Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
Index of songs on this site
Youtube: all the Penny Songs I've recorded so far (with subtitles)

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List of the still-lost songs: do you know any of them?
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Friday, December 31, 2021

Der liarman - Isaac Reingold's Yiddish version of Schubert's Der Leiermann

It's a good day for endings.


Franz Schubert was born in 1797 and died in 1828. Winterreise (Winter's Journey) is a series of songs he wrote to texts by Wilhelm Müller. He knew he was dying, of syphilis; he was correcting the page proofs days before he died at the age of 31. He invited a friend: "Come to Schober's today and I will play you a cycle of terrifying songs; they have affected me more than has ever been the case with any other songs."


Isaac Reingold, who wrote so many of the funny and touching Yiddish lyrics featured on this blog (put his name in the search box to find them all), was, at the age of 30, himself dying, of tuberculosis and alcoholism, when he wrote his version of Schubert's song about a hurdy gurdy man, a beggar, who plays in the street, ignored or mocked by passers by. This is the only penny song which was written to a classical melody. At the end, when the narrator asks the street musician: "Will you play my songs on your hurdy gurdy?" surely Reingold was asking if his work would endure after his death.


I saved this song for the end of the Lider magazin project, or rather, the trauma of getting it done was terminal! I began, optimistically, a full year ago, securing someone's promise to sing it (as I knew it was no song for me). Hurdy gurdy player Tania Opland sent me her tracks in January. Then the project languished, to my increasing despondency, through winter and spring and summer and fall until finally my dear friend and singing companion Randy Kloko saved it by driving up from Florida earlier this month to record the vocals.


So, my eternal thanks to Randy for being part of this adventure, and thanks to Tania for waiting patiently (in the mean time she got so enthused about the song she did her own double-hurdy-gurdy version, in English). And thanks to Jack Herrick who put in hours with me mixing the song as the holiday season approached and I'm sure he had lots of better things to do.


Thanks to Vivi Lachs, who sent me the 20-some issues of Lider magazin which I've been working on for the last few years.


And thanks to those of you who have taken the time to let me know these songs have moved you in some way. 

Here's our living room recording.

Transliteration and translation after the jump. 

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Sunday, December 12, 2021

Di saydvoks fun Nyu York (Yiddish parody of The Sidewalks of New York by Isaac Reingold)


The original song is faux-Irish-nostalgia. The Reingold version, relishing the disconnect between the cheerful tune and Reingold's own dark musings, marvels that New York City is so well lit at night and that all sorts of people are out and about doing - whatever. Then he gives some examples: prostitutes, a philandering husband and his grieving wife.


This is the penultimate Lider magazin song. My dear friend Randy Kloko drove up from Florida to sing the very last song for me and it's such a downer I asked him to do this (relatively) cheerful one as well. Thanks Randy! Here is our living room recording (with his overdub on the chorus). I apologize for my extremely poor lip syncing, I hadn't had a chance to actually sing the song yet but we had to get it done while he was here!


There were four verses, I left out the one where Reingold writes: Dort geyn tsvey perzonen un ver es kukt zey on / Der ken laykht in zey derkenen zeyer profesyon (there go two people and when you look at them you can easily realize their profession). 

 If you're new to the blog, look up Isaac Reingold in the search box. He was very prolific and had an interesting and sad life.

 Translation and transliteration after the jump. Write me if you want the music/lyrics/translation.  

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Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Seydi mayn leydi (to Sadie My Lady by J. W. Bratton and W. H. Ford, 1897


It seems I'm reaching the end of the good songs in Judah Katzenelenbogen's Lider magazin

 From my point of view this one is a dud for a number of reasons: (1) It's mostly a translation of the original; (2) the melody is yet another waltz; (3) and it's boring. So if you want this one, put it together yourself. The sheet music is online. And the words by I. Bobshover are after the jump.


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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Kum tsu mir mayn kenign (Come to me, my queen!) by Louis Gilrod 1899

Come to me, my queen
To sing with the melody from the English song
Come To Me My Lady Love (Ma Lady Lu) 

You notice that the title as given in Judah Katzenelenbogen's Lider Magazin was incorrect. That often happens and then I get to use my sleuthing skills. In the end I have to rely on the Cinderella glass slipper approach: do the Yiddish lyrics fit? 

Louis Gilrod was a very young man, disappointed in love. Things rarely go smoothly for his parshoynen

This song was in my file folder called "duds" but pianist Glenn Mehrback did a bang-up job improving it. Thanks Glenn! 

I usually defend the Yinglish / Daytshmerish lyrics of the penny songs but this one went too far when it rhymed kenign with untertenik un

Here's yesterday's recording, my vocal done over Glenn's wav file. Ordinarily he follows the vocalist so it was a challenge to follow his rubato rendition! 

Transliteration from the Yiddish and translation after the jump. 

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Shabes matinee (Isaac Reingold 1902 Yiddish parody of "On a Sunday Afternoon")

The photo on this sheet music is, incredibly, of a young Buster Keaton wearing a bald wig, with his parents, in their vaudeville act, singing this song! 

 In English we only use "matinee" to refer to a show during the afternoon, but in this song it's also used in the French sense of, simply, afternoon. 

The first verse refers to kugl - a sweet dessert which in all these vaudeville songs stands for sexy goings-on.

 It's a little scandalous that, after having the standard frum beginning to his Sabbath, our hero slips off to the theater. 

 Tsum riml means "into the bargain" and rhymes handily with driml (snooze). For people who work such desperately long hours during the week, getting a nap (with or without canoodling) on Shabbos (in a theater, in a park, or behind a locked door) is a pretty high priority. 

 Here is my living room recording:


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A korbn fun kapital (A Victim of Capitalism) to an old Vaudeville waltz tune.

The original song is "I'm Tying the Leaves So They Won't Come Down," a 1907 tearjerker with music by J. Fred Helf (many of his songs have Yiddish parodies) and original words by E. S. S. Huntington. Louis Gilrod wrote this text. 

Jim Baird played guitar and bass for this living room recording of earlier today:

The original lyrics were exceptionally cloying: a young lad, overhearing that his friend will die in the fall, wants to tie the leaves on the trees so fall never comes. The Yiddish lyrics are about the horrors of capitalism. Translation and transliteration after the jump.


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Thursday, August 5, 2021

About Sani Shapiro, publisher of penny songs

It had never occurred to me to look for Sani in Zylbercweig's Leksikon fun yidishn teater, but he's there! Here is the translation done by Berl Cohen:

SANI SHAPIRO (March 25, 1861-February 11, 1931)
He was born with the Jewish first name of Nosenel-Dovid in Jassy (Iași), Romania. He traveled around with acting troupes or on his own, singing songs through Romanian taverns and wealthy establishments. In the early years of the century, he emigrated to New York. He sold old things in an alleyway, among them storybooks and poetry that he would publish at two or four pages in length. In two such collections were the songs: “Der komisher kidesh” (The comic benediction), “Der ployderzak” (The chatterbox) “Der yontefdiker kidesh” (The holiday benediction), “Borkhu” (Call to prayer), “Fraytig af der nakht” (Friday night), “Der kidesh fun purim” (The Purim benediction), “Der farmishter kidesh fun shvues” (The mixed up benediction for Shavuot), “Veyiten lekho” (And he will give it to you), “Hamavdil” (The separation), and “Di havdole” (The ceremony at the end of the Sabbath). He wrote several songs of his own, but inasmuch as no song bears the author’s name, it is difficult to identify Shapiro’s songs. He also published the pamphlet: Vi azoy tsu veren a sitizen, nokh dem nayem gezets (How to become a citizen, according to the new law) (New York, 1915), 31 pp. He died in New York.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me: