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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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Libe iz dos beste vort (Love Is The Best Word) sung by the dreamy William Schwarz in 1922

The manuscript is online at the Library of Congress website. The song was composed in 1922 by Louis Friedsell and was recorded by the handsome and golden-voiced tenor William Schwartz in 1922. I hope he was a superstar, he'd have deserved it!

This song shows how lyrics were getting simplified as time went by. Songs of the turn of the century were very wordy, they had lots of words in every line and lots of lines in every verse and lots of verses before the song finally ended. I wonder whether the need to get the whole thing over with in less than three minutes, which was a requirement of the recording industry of the time, led composers to compress their sentiments into more manageable lengths.

Of course, when a song is short and simple it often doesn't say much at all, and that is certainly the case here. William sang, no doubt to some lovely soubrette, the following:

My heart is heavy, I have a hankering for something. It goes up and down, from the heart to the head. Soon I feel I'm crying, soon, I want to be happy. And in dreams and sleep it doesn't leave me alone. So then, it must be love, just love

Love, love is the best word. Here in my heart it belongs forever. Love delights everyone and also brings happiness, and love brings suffering there, too.

Here he is:

I put the sheet music manuscript on the video so you can enjoy the (transcribed) Yiddish of the time.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Azoy farvelkt a blum - Yiddish Parody of "Hiawatha" commissioned for Madame Bessie Thomashefsky, 1903

Well, during this long break I did not learn to play the piano better. I got sick instead. But hopefully I can pick up again now...

From Lider magazin 1903 this parody, "Thus Withers A Bloom,"
written by Solomon Smulewitz for Madame Thomashefsky,
 to sing with the melody from the song "Hiawatha"

These days pseudo-ethnic songs from Tin Pan Alley at the turn of the 20th century are extremely distasteful, but when singing them in Yiddish (with completely different stories) I consider the melodies to have been laundered.

This melody is nothing to write home about but I find it interesting that it's equally inappropriate for a song about "an Indian Maid" and for this song about a (presumably Jewish) maiden whose life is destroyed by a cad (we have had dozens of songs on this theme already).

You can hear the original, sung by Harry MacDonough here: Hiawatha on Youtube - with the original nauseating lyrics. I've shared my theory before, that white people at the time were damn sick of their own insipid white music but couldn't shed their sensibilities or their racism as they tried to branch out.

This story is told on the video I shared above:
Neil Moret, a pseudonym for Charles N. Daniels (who is credited with arranging Scott Joplin's first rag), was on a train out to Hiawatha, Kansas to meet up with a girl he had fallen in love with. The clickety-clack of the train wheels reminded him of Native American tom-toms, which he centered the piece on. He had the whole composition written by the time he got there, and everyone loved it. He had it published, and immediately it caught on like wildfire. It also sparked the "Indian Intermezzo" craze, from which we got pieces like "Iola" and "Red Wing".

So getting back to the Yiddish parody, published in Lider magazin presumably in 1903 - it was written by Solomon Smulewitz (Shloyme Smulewitz in earlier years, aka Solomon Small in later years). He has quite a bitter take here on man's behavior towards women (translation after the jump). Here's my recording from this past week:

Lyrics after the jump.
>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Di gantse velt iz mayn (Yiddish vaudeville waltz by Sadie Levin) published in 1903

This is one of only two or three songs written by Sadie Levin, the only woman to be credited for creating parodies of American hit Tin Pan Alley songs.

"The Whole World Is Mine" by Sadie Levin, to sing with the melody from "The boys in the gallery for mine"

This one is even more obscure than usual because the underlying song, The Boys in the Gall'ry for Mine," is hard to find (and if you look for it under the name given on the Yiddish song sheet, The Boys In The Gallery For Mine, you will never find it).

The original song panders to the working-class people in the cheap seats high up near the ceiling. It says, the people who pay for the expensive seats (we'd call them the orchestra or box seats I guess) will put up with a lousy performance, but the boys up in the peanut gallery will certainly let you know if you're no good. We've seen that in English and Yiddish songs alike - in "Back to the Tailor Shop" our protagonist is pelted with potatoes, rotten apples, and eggs when the people in the balcony are not impressed by his acting.

The song Sadie wrote is about an odd character - he's basically a bum (a mekabl is a receiver of charity, a person living on public assistance), but with some yikhes and at least enough erudition to fool people with more money than education.

I thought the tune was quite dull but after we got done with it I have some affection for it. Thanks to Bob Vasile for playing guitar and Beth Holmgren for joining me on the chorus. Here's our living room rendition:

The lyrics and the translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Vey vet dir shoyn zayn: Isidor Lillien's parody of "Way Down In My Heart I've Got a Feelin' For You," 1904

This is the first new song since our album Yiddish Ragtime came out. So, back to raw living room recordings.

Vey vet dir shoyn zayn by Isidor Lillien
To sing with the melody from "Way Down In My Heart."

The Yiddish title literally means "you're going to feel pain" but we don't really say that in English.

The American song is actually called "I've Got a Feelin' For You" but Lilien used the other half of the sentence as the title. It was written by Edward Madden and Theodore F. Morse and was published in 1904.

In the chorus the annoyed girlfriend says: "Marry me already. Come to court." Possibly she means "let's get married in the courtroom," but usually in this sort of song she is threatening a lawsuit over breach of promise, or demanding a divorce. You decide.

An interesting Yinglish word: sokn meaning "to suck/to mooch."

Also amusing, the word kest: in the old country a father-in-law paid his new son-in-law's expenses for a year or more so he could study Torah. The "sport" is obviously not doing anything of the kind.

I chose this song because I'm trying to learn how to play more piano and it was easy enough for me to engineer an adequate track - that is, I can play it all, but not both hands at the same time at any reasonable tempo. Just muddling along. Here's today's version:

Yiddish lyrics and transliteration after the jump.

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

A brief hiatus

I'm taking some time off from blogging to practice the piano so I can do my own accompaniments a little better. Even though I have friends who are willing to help me with this project, there is no money in it, ever, so I'm trying to be more self-sufficient. See you soon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Dos bisele mashke - Yiddish drinking song from a Solomon Smulewitz Lambert cylinder recording

A week ago I got this email from a guy at the Library of Congress:
As you may know, the National Recording Registry is an annual list from the Library of Congress... Each of these recordings has been chosen by the Librarian of Congress, with input from the National Recording Preservation Board. Each of these recordings have been deemed so vital to the history of America—aesthetically, culturally or historically—that they demand permanent archiving in the nation’s library... Currently, those of us who work on the Registry are attempting to build out the above website with a variety of scholarly essays on each of the 525 titles on the Registry. I was wondering if you might be able write something for us on the topic of: "Yiddish Cylinders from the Standard Phonograph and Thomas Lambert Co."? Unfortunately, we are not able to pay you at this time.
The song he was referencing was this one, Dos Biselle Mashke (A little booze), written and sung by Solomon Smulewitz sometime around 1903. (I recently put him into Wikipedia if you're interested: Solomon Smulewitz). Here it is:

The Lambert Yiddish cylinders are among the oldest Yiddish recordings ever made and the only reason they are now widely available is that Henry Sapoznik, whom I met back in the late 1980s at his seminal retreat for Jewish musicians called KlezKamp, put together the Attractive Hebrews compilation for Archeophone Records (and received an award for it). (The cd's cover image is from a song called A Boychik up-to-date by Louis Gilrod and David Meyerowitz, both frequently seen on this blog. It's a great sheet music cover but, sadly, the lyrics are too annoying to sing.)

If I seem to be linking more than usual, it's because Sapoznik is a legendary character in all senses of the word (read about his long history in klezmer and American old-time music at Wikipedia).Yet the Library of Congress guy - who took the recording from this cd and who has the extensive liner notes - hadn't even bothered to contact him.

Sapoznik always has an interesting project underway. At his website (Henry Sapoznik) you can read about the most recent ones, and he says he'll soon be posting more of his work on Yiddish radio.

He's issued a number of cds of the oldest, rarest Yiddish recordings. Look them up and buy them. Read about the Lambert cylinders project and sample the tracks: Attractive Hebrews at the Archeophone website or at Amazon.

The word mashke is sometimes translated as whisky rather than generic liquor.

You can listen to and read about a "folk-processed" version of this song, called by the singer Tsu dir, tsu dir dos glezele vayn, at Itzik Gottesman's Yiddish Song of the Week blog. It often happened that theater songs escaped out into the wild and became thought of as "folk" songs. If you think about it, every folk song was written by somebody - we just don't know who.

Sapoznik's transcription of the words and my translation from the Yiddish after the jump. I'm also including the singable translation he made!

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


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pinokl (Pinochle) - Morris Goldstein's Yiddish vaudeville hit of 1918

Allen Lewis Rickman wrote and asked if I'd post this song. I couldn't have done it without the transcription skills of Sam Weiss, who volunteered out of his esteem for Mr. Rickman!

I usually have to stick to songs for which there is either a broadside or sheet music because I'm not good at teasing out the lyrics of the old-time singers.

Here is Morris Goldstein singing:

I don't know anything about Morris Goldstein (though he has been featured on this blog several times before, you can put his name in the search box and see) and I also know nothing about pinochle except that my father and his brothers used to play it.

In Yiddish I've also seen it spelled pinakl, pinakel, pinokel, etc.

As usual, lots of double entendre here. Transcription and translation after the jump.

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

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