucholsky’s Red Melodie here