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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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Yiddish theater (and other) songs, new cd: Ikh bin busy

The strange name of this cd comes from one of my favorite Yiddish theater songs ever, written by Nellie Casman: Mr Malekh haMoves ikh bin busy! (Mr Angel of Death, I'm busy) in which she, a young and rising star, gets so sick she DOESN'T GO TO WORK (ie she is sick unto death because nothing kept those troupers from the stage) and subsequently tries to convince the Angel of Death she simply has too much to do to die. It's the title track of this cd, Ikh bin busy.

Only $7 and comes with a 19-page pdf file of the complete Yiddish lyrics in transliteration and my translations.

I also put two songs on this cd that I wrote as entries to the 2015 International Yidisher Idol competition in Mexico City. I won first prize with Ikh ken shoyn nit mithaltn, I was Grand Champion that year!

Click on the picture to visit the cd and have a listen.


1. Mr Malekh haMoves ikh bin busy (Mr Angel of Death, I'm Busy) 04:58
2. Tsores iz keyn dayge nit (Trouble's Nothing to Worry About) 02:43
3. S'vet zikh shoyn oyspresn (It'll Iron Itself Out) 03:20
4. Ikh bin arayngegangen un zikh oysgedreyt (I Went In And Turned Right Around and Left) 03:02
5. Gotenyu, gib a drey dos redele (God, Turn the Wheel of Fortune) 02:33
6. Dem milshteyns faygn (The Millstone's Figs) 03:21
7. Yeder eyner straykt atsind (Everyone's On Strike Now) 02:55
8. Kompani (Company) 02:06
9. Men vet dir keyn sakh nit mitgebn in keyver arayn (You Can't Take Anything With You Into the Grave) 03:48
10. Az du kenst nit un veyst nit nemt men zikh nit unter (If You Don't Know How, Don't Try It) 02:53
11. Aza mazl afn Keyser (The Czar Should Have Such Luck) 03:50
12. Dos pastukhl (The Shepherd) from Bar Kokhba 04:17
13. Ikh ken shoyn nit mithaltn (I Can't Keep Up) 03:43

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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New digital-only cd of Yiddish Penny Songs from the turn of the twentieth century: Opgenarte velt

As you know I chug along recording rare songs as my mental state allows - since the advent of our current US regime it's been substantially more difficult and for several months I was so depressed I couldn't talk, let alone sing. Still, the pile of songs built up and yesterday I compiled two cds. Here is the first, Opgenarte Velt (Deluded World). Only $7 and comes with 18-page liner notes pdf file with the transliterated Yiddish lyrics and English translation. Click on picture to visit and listen.

Contents (all these songs have appeared on the blog):

1. Shtek arayn (Put 'er there!) 03:22
2. Uptown, Downtown 01:08
3. Mener, mener! (Men, men!) 04:14
4. Di opgenarte velt (The Deluded World) 02:58
5. A mentsh zolstu nor zayn (A mentsh zol men zayn) (Be a decent person) 03:19
6. Eylu voeylu (A Drinking Song) 02:33
7. In hundert yor arum (100 years from now) 04:08
8. A mentsh ken dokh makhn a mol a toes (A person can sometimes make a mistake) 02:32
9. Vos kh'hob gevolt hob ikh oysgefirt (What I wanted, I got) 02:35
10. Alts far gelt (Everything For Money) 02:44
11. Di zibn boarders (The Seven Boarders) 04:42
12. Mentshn-freser (Devourer of People) 05:02

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ven ikh zol vern president (If I Become President) 1904 Yiddish theater song

I couldn't find much information about this song, which is on the Library of Congress website. It's from the 1904 show "The Lodge President" דער לאָדזשען פּרעזידענט by that shund mayster Professor Horowitz, about whom I've written before.

Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl wrote the song, which as usual is full of Yinglish. Lorin Sklamberg solved the oddest mystery, Fan Pleve ot dem Soine Yssrul, by pointing me to Wikipedia:

Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve 1846-1904 was the director of Imperial Russia's police and later Minister of the Interior. ... After he did nothing to prevent a bloody wave of anti-Jewish violence in 1903, the known double agent Yevno Azef decided not to inform on the SR plans to kill Plehve. He survived one attack in 1903 and two in 1904 before the Socialist-Revolutionary Combat Group succeeded. On 28 July 1904, a bomb was thrown into Plehve's horse-drawn carriage by Yegor Sazonov, on his weekly audience with the Tsar at Izmailovsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg, killing him at 58.

So, note that von Plehve died the very year this song mentioned him!

I used the original transliteration from the sheet music in the video. You can see if you agree about the guesses I made. Here it is, recorded this morning. Something strange happened to the keyboard track.

Lyrics and translation after the jump.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

S'vet zikh shoyn oyspresn (It will all iron itself out) a 1919 Yiddish theater hit by Ludwig Satz

This song is transliterated at the Florida Atlantic University website as S'Vet Zich Shoin Auspressen, translated "It Will Be Ironed By Itself." The sheet music has 'Svet sich shon auspresin' on the cover and 'S'wet sach shoin aus presin' on the first page. It was the hit of the 1919 play by Zalmon Libin, "Dem Schneiders Techter" (Dem shnayders tekhter) (The tailor's daughters) performed in Joseph Edelstein's Second Avenue Theater.

Libin (right) was born in 1872 in Imperial Russia, his birth name was Yisrael-Zalman Hurvits. He emigrated to England in 1891 and worked as a furrier. 6 months later he left for America. He wrote short stories and plays and was sometimes called "The O. Henry of the East Side" One of his pieces, Gebrokhene Hertzer (Broken Hearts) written in 1903 was filmed in 1926, starring Maurice Schwartz.

The star, Ludwig Satz, wrote the words of the songs. Joseph Rumshinsky claimed the melody. We've had several of Satz's later songs on my other blog, This was one of his earliest hits.
Leo Yitzhok Satz was born in 1895 in Lemberg, Galicia. His father was a tailor. When he was seven he sang in the children's chorus for the local Polish opera and then, with his father's consent, he started touring in Przemysl. In 1912 he moved to London and married Lili Feinman. At the start of the first World War he moved to America and made a name as an actor and composer. He died in 1944.

Here's the song as pianist Aviva Enoch and I recorded it earlier this week:

This song starts literally with a tailor who hasn't done a good job pressing a garment. In the second verse (which I left out) there is the obligatory undesirable wife. The third verse tells us oppressed workers can vote for the Socialist party and throw out politicans who take bribes, so it's quite topical. (A wonderful word I never heard before, khabar, bribe.) The fourth verse talks about world affairs - if you want the full text get in touch. Words and translation after the jump.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ellis Island - 1914 Yiddish theater song by Solomon Smulewitz

This is a dull melody but the lyrics are vivid.

I found the tune so dull and the accompaniment so boiler-plate I just sang it a capella this morning.

Words and translation after the jump.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tsores iz keyn dayge nit from the Professor Horowitz opera יציאת מצרים

This song is transliterated as Zores is kain daige nit and Zores is kain dauge nit and, horrendously in the 1903 edition, Zures is kein dange nit.

The show it's from: the "Professor" Moses Horowitz opera יציאת מצרים (Exodus) is transliterated Yzias Mizrajum and Yzias mizrajim.

I had an edition which said the show was staged in 1920, but it must have been a revival, because the original music was printed in 1903 and Horwitz died in 1910.

On the front cover of the 1921 edition it says the words are by Professor Horowitz and the music is by Perlmutter and Wohl, but inside it says "by Anshel Shor."

There is a third verse but as it is 100% knee-jerk misogyny, I omitted it. If you must sing about wives with big noses and no money, go find the sheet music at the Library of Congress site and sing it yourself.

Here is the version I did today:

Translation and transliteration after the jump.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Yidishe Kazatzke

Let's start off with transcription hell. How something is spelled was less of an issue before Google. But now, if you can't spell it you can't find it.

The dance form here, the kazatzke, was not Jewish in origin. On Youtube you can find Ukrainians and Russians dancing the казачок (Little Cossack) which theoretically would be transcribed Kazachok but is also Kozachok Kozachock Cassatschok Casatschok Kozáček - and they are often dancing to the nationalistic 1938 Soviet "folksong" Катюша (Katyusha Katusha Katjuscha Katiusha Katjusha) - a song which inspired the nickname of the Red Army rocket launchers of World War II.

A characteristic of the dance: those with strong ankles squat low to the ground and kick their feet forward.According to a quick peek at Wikipedia, the dance dates back to the late 16th and 17th century.

Recently Amanda (Miryem-Khaye) Seigel was looking for Jewish versions of this dance and I remembered seeing this offering from the prolific Joseph Rumshisky (later Rumshinsky), published in 1920. It's got its own transliteration problems. In Yiddish on the cover it is דער אידישער קאַזאַק (transliterated as Yudishe kazatzke) while on the lyrics page it is אידישער קאָזאַטשאָק (Yudisher kozachok).

You may think all this talk about transliteration is boring, but you'd be amazed how many people write to me looking for songs which are actually easily findable - but under a different transliteration. Some of the transliterations pass all understanding. Some are just ridiculous typos. You have to be imaginative.

Jeff Warschauer writes:
The melody starts with a popular broyges tants motif. Ruth Rubin also collected alternative lyrics for that broyges tants melody. The lyrics are about a daughter who is too young to go to the khupe.

This is what's sometimes called a macaronic song - it mixes Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew. Here is the lyrics page from the sheet music (click for a larger view):

Musically I felt the sheet music presented a problem. Typically a kozatzke is quicker toward the end, but in this song the second half was considerably slower than the first! There is no archival recording to be found - or maybe there is one but it's hiding under an odd spelling! Provisionally I just decided to double-time the second page. Here's my very hasty recording from a couple days ago:

By the way, in the early 1930s came Tsirele Mirele, one of my favorite songs from the Itzik Zhelonek Yiddish theater songs collection, Aaron Lebedeff coaxes his sweetheart back into a good mood and suggests that she should "dance the kozatske like a boy" ...

Transliteration and translation after the jump.

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