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

About this project ♦ ♦ About Jane Peppler
List of the still-lost songs: do you know any of them?
Search the blog:

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.


>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

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. 

>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

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:


>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

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.


>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

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:

Friday, July 30, 2021

Kinder yorn - Louis Gilrod's Yiddish version of "Those Good Old Country Days"

Today's song is from the file entitled "duds." The original song is by George W. Meyer, words by Alfred Bryan, and it was, I'm guessing, never very popular, as there are no versions of it preserved in the online collections, only this ugly cover.

You can hear the song at youtube, recorded in 1908 by Harry Tally: In Those Good Old Country Days.
Here is the Yiddish version, written without a bit of irony, just as sappy as the original, which is a disappointment coming from Louis Gilrod. Click for a larger view:

If you'd like a transliteration of the lyrics, be in touch.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Fifty-fifty: a 1917 Yiddish theater song of scheming by Louis Gilrod and Joseph Rumshinsky

Louis Gilrod wrote the lyrics and Joseph Rumshisky (Rumshinsky) wrote the music for the show Uptown-Downtown. (The eponymous song was featured on this blog here.) 

I've loved this song for years but had to table it until I could play diminished chords on the keyboard. Here's yesterday's living room version:

Condensed from Neil W. Levin's wonderful synopsis at the Milkin Archive:

Fifty-fifty was sung in the 1917 four-act musical comedy "Uptown-Downtown." Boris Thomashefsky starred as Khayim Yosi Plotkin, a poor cabinetmaker who invents a “combination bed” for which he gains a patent. Khayim’s brother Abie is a downtrodden fruit peddler.

By the second act, the Plotkin family is wealthy, and Khayim is now Gustav Plato, banker and businessman. They move uptown to a mansion. When Abie comes to visit, the family is uneasy at being reminded of its former downtown circumstances. Khayim Yosi adopts the newly acquired arrogance of “if I can make it on my own, so can you”. Abie has come to think of himself as a bit of a Socialist.

Khayim Yosi has a nightmare, dreaming his company is threatened imminent strike. He awakens a transformed and enlightened man, vowing to move back downtown and become a philanthropist for the benefit of Jews. In the end, the entire family realizes that it is more comfortable living “as themselves” without pretensions, in their old neighborhood.

After it debuted in the show, Fifty-fifty was popular for years in vaudeville routines, music hall revues. Comedian Sam Kasten (Sem Kestin etc) is cited as the performer on the sheet music. Jacob Jacobs recorded it in June of 1917.

You can hear Bruce Adler and Joanne Borts sing Fifty-fifty live.

The plot of the second verse was stolen and turned into a whole song a generation later: Dir a nickel, mir a nickel.

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump. 

>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>