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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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Vayl ikh lib dikh (Because I Love You) - romantic Yiddish theater song from 1899

Because I love you
With the melody from the English song Because I Love You
Sung by artist Elias Rothstein
Written by Louis Gilrod

There are two period recordings of this song, which was originally written in German by composer Theodore Wottitz: Weil ich dich liebe. It was recorded in Germany in 1907 by "The Black Nightingale" "The South American Caruso" "Australische nachtigall" Arabella Fields (or Belle Fields): Because I Love You

It was recorded eight years earlier by now-completely-unknown theater singer May Kelso: Because. She was also known as Maym Kelso or Mayme Kelso, born in 1867. There's information about her at that Youtube link.

The Yiddish version appeared in Judah Katzenelenbogen's Lider magazin. I once said Louis Gilrod wrote only one truly romantic song () but I was wrong. This is another one. I got Bob Vasile, who I've played with since 1981, to play guitar on our rendition, which is faster than the originals. Here's our living room recording from yesterday:

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Friday, May 29, 2020

Der Emigrant published by G. Mendelsohn and Issac Reingold 1899

This is not my kind of song, but because it is the ONLY song in the 25 or so issues of Lider magazin that was published with its own sheet music, there must have been something special about it, so here is the sheet music - click each of the three sheets for a larger sheet which you can print out and sing.

If you need some help with the words contact me.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Kolumbuses medine (Columbus's Land) - 1911 parody of Harry Lauder's "I Love A Lassy"

Columbus's Country
by Louis Gilrod
to sing with the melody of
"Love a Lassy"

Sir Harry Lauder (1870-1950) was a Scottish vaudeville/music hall performer. A flax-mill worker and a miner as a child, he was, in 1911 (according to Wikipedia), the highest-paid performer in the world, and the first British artist to sell a million records. This song, from 1906, was his biggest hit.

Louis Gilrod's parody includes many common tropes. Of particular interest to me were two images: first, of the bride on one floor of a tenement house and a corpse on another - this reappears in a song collected by Ruth Rubin in the 1950s, sung to the melody of In the Shade Of The Old Apple Tree and discussed on my other blog: In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht.

Second, the mix-up of taking the bride and groom to the cemetery and the corpse to the chuppah. This reappears in Ludwig Satz's A mentsh ken dokh makhn a mol a toes of 1923.

Here's my living room recording from this morning:

Transliteration and translation of the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ikh bin a lady: 1896 Yiddish parody by Isaac Gilrod of a ragtime tune

Ikh bin a lady (I am a lady)
To sing with the melody from the English song
specially written for Madam Thomashefsky
by Isaac Reingold

Isaac Reingold, "The Bard of the West," wrote this parody for the famous Yiddish theater star Bessie Thomashefsky. She was partial to ragtime tunes and lyrics about strong women. The song's disapproving tone can't suppress the spirit of the modern woman it describes.

As I've discussed before, most of the best tunes from this era were from ragtime songs with racist lyrics. In this case I couldn't even determine whether the composer, W. T. Jefferson, was African American.

The original words are so distasteful nobody could countenance them today, but the tune is delightful.

It was hard to decide how to pronounce the word "lady" - it had to rhyme with words like rede.

Glenn Mehrbach made up this wonderful ragtime piano accompaniment and emailed it to me without us ever having sung/played the song together!

Transliteration of the Yiddish and translation after the jump.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Di brenende ekskoyrshun shif General Slocum: 1904 Yiddish disaster song by Max Zavodnik

Written by Max Zavodnik
To sing with the melody fr
The Burning Excursion Ship "General Slocum"om
"Always In The Way"

This was not an easy song to find and maybe that's because it's not so great. The original text is about a kid whose mother died and who now has a rotten stepmother.

That's not as great a tragedy as the 1904 Burning of the General Slocum. I'd never heard of it, had you? According to Wikipedia, about 1,021 of the 1,342 people on board the pleasure steamboat died, making the General Slocum disaster "the New York area's worst disaster in terms of loss of life until the September 11, 2001 attacks." Some speculate that anti-German sentiment (all the people on board were from the little Germany neighborhood) caused the deaths to be downplayed.

Max Zavodnik wrote a number of songs featured on this blog and one on my other blog, Polish Jewish Cabaret - he was drawn to tragedy.

Here's my living room recording from yesterday - I'm in quarantine with six members of my family (delight! but bedlam) and I squeezed this in between periods of uproar.

For the three verses I sang, transliteration from the Yiddish and translation after the jump. If you want the whole song (it's long) write to me.

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

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Mayn herr proletarier - Yiddish labor song from 1901, parody of "Mr. Volunteer"

Mayn herr proletarier (My Mr Proletarian)
with the melody from the English song
Mr Volunteer
by Louis Gilrod

The original song was by Paul Dresser (we've had his songs on this blog before, check in the search box). Louis Gilrod wrote the lyrics. With none of my piano pals available during the quarantine, I just muddled through on my own.

This is an exceptionally ugly sheet music cover.

The lyrics have a lot of Germanic words rarely seen in Yiddish today.

Here's today's living room recording:

Transliterated lyrics and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Monday, May 4, 2020

In di sup (In the soup) - 1904 Yiddish Vaudeville parody of "The Man Behind"

In di zup
by Isidor Lillien
To sing with the melody from
"The Man Behind"

This is from Judah Katzenelenbogn's Lider Magazin of 1904. Note that sup is spelled with an s, as in English, instead of a zayin as in usual Yiddish.

The parody is by Isidor Lillien and the original song was "The Man Behind" by J. B. Mullen, the unusually cynical English lyric by Vincent Bryan begins:

Oh when I was but a little boy,
 my father said to me,
Don't ever be too forward, lad, 
but act with modesty.
In battle it's the man in front 
that's always shot you'll find,
But the general gets the credit 
for he is the man behind.

The man behind, the man behind,
He's the wisest man that you will ever find.
When the man in front is shot, 
he is Johnnie on the spot.
So always try to be the man behind.

The parody is a tangle of Yinglish and it careens from the presidential election to the war between Russia and Japan to a restaurant with questionable hygiene. It's too bad there is no recording of it, because I'd like to hear how they got kvitsh and cockroach to rhyme.

The recording is even more austere and primitive than usual because during "sheltering in place" my house is full of people and I'm babysitting most of the time! Just imagine there is a vaudeville orchestra playing along.

Translation and transliteration of the Yiddish after the jump.

In di sup

Far prezident elekshon tsayt, dan loyfn menshn tsvey.
A rash iz dan in gantsn land, a murml, a geshrey.
Eyner iz republikaner un der tsveyter demokrat.
Eyner vert fun zey elekted un der tsveyter kandidat...

Iz in di sup, iz in di sup.
Ir kent gornit farshteyn vos es tut zikh op.
Der vos hot gegebn mer
Der blaybt zitsn af dem tsher
Un der tsveyter kandidat iz in di sup.

A yedn iz bavust az yetst geyt on a groyse krig,
Der shlekhter fonye rusland mit yapon di shvakhe flig.
Gemeynt hot yeder az di krig farlirn vet yapon,
Nor tsum sof gevint yapon gor un der rusisher tiran!

Iz in di sup, iz in di sup,
Zayne shipn zinken tif in yam arop.
Yapon makht fun im a bom,
No mor kishenover pogrom,
Un der rusisher tiran iz in di sup.

Fraytik nokh dem kidesh ven ikh hob gegesn fish,
Derzen hob ikh a kakerutsh shpatsirn afn tish.
Far shrek iz er antlofn ven ikh hob geton a kvitsh.
Ven men hot derlangt di zup derze ikh az der kakerutsh...

Iz in di sup, iz in di sup,
Kh'hob gemeynt ikh gey fun zinen shir arop!
S'iz mir nit gevezn voyl: ikh nem dem lefl tsu dem moyl,
Iz der kakerutsh gevezn in di sup.


Before election time, two people are running
There's an uproar in the whole land, mumbling, an outcry.
One's a Republican, the other a Democrat.
One is elected and the second candidate...

Is in the soup, is in the soup,
You can't at all understand what's going on
The one who gave more is sitting in the chair
And the other candidate is in the soup.

Everyone knows there's a big war going on now
Terrible "Ivan" is fighting Japan, that weak fly.
Everybody thought Japan would lose the war
But in the end Japan won totally and the Russian tyrant...

Is in the soup, is in the soup,
His ships are sinking deep into the ocean.
Japan turned him into a bum, no more Kishenov pogrom,
And the Russian tyrant is in the soup.

Friday after the kiddush, when I ate fish,
I caught sight of a cockroach walking on the table.
He ran in terror when I screamed.
When they serve the soup I see the cockroach...

Is in the soup, it's in the soup,
I thought I'd go right out of my mind!
It wasn't good for me at all: I raise the spoon to my mouth,
The cockroach is in the soup.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me: