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)

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List of the still-lost songs: do you know any of them?
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nit ales iz gold vos shaynt (All That Glitters Is Not Gold) by Isaac Reingold, 1894 Yiddish vaudeville song.


Today's song is Nit ales iz gold vos shaynt, which is most obviously translated as "All that glitters is not gold," as Shakespeare said. But there's word play in the Yiddish title - the verb shaynen does means to shine, but it also means to seem or to appear to be. So literally this would be "Not everything is gold that shines" AND "Not everything is gold that appears to be gold."

The parody was written by Isaac Reingold, who's authored many of the lyrics featured here. You'll find him lauded online as the "Bard of the West" - he lived in Chicago when he came over from Europe. He worked in sweatshops, wrote songs, drank too much, and died in 1903 at the age of 30. I think the world broke his heart.

He set his bitter text to the American popular song "Johnny, My Old Friend John," published in 1894. The composer and lyricist was William Courtright, and in his six verses he reminds his friend of times gone by. Eventually we realize that the two friends went off to war but while the narrator made it back, Johnny now is lying somewhere under the snow.

The song is in an issue of Lider magazin, a publication from the turn of the century which is giving me a lot of fun. Here's my recording. I am trying to figure out how to do live recordings with the equipment I have. When I record it all at once - playing the electric keyboard and singing simultaneously into the camera, there is a lot of hissing. Its microphone isn't very good, or maybe it's just that what comes out of the speaker of the electric piano isn't very good. So my choices appear to be, either pre-record the piano part and then video the singing, or video and record while playing the keyboard and do the singing afterwards. That's what I did this time.




Translation and transliteration after the jump.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Vu nemt men amolike yor (parody of She May Have Seen Better Days) - Yiddish vaudeville song from 1894


Here's another song from the Lider magazin housed at YIVO in New York. Each issue is half lyrics from a Yiddish operetta that was popular at the time, and half other Yiddish songs, including parodies of American pop music of the time.

The melody specified by the parodist here, David Meyerowitz, is "She May Have Seen Better Days," published in 1894. James Thornton was the composer and lyricist. You can hear his song on youtube as sung by George Gaskin back in the day, and a generation later by Beatrice Kay, who made a career singing songs of the "Gay 90s."

This blog includes many David Meyerowitz songs. He was born in 1867 in Latvia to poor parents. His father left for America and David supported the family working in a match factory and singing on the side. When he was 13 he joined his father in America and they worked in the rag trade. He continued singing and writing songs and gradually found his place in the world of Yiddish theater, though, it's said, he couldn't read or write (but he taught himself English and Yiddish). The Meyerowitz lyrics we find in Lider magazin are from his early period, they are often rather awkward.

Jim Baird plays bass and Ken Bloom plays guitar on this living room recording we made recently.



Translation and transliteration after the jump.


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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Vos Amerike glaykht (What America Likes) - a Yiddish Vaudeville parody from 1899



Another song from Lider magazin (housed at YIVO). Cakewalks and ragtime tunes were very popular at the time and quite a few are used for the Yiddish parodies. This original song was written by Abe Holzmann, who I think was Jewish:


This parody was written by Sadie Levin, about whom I know nothing, sadly.It's exceedingly rare to find published women coupletists in that time period.

There's a classic Americanism in the title: glaykh means equal, but in America it was turned into the verb glaykhn meaning "to like." 

 I love the word kokhlefl which literally is a cooking spoon but figuratively is a big shot, meddler, busybody... somebody who stirs the pot...

My friend Barb Coffman graciously agreed to come over yesterday and make me this great keyboard track. Thanks Barb!

Here is our rendition:



Translation and transliteration of the Yiddish after the jump.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Pavolye, Reb Volye! A Yiddish vaudeville song

Here's a Yiddish parody of a song which was pretty parodic to begin with: "More Work For the Undertaker" published in 1895, original [contemptible] lyrics written by Burton & Brooks, music by Fred W. Leigh.




The Yiddish version is found in Lider magazin. It was written by Louis Gilrod. (Click the songsheet for a larger view.)

We have an often-told story here, one could read it in the Foverts Bintl Brif every day back then: A husband gives his wife the slip by emigrating to America without her. As often happens in the songs - though probably much less frequently in real life - the wife catches up with him.

Pishe-peyshe is a card game.

Because I'm sightreading these songs as I record them, and because I am such a lousy piano player, I usually record the keyboard part first and the vocal line afterwards, singing the song about six times so I'm sort of learning it as I go. This time I went live. I noticed there is a lot of noise on the vocal track, and also, the files are just huge when I do them this way!

And, I'm revealing to anybody who listens both that (1) I can't play piano and (2) I haven't learned the song yet. So here is my lousy rendition from this morning:


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Monday, April 1, 2019

Mayn skhoyre: Yiddish theater song about the efficacy of advertising

This song was written by Louis Kopelman to the tune of "My Gal is a High Born Lady," and it was sung by Bessie Thomashefsky. The tune has a cakewalk / ragtime feel to it.

Thanks to Ken Bloom (guitar) and Jim Baird (bass) for playing on it! Here's our rendition from a couple days ago:


This is yet another song teaching new immigrants about an essential part of New York: signage for flogging your product. Kopelman wisely points out that advertising can get idiots to buy all sorts of rubbish.

In the second verse we meet up with a butcher who is, as usual, crooked. Butchers were always under suspicion: were they selling treyf beef as kosher and pocketing the premium the pious paid for that precious hekhsher?

Notice in the third verse that matchmakers refered to their bachelors and single ladies as "wares." For more on matchmakers in New York at the turn of the century see GimpelBeynish.com - I translated seven books of a daily comic strip about the travails of Gimpel Beynish der shadkhn.

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Der yidisher voluntir - that famous Jewish hero of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Another weird gem from Lider Magazin, Issue 4, probably 1899 (the cover page with the date is missing).

Der yidisher voluntir was written by Louis Kopelman especially for Boris Thomashefsky. It's a tear-jerker set in Cuba during the Spanish-American war, with a Jew who charges into battle right after his left hand has been torn off, to "save his fatherland." I'm glad I don't have to defend or justify any of this.

We're instructed it's to be sung to the tune of Break The News To Mother, published in 1897 by Charles K. Harris. Wikipedia notes: "Originally Harris wrote the song about a fireman. After the USS Maine explosion in Havana Harbor in 1898, Harris rewrote it with a soldier in place of a fireman."

The song was popular during the American invasion of Havana, and it was re-issued and popular once more during World War I.

It's an interminable song but I endured singing the whole thing so you too could shake your head at its peculiarity. As is typical of the time, the lyrics are a very Germanic Yiddish. Thanks to my Mappamundi bandmates, Ken Bloom on guitar and Jim Baird on bass.


Translation of the Yiddish and lyrics in transliteration after the jump.


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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Di matbeye - Yiddish theater song of 1908 - is the tune lost forever? די מטבעה

דיא מטבעה
I'm posting this song from The Solomon Smulewitz publication Der teater zinger דער געאַטער זינגער because I hope somebody can come up with a recording of it some day. Otherwise, I suppose the tune is lost and the song is extinct. I guess it's likely Smulewitz (aka Solomon Small) wrote it, but it doesn't say so.

Click the image for a larger view.

It says at the top of the page, Gezungen fun Mr Katzman un fun Madam Raynhart.
געזונגען פֿון מר. קאַטזמאַן און פֿון מאַדאַם רײנהאַרט

Perhaps these are Jacob Katzman and Fannie Reinhart.

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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