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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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dem yidns laydn: Failure to find the underlying melody

You usually only hear from me when I've had a success. But there are loads of times I fail to find a melody despite heroic efforts. This is one of those times. Take a look at this songsheet:

Dem yidns laydn (The Jew's Suffering) to sing with the well-known English melody "Only a Jew." Created by Karol Zilberman

I have not found any mention of a Karol Zilberman. I was, however, able to locate the song "Only a Jew" and it's a good story.

From "From Tartan to Tartanry: Scottish Culture History and Myth":
Ike Freedman 1895-1960 "began performing as a Hebrew comedian, representing Jewish culture in the form of the 'dialect' character... Freedman's song, 'Only a Jew,' which became his signature and remained the culmination of his act throughout his career, was an emotive plea for compassion and understanding for the stateless, itinerant Jew.
From his obituary:
In an accent alternately and sometimes simultaneously Glaswegian and Jewish he would rattle off some Jewish jokes and conclude his act with a certain tear-jerker of a song, such as "Only a Jew" to great applause from his moist-eyed but delighted listeners.
I started hunting for this song and found, through Michael Aylward, a collector named Bill Dean Myatt who sent me this picture of Ike and some information including the following from one of Ike's descendants:

He was born as Isaac Solomon in 1895, in Wigan, the youngest of three sons of a tailor, Isaac Solomon and his wife _____ Sadarsky, who had come the area of Russia now known as Belarus at the age of six months. The family do not know why or when he took the stage surname Freedman, but he used this throughout his career, although at least once he used the name Ike Doti. The family had no stage connections but Ike, starting in the usual way, moved to Scotland and became, eventually, quite successful. The variety theatre where he appeared most often was the Royal Princess in Glasgow (now the Citizens) but he did appear all over Scotland and is rumoured to have worked in America on at least two occasions. Although he first appeared on stage in a quasi-Spanish costume he later adopted full evening dress, tails and black top-hat.

Bill Dean Myatt had actually owned the record "Only a Jew" but had given it to the Scottish National Archives. I began corresponding with that archive and they are among the worst I've ever dealt with in terms of releasing material that cannot possibly be under copyright: the song was written, by Moses Besso and John Lawson, in 1896. The librarian had me hunting (unsuccessfully) for cemetery records in Scotland to try and prove when Besso and Lawson had died. Two months and scores of emails later, at quite an expense, I received the song. And...


There was absolutely no way I could shoe-horn the melody of "Dem yidns laydn" into this melody.

Then I found this, in a book called From The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall and Cosmopolitan Entertainment Culture, by Paul Maloney:

In 1932 he recorded six songs from his repertoire for Beltona Records (Aberdeen) and the following year recorded a further six records, issued on the Regal label [see below for the complete list] ... He had a second song, "Just a Jew," with which he alternated it, and which fulfilled almost exactly the same emotive function. The chorus ran "Just a Jew! Just a Jew! With a heart and a soul just like you." Freedman always sang one or the other as the climax of his performance.
Maybe it's the melody of this OTHER song, "Just a Jew," which was used by Karol Silberman. But this song? Gone. No 78 or published music yet found anywhere among collectors or libraries. So, Dem yidns laydn remains forgotten for now.

Before you get sobbing about how extinct Ike Freedman's hit songs are, here is a sample.

Sheet music for "Only a Jew" published by Sandy Macgregor Publishing, Glasgow

Gentile or Jew they are both just the same
Though they may have a different creed
I've got a dad with a heart pure as gold
And a mother with love so divine
So why do they say that I'm only a Jew
When I'm one of God's own mankind.

And here is Dem yidns laydn (click for a larger view):

(rn. Isaac Solomon) (Wigan 1895 – Rothesay, 1960). Comedian with orchestra accomp.
(violin, cello, piano)
Recorded The Ballroom of the Music Hall, Union Street, Aberdeen, ca Tuesday, 29th. November 1932
M-14498-1 My little Yiddisher Irish girl (Morris) Beltona 1944, BL-1944
M-14499-1 Ikey Granitesteen from Aberdeen ( - ) Beltona 1911, BL-1911
M-14500-1 My Queen of Italy (I. Freedman; Billy Roy) Beltona 1927, BL-1927
M-14501-2 The Irish Italian Jew (I. Freedman) Beltona 1927, BL-1927
M-14502-2 Just a Jew (Morris) Beltona 1944, BL-1944
M-14503-1 Only a Jew (M. Besso; John Lawson) Beltona 1911, BL-1911

“Ike Freedman, The Scottish Hebrew gentleman”, with orchestra”
Recorded Glasgow, September 1933
WSC-15-1 Queen of Italy (Billy Roy) Regal Zonophone MR-1094
WSC-16-1 Only a Jew (Billy Roy) Regal Zonophone MR-1094
WSC-17-1 Romeo (Billy Roy) Regal Zonophone MR-1095
WSC-18-1 King of Palestine (Billy Roy) Regal Zonophone MR-1095
WSC-19-1 Just a Jew (Morris) Regal Zonophone MR-1096
WSC-20-1 Ikey on the hike (B. Smyth) Regal Zonophone MR-1096

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Di havdole (Dem rebns havdole) Yiddish comic song recorded on Columbia by Joseph Feldman

Joseph Feldman, Yiddish tenorThis song is described in the catalog as "comic," but without the second verse to set up the joke one might miss it. In the first verse we have the usual slightly mocking tone as true believers cluster lovingly around their spiritual leader at the end of the Sabbath - and they have the great honor to eat the leftovers from his feast.

In the second verse, which Feldman did not record, the rebbe's wife is holding forth among her friends with the same prayers for the end of the Sabbath, but when she hears her husband starting the final wrapup she comes running, and he takes her into the house and closes the door behind her for a little "holy havdole" of their own.

So that's what the distraught abandoned wife in the third verse is begging for, a little of that same holy havdole from the rebbe.

I love Joseph Feldman. The title on his 78 is Dem Rebbin's Havdoleh (Josef Feldman). Here's his recording:

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Di zibn boarders: Solomon Shmulewitz writes a 1917 tell-all

This one has been in my to-do folder for years. A delightful collection of lebns-bilder!

I adapted a Sam Zagat cartoon to adorn it: this is from the day in 1916 when he came back to work after having been away from the newspaper for several months. For more of his work see

There's a lot of Yinglish here and some other interesting words. Couldn't figure out what "weik" (veyk) was. I liked pinke. Paul Wexler in Jewish and non-Jewish Creators of "Jewish Languages" (find it on google books) says pinke is, in Czech and Hungarian, "a box for money paid by cardplayers to the innkeeper" and that it stems from Judeo-Aramaic and perhaps Greek before that. Evidently the landlady was profiting by her association with her connected boarder until he cleaned her out.

I only recorded five of the seven verses but you can see them all after the jump.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Mentshn-freser: What tuberculosis, polio, and war have in common.

Wow, it's been three months since I posted here. There was a time I was putting up a song almost every day. Truth is, since the election I have been so disheartened I hardly ever talk, let alone sing. There are times I think music is over for me. I just can't bear the world right now. So I sound rusty but it will have to do.

This song has been in the "to-do folder" for a long time. Mark Slobin discussed it in his book, Tenement Songs, thirty-odd years ago. I recorded three of the four verses today: the first about tuberculosis, the second about polio, and the last is about war. All these things are devourers of mankind. Fresn is greedy, insatiable eating - gobbling or hoovering when it comes to food.

Solomon Smulewitz published this song in 1916. I've given the transliteration used in the sheet music on the video because I think it's important for Yiddish students to know what wide varieties of orthography we have to endure when searching for songs. There was a word here I did not know, laykhes or leykhes. I asked on Facebook and the only two people who answered me both suggested it is a typo for laybes, so that's what I went with. Enjoy the sprinkling of Germanic words used in Yiddish songs around the turn of the century.

Words and translation after the jump

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chicken: a cheerful sexist song by Rubin Doctor from 1922

This song and Ikh bin a boarder bay mayn vayb are probably Rubin Doctor's most famous songs. It was recorded by several people back in the day including Nellie Casman, and unlike most of the penny songs, it continues to be recorded to this very day, probably because people who don't know any Yiddish are happy to recognize the word "chicken" in the lyrics.

The tune was co-opted a decade later in Poland for a song recorded by Sam Goldberg and also by Betty Koenig. Click to read about it and hear it on my other blog: Meydlekh

The second verse is, like many songs of its era, disrespectful to women. Henry Sapoznik wrote a different second verse when his band recorded it back in the 1980s.

Anna Hoffman, the singer here, is possibly Annie Hoffman-Schneider was born April 15 1882 in Odessa and died August 3 1984, buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Here's her version of the song:

Words (translation) and transliteration after the jump, and the photo of Anna Hoffman, after the jump.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ikh bin a boarder bay mayn vayb (I room at my wife's place) by Rubin Doctor. Sung by Abraham Moscowitz.

This song and Chicken are probably Rubin Doctor's most famous songs. You'll find this one transliterated as Ich bin A border bei mein Weib and Ich bin a border by mein weib and other variations.

I prefer the recording by Jacob Jacobs, it's on Youtube under the ridiculous transliteration Ich Bin Aborder By Myn Weib ...

... but Jacobs does not sing the words which were available on the sheet music (at the Library of Congress as Ich bin a boarder by mein weib.

Here's how the title looks as Rubin Doctor himself wrote it out on the manuscript he submitted to the copyright office, see how tortured and indecisive he was about it:

Abraham Moscowitz is great too, of course. Here's his version:

translation and original Yiddish typescript after the jump

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

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Oy oy di vayber! Written by Rubin Doctor, sung by William Schwartz

This guy has nothing bad to say about women, which makes this an exceptional song. Well, he does say his wife ran away, but he doesn't seem resentful and it didn't keep him from trying again.

The singer, William Schwartz (left), was very dishy. He was born in April 8, 1894 in Yassi, Romania into a poor family and didn't get much education. The family emigrated to New York in 1905; he sold newspapers in the street and went to night school. In 1911 he went to St Louis to begin his days as a wandering Yiddish Theater actor and in 1914 Jacob P Adler took him into the Liberty Theater in New York, then Thomashevsky hired him for the National Theater and, with his handsome face and beautiful voice he became the toast of the town. He and his wife Blanche had at least one child, Shirley Schwartz, born in September 1916, and Leonard, born December 24 1921. I'd love to hear from descendants.

Here he is singing Rubin Doctor's song:

Rubin Doctor was born in Bessarabia in 1882, his dad was a kosher meat tax collector. As a teenager he emigrated to England and became a Yiddish theater actor and worked in vaudeville. In 1908 he came to America, continuing to work vaudeville. He wrote many songs, maybe "Chicken" and "Ikh bin a border bay mayn vayb" are currently his most famous.

I have the habit of loving every woman, but without luck
I don't consider any of them ugly, I press them to my heart
I love them like my life
I'm a sacrifice to them
Without them my life is dreary
I'd die for them

Oy, the women, I love them
Every step of the way they please me
Oy, the women, I'll love them even in my grave
Without a woman, brother, it's not good
Keyle, Beyle, Yente, Shoshe, Sime, Blume, Feyge, Rose,
They make things happy in every house
Ugly, beautiful, married, single,
An old grannie - anybody in a skirt
Oy, oy, the women, I love them

Don't think I'm single, listen to this miracle:
I had a wife myself, she pleased me, but, children,
My Khaye ran away one week, may it not happen to you,
I didn't have to think about it long
I caught a new wife.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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