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?
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Kol zman men lebt zol zayn gelebt (The Yiddish YOLO anthem): As long as you're alive, live already!

At the FSU site you can find this "You Only Live Once" anthem, spelled as Kol Zman Me Leibt Sol Sein Geleibt and translated as "Make Your Life Worthwhile." I don't agree with that translation, obviously...

I think this song, from 1921, is on the cusp between my two blogs. It's a little too light hearted and non-judgmental to be a penny song... It's from the show "Sheyne Berta" (or, as it says on one of the sheet music versions I have, Fan Di Sheine Berta). This musical was from just a year after Aaron Lebedeff (right) arrived in America (direct from China and Japan) and became an instant sensation.

Other spellings of the title include Kol zman men lebt zol zain gelebt and Kol sman men leibt. Lebedeff sang the first and third verses (with his usual improvisations) and four choruses at the end!

Text and translation after the jump.
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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Got un zayn mishpet iz gerekht (Gott un sein mishpet iz gerecht) - sung by Solomon Smulewitz

This 1903 Yiddish song by Louis Gilrod and David Meyerowitz was a big hit from the show Di gebrokhene hertser (The Broken Hearts). You can read the whole plot of this tearjerking drama, as summarized by Neil W. Levin for the Milken Archive, here. Levin's post includes the second and third verses, transliteration and translation. For the original Yiddish lyrics see below.

The melody was used for the Yiddish Penny Song Dem arbeter's trer. (The Worker's Tear.)

Editorial note: As a modern human, and the mother of a child who was struck with cancer when he was only 12 years old, I find the moral of this song completely unacceptable.

Below, the 1905 recording of the original song. Singer is Solomon Small (Smulewitz), later better known as a composer. He sang only the first verse and two choruses.

Lyrics and translation (and full songsheet) after the jump.

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Oyf yener zayt (Auf Jener Seit, Af yener zayt) - "On the other side"

I love this melody, it was used for the Morris Rund parody Rusland Bafrayt, which to me had a bouncy delight in it, so I sang it much faster than the vintage recordings of the underlying song.

We see here that Jennie Goldstein (so young!) was the singer, and the show it was from was טהרת המשפּחה (Family Purity)" On the lovely cover we also see the composer Sigmund Mogulesco.

I haven't heard a Goldstein recording if there is one. There is a very slow recording of Solomon Small (Solomon Smulewitz) at FAU: Auf Jener Seit -- on that 78 there's just one verse, as in the sheet music at the Library of Congress...

... But on the vintage recording Auf jener seite which I give you here, by wonderful performer Abraham Rosenstein, there are two verses and I don't have the lyrics for the second verse. (If you can help with this second verse, please let me know!)  
Here he is:

Notice he sings the chorus twice each time. I think it was the custom to always sing the chorus twice back then because it was the part the audience knew best and it pleased them to belt it out.

Now that I'm leaving the territory covered by the American Yiddish Penny Song collection, I'm at the mercy of what's printed. This sheet music does not give the original Yiddish, only the Germanic transcription.

I love the word פּסק - it means judgment, verdict, outcome, punishment, scolding
The online Yiddish dictionary gives האָב|ן*/כאַפּ|ן אַ מיאוסן פּסק as "get chewed out/told off; end badly"

Transliteration and translation after the jump.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

! The end of the American Yiddish Penny Songs Project !

I have a spreadsheet for this project and it appears I've pretty much run out of findable songs. As of today there are 74 Yiddish Penny Songs left for which I don't have melodies (hopefully over time the number may dwindle a bit).

There are two songs left which I could theoretically record now:

1. Dem melameds mapole - to be sung to the melody of Di troyke, a melody, written by Shimon Frug, which Morris Rund used often probably because at the time this was the most successful song Rund had ever co-written (he did the original lyrics). In this version, a teacher falls in love and goes to the khipe with his beloved, only problem, his rabbi had been slack about giving a get to his current wife/yente. The current wife shows up at the wedding and spoils everything. I decline to be involved in these goings-on.

2. Dos shterbns lid fun Yakev Gordon is to be sung to the well-known melody In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree. (In my previous project,, there was a song about a sad prostitute in a Warsaw brothel set to this melody: In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht.) I don't think anybody these days will be interested in singing this poorly written elegy to playwright Jacob Gordin (1853-1909). But if you are, let me know.

Anyway, I may go on now to record other obscure Yiddish theater songs songs for which I have the lyrics. If they came out before 1925 or so, I'll put them on this blog. If they came out after 1925, I'll put them on the other.

It's sort of dissatisfying there were so many songs I couldn't find.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Ven der tants geyt on (While the Dance goes On), in which dancing leads to death.

Charles Harris wrote the original song "While the Dance Goes On" in 1894 or 1898. He was hoping to follow up on the success of his 1891 hit, "After the Ball."

For once Isaac Reingold (author of many of the gems on this site) stays close to the original in his Yiddish interpretation.

In Harris's song, there's a beautiful dancer with "no firm hand to guide her, no one to shield her from harm. She is alone, husband at home, while the dance goes on."

Her husband orders her: "You will not go to the ball, love, stay with our baby tonight." But, "What cares she for home and baby while she is queen of the ball?"

Well, as you might expect, "Home she approaches at last, there at the door meets her husband, whose sad tears fall thick and fast... There on its bed, baby lies dead, while the dance goes on."

You can just see these post-Victorian husbands wishing their wives were as docile as their mothers and grandmothers had been, in fact threatening the women with death if they try to have a good time.

Here's the version pianist Aviva Enoch and I did this week. Text and translation after the jump.

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Der amerikaner seder (The American Seder) as sung by Madame Littman at Agid's Clinton Street Variety House

UPDATE: Reposting to include the video I made today. A commenter had previously shown this to be a parodic version of a song called Der Seider (Der seder) or (as it was alternatively called on the inside front cover) Die Seider Nacht (Di seder nakht).

The sheet music cover says the music was by Hyman Altman and the lyrics by Adam Mesco. However, on the inside front cover it says, interestingly, "Words by A. Mesco. 1st verse and refrain by M. Zavodnik." This makes me wonder if the satirical version found in the American Yiddish Penny Song collection was actually the original, and that subsequently the song was adapted for some other use (perhaps in a show) and given a "straight" second and third verse by Mesco. Also interestingly, the Penny Song version just says the song is by Zavodnik. So did Zavodnik steal the tune from Altman or vice versa?

I really dragged my feet about recording this one. I found the Rumshinsky arrangement as given in the sheet music weird (you'll hear it on the first verse) and without a period recording I had trouble envisioning what the song was supposed to sound like. The tune goes best at a fair clip (the way I've recorded it) but that made the words go by too fast.

So I compromised and slowed down when there were a lot of words! This is the second keyboard accompaniment I've made by running a music notation software file into my Yamaha and recording the output on a second computer.

Below, the songsheet from the American Penny Song collection (translation at the bottom).

You can read about Max Zavodnick. Also read a bit about the Clinton Street Variety House: Sam Agid. "Madame Littman" is Pepi Litmann, who recorded quite a bit in Europe before coming to America.

Translation and song sheets after the jump.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Der pogrom bay der levaye - 200 injured at the funeral of New York's Chief Rabbi Joseph in 1902

There is a biography of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York, called The Rav Hakolel and his Generation and at this link you'll find commentary on it.
In fact, when he came to New York, he was greeted by huge crowds. Once he started, you know, actually trying to do stuff to institute more Torah practice, he was ridiculed. Within a short time the funds to pay him dried up, the kosher food producers had revolted, the Jewish magazines tore him apart, and it is said that he had a stroke soon after seeing kashrus symbol hung in a butcher shop next to pork … all done to embarrass him.

After the stroke, he was forgotten, his furniture was repossessed, and though a huge crowd came to his funeral, his descendants no longer keep the Torah and its mitzvos.
The Chief Rabbi Joseph died on July 29, 1902. In the New York Times story on the funeral and its aftermath, estimates variously were made of 50,000 and 75,000 mourners accompanying the body while 15,000 waited at the cemetery.

As the procession passed the R. Hoe &  Company printers, employees having their lunch break looked out the window at the 200 vehicles "and the long line of grieving Jews. Before the hearse itself came in sight the men in the factory jeered... suddenly a bucket of water was thrown .... into the midst of the surging crowd of mourners. ... bits of iron, small blocks of wood and other missiles followed from the windows. The mourners ... became an uncontrollable mob. ... the missiles from the factory continued to pour down on the street, and the mourners, picking up the falling iron and wood, cast them back against the windows of the building. Hardly a pane of glass on the first or second floor remained when the reserves from the police stations of the east side arrived." The police clubbed the mourners. "Not even the recent Kosher meat outbreaks, they said, were to be compared with this trouble." Two hundred mourners were injured.

Here's our recording. Words by Max Zavodnik, tune "Faryomert farklogt" which has been used twice before in the collection. Thanks to Ken Bloom (guitar) and Jim Baird (bass) for these tracks.

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