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, August 15, 2019

A bisele fun oybn (Yiddish parody of A Little Bit Off The Top) 1898 Yiddish parody of an American vaudeville hit



Here's our recording of a once-famous (perhaps) Tin Pan Alley Song written by Murray and Leigh, from our cd Yiddish Ragtime. Randy Kloko is singing, thanks Randy!


Louis Koppelman wrote this Yiddish parody of an American comic song of the same name. The lyrics of the original were silly (as befits "The Comic Rage") and so were Koppelman's verses.

In the second verse our protagonist complains that he went to the theater and paid for an expensive seat ($1.00) which is why, when a lady with a big hat sat in front of him, he couldn't see anything. If he'd been in the cheap seats in the gallery with the hoi-polloi, this hat would not have been a problem.

Also interesting: "Sappho" was playing. Was in in English or Yiddish? Was it famous at the time? I haven't bothered to find out.

By the way, big hats those days were really big.



Yiddish lyrics and translation after the jump.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Di muzik shpilt (1895 Yiddish parody of And The Band Played On)

The Band Played on, by Charles B. Ward and John F. Palmer, was one of the big successes on Tin Pan Alley, so of course it was parodied for the Jewish music publishing world. Isaac Reingold, who has featured often in this blog, was one of the two most prolific parodists (the other being Louis Gilrod).

This is an astonishing lyric. In the first verse, we get a sweet and detailed scene from young Genendl's life, when she leaves her preparations for the Sabbath behind in order to go dancing. In the second verse, Genendl and her fiance are at their wedding reception longing for everybody else to leave so they could be alone together. And in the third verse, the husband murders her for going on a picnic with the boarder.

Here's our take on it, from the Yiddish Ragtime cd. Randy Kloko sang with me and Glenn Mehrbach played the keyboard.



Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Friday, August 2, 2019

Di matbeye - Yiddish theater song of 1908 - די מטבעה

UPDATE: In March I wondered if this song were lost forever. It's a wonderful Yiddish take on "If You Ain't Got That Do-Re-Mi" !

Happily Lorin Sklamberg and Eléonore Biezunski at the YIVO Sound Archive found a recording of Solomon Smulewitz singing this song, his own composition, and I liked it so much we put it on our Yiddish Ragtime album even though it has nothing in common with the other songs. It is the only natively Yiddish composition on the disk.




דיא מטבעה
I originally found it in the Solomon Smulewitz publication Der teater zinger דער טעאַטער  זינגער

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.

I love everything about this song, from its snide and discouraging tone to its dark advice and its interesting, long tune. But my favorite part is the Question-and-Answer period. When I recorded it with Randy Kloko I said: let's have those answers sound like they came from on high via the Magic Eight Ball.


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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Thursday, August 1, 2019

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

UPDATE: Replaced video with the track from our new cd Yiddish Ragtime


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.

Randy Kloko sings with me on the choruses and Jack Herrick generously emailed me a guitar track when I wailed to him that my piano playing is so deadly boring and elementary even I can't stand to listen to it. Thanks Jack!

Translation and transliteration after the jump.

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Gey shnel aheym - Yiddish parody of the Walter Wilson song "Ain't Dat A Shame"


The original song, Ain't Dat A Shame, published in 1901 by John Queen and Walter Wilson, was probably inspired by Frankie Baker, who in 1899 shot her man for going to a dance with another woman. She became the star of "Frankie and Johnny" and there are strains of the famous melody within this one. (In Ain't Dat A Shame, though, the philandering man thinks better of it and goes home, only to find she's locked the door, so nobody dies.)

The Yiddish parody written by Louis Gilrod probably began as just the title, which fit so nicely against the English language original. In the first verse a woman sends her suitor home; in the second verse a wife sends her gambling husband home; in the third verse a boarder sends his lovelorn landlady home.

Barb Coffman played the keyboard and Randy Kloko joined me on this song for our album Yiddish Ragtime

Here's our recording:


Transliteration and translation after the jump.


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Af katoves - Yiddish vaudeville parody of 1904 "Teasing"

UPDATE: Reposted with a video using the track from our new cd Yiddish Ragtime.


Here's another song lyric from Lider magazin (at YIVO): Simon Smulewitz (aka Solomon Small) wrote this parody of the American song "Teasing" by Albert Von Tilzer.

Solomon's most famous song ever was A brivele der mamen. Von Tilzer's most famous song was Take Me Out To the Ballgame. I wonder if he made a fortune off it.

Pianist Glenn Mehrbach recorded this accompaniment track for me. Thanks, Glenn! I adapted the words a bit for a woman to sing. Then when Randy Kloko came to town I added him to the chorus and we put it on our cd Yiddish Ragtime.

Here's our recording:


Transliteration and translation after the jump.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Yidishe fish: A slightly risque parody of "The Yiddisha Rag," 1909

Written by Louis Gilrod in 1909, this song is ostensibly about the superiority of Yiddish fish. Michael Alpert, however, pointed out that in his dialect the words for "fish" and "legs" are homonyms; if you mentally substitute the latter into the story, things heat up a bit.

His theory is strengthened by the third verse, which I didn't sing because I can't do dialects, and it's a slam dunk when you look at the cover of the American sheet music. Fis!


Yiddish Ragtime - Here's a video using our track from the new Yiddish Ragtime cd available at Skylark Productions.


Transliteration and lyrics after the jump.

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