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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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Khone (Yiddish parody of Irish-American vaudeville song Barney) - 1903

by Isidor Lillien
To sing with the melody of

As I've hypothesized before, WASP America was sick of its own music by the turn of the 20th century and went nuts for anything exotic or ethnic. Unfortunately, whites could only take in alien cultures by mocking and caricaturing them; African-Americans as well as Irish, German, Jewish and Italian immigrants were portrayed foully and gleefully on stage. That's just how it was.

Before I started working on this song I had to figure out how to pronounce the hero's name. The consensus at the Yiddish research Facebook group was Khone or Khune, and since it rhymed with matonele and rosheshone I went with Khone. However, in the third verse, which I didn't sing, shlof rhymes with roof, so that's the case for singing Khune, matunele, and roshashune. Oh well.

Here's today's living room recording:

I sang two of the three verses. Translation and transliteration from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Nor eyn boy - Louis Gilrod's parody of "Just One Girl" by Lyn Udall, 1898 - do it yourself!

Only one boy
[to the tune of] Just One Girl
by Louis Gilrod

I've done a lot of these waltzes, and it suddenly occurred to me that somebody else could put one together. I see this as suitable for a somewhat classical voice, in a show (which I hope somebody will do) of Tin Pan Alley Yiddish songs. In costume, is that asking too much? If you want more information, or some help, let me know. Below, the lyrics to be shoehorned in to the sheet music, also provided (click each page for a larger view and to save to your own computer). Let me know if you record it, I'll post a link.

Nor eyn boi

Mayn frayndin hot mer glik vi yorn
tsu a boy, tsu a boy
Yedes mol kent ir zen zi oysforn
mit a boy, mit a boy
Ikh volt gevolt khotsh nor eynem
ikh vil azoy, vil azoy
Nor layder hob ikh nit keynem
Oy gevald, vi nemt men a boy

Nor eyn boy, yo, nor eyn boy
Gevald mentshn, zogt mir ikh bet aykh, vi nemt men a boy
Gelebt un gelakht
volt ikh tob vi nakht
Ven es zol zikh in mir farlibn khotsh nor eyn boy

Bay tog geyt mayn frayndid shpatsirn mit a boy, mit a boy
Un bay nakht libt zi zikh amuzirn mit nokh a boy, mit nokh a boy
Zi shvert libe tsu yedn eynem, dem azoy un dem azoy
Nor ikh, nebekh, ikh hob nit keynem,
Oy gevald, vi nemt men a boy

Nor eyn boy, nor eyn boy,
Gevald, yidn, hot rakhmones un git mir a boy
Di velt volt geven far mir dan tsu kleyn
Ven es zol zikh in mir farlibn khotsh nor eyn boy

Nakhes volt fun mir geklibn yeder boy, yeder boy
Ven es zol zikh in mir khotsh farlibn nor eyn boy, nor eyn boy
Mir volt men nit badarft gebn tsu kayen shtroy, tsu kayen shtroy
Es volt shoyn gevezn a lebn
Nor gevald, vi nemt men a boy

Nor eyn boy, yo, nor eyn boy
Gevald boyes, hot rakhmones, ikh lib aykh troy
Es volt shoyn geven ales gezen
Ven es zol zikh in mir farlibn khotsh nor eyn boy

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Di opgeflikte blumen - The Torn-off Blossoms - Yiddish version of Ellen Wright's "Violets" of 1900

The Torn-off Blossoms
to sing with the famous English melody "Violets"
by Mikhl Aronson

This song, I'm perplexed to say, was evidently extremely popular in 1900 or thereabouts. There are THREE different Yiddish versions of it in the Judah Katzenelenbogen Lider magazin collection. One is a close translation by this composer, Mikhl Aronson, and the other is a close translation by Solomon Shmulewitz.

I found this third version to be more interesting. It had three verses but I condensed it to two. It's really only suitable for a classical singer but I did my best.

Thanks to Jim Baird for the guitar part, which he recorded at home and emailed to me, we never once have played this together. Here's my living room recording from this morning (the lady is the composer, Ellen Wright):

Translation of the Yiddish and transliteration of the two verses I sang after the jump.

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

Rum tu let (Room To Let) - Yiddish vaudeville song of 1899

Room To Let
by Isidor Lillien
Melody Rouse Mit Him

Songs mocking people from various countries and ethnic groups were very popular around the turn of the 20th century.

The original song mocks German-Americans. The title means "take him out, remove him." It was written by Harry Von Tilzer, which sounds like a German name but is actually the alias of Arie Gumbinsky, a Jew who successfully whitewashed himself.

Isidore Lillian's Yiddish parody is named Room To Let (transcribed into the Yiddish alphabet) after the signs that were all over the city: many apartment dwellers were desperate to take in boarders to help with the rent.

Strangely, there is another song called Room To Let on this blog, but in that case, it was the English title, and the Yiddish title was 23 Skidoo.

This alternate cover for Rauss Mit Ihm is strangely advertising it as a "rollicking Irish song." Was Irish generic for "ethnic"?

The beer hall pictured is Katzenheimer's, that's not an Irish name. Maybe the singer, Maud Huth, specialized in Irish songs.

Here's my living room rendition:

Transliteration of the two verses I sang and translation of the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Zumer bay nakht af a stoop (Summer night on a stoop) Yiddish ragtime of 1903

Summer at night on a stoop
By Isidor Lillien
To sing with the melody from
"All of the While."

Previously I've posted "Summer night at the ice cream parlor," "Summer night on the roof," and coming up eventually is "Summer night on the fire escape." These are all places New Yorkers went to escape the heat.

In addition, the stoop was a communal visiting spot. FYI I didn't know until today that the original reason for setting the first floor up a few steps was to get the door away from the horse poop.

My aunt, who was a New Yorker, used to speak approvingly of "stoop babies," that is, infants who were used to being passed from person to person out on the stoop and didn't fuss about it.

I am so grateful to Glenn Mehrbach for once again playing a fantastic ragtime keyboard track which he emailed to me without us ever having tried the song together. Here it is, with the vocal I added this morning:

Transliteration of the Yiddish and translation after the jump.

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Nor eyn meydl in der velt far mir - 1899 Yiddish parody by Joseph Bovshover of "Only One Girl In The World For Me."

Just one girl in the world for me
To sing with the melody from the English song
"Only One Girl in the World for Me"

The original song was composed by Dave Marion and published by Witmark in 1895. Judah Katzenelenbogen copyrighted the Yiddish version in 1899 (or at least that's what he said).

Yoysef Bovshover (Joseph Bovshover) was born in 1873 in Lubavitsh, Mohilev district in Byelorussia. His scholarly father wanted him to become a rabbi, but he instead left for Riga and worked in a grain shop. In 1891 he emigrated to New York and worked as a furrier in a sweatshop and became a noted anarchist-communist ‘sweatshop poet’ and agitator in the labour movement. One of his brothers bought him a grocery store, but he quickly bankrupted it. His brothers gave him a job in their business, but he failed at that also, and then he was a failed German teacher. The Yiddish leksikon comments: "his mind was entirely caught up in writing poetry."

Money worries and "innate egocentrism" drove him into melancholy and he was committed to an asylum where he lived for 15 years until his death in 1915.

Here's my living room recording:

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Sunday, June 28, 2020

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

UPDATE: Until recently I was very disappointed that nobody was picking up on these fascinating songs. But three years after I wrote this blog post, Daniel Kahn and Sveta Kundish did a bangup job on this one! Have a listen: Mentshn-fresser (1916 Yiddish Pandemic Ballad) Sveta Kundish & Daniel Kahn.

And now back to the original post:

Wow, it's been three months since I put up a song. There was a time I was putting one up 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, spelled Menshen-fresser, 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

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

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