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, 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!

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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.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Der man mit der nodl un di sher - Labor anthem of 1904 by Solomon Smulewitz

Here's our recording of Cheap! from the cd Yiddish Ragtime, Randy Kloko sang with me and Glenn Mehrbach is on keyboard:

This song is not from Lider magazin, I found it in the composer's own annual, Der teater zinger. I had the text for a long time and didn't think I'd be able to find the melody, but Eleanore Biezunski and Lorin Sklamberg at YIVO found me a recording of Solomon Smulewitz himself singing it. Thanks!

Although Smulewitz did not credit his source, I discovered that the verse for this song is taken from an American song, Good Bye Little Girl Good Bye by Gus Edwards (original lyrics by Will D. Cobb) published in 1904. (I don't know what war that soldier on the cover was going off to fight.)

Its somewhat martial theme fit this workers' anthem - for the hero of the tailoring trade and the nascent Garments' Union - very well. The chorus is not from the Edwards song; perhaps Smulewitz wrote it himself, or maybe he stole it from elsewhere. As often in these early labor songs, "The Red Flag" - the symbol of Communism - was seen as the solution to their woes. We discovered that wasn't the answer, but what can sustain us against the Robber Barons of our own era?

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Cheap, Cheap, Cheap! Yiddish parody of the ragtime song "Gone, Gone, Gone"

Here's our recording of Cheap! from the cd Yiddish Ragtime, with Randy Kloko singing, me on fiddle and Glenn Mehrbach on keyboard:

The melody for this parody by Louis Gilrod is taken from "Gone, Gone, Gone," a ragtime song by T. J. Farron, Jr and Joseph M. Hollander. The song was sung by Russell & Locke:

It was about a man who lost his sweetheart, she was gone gone gone. Louis Gilrod turned this to a song about saving money. It mentions venereal disease more explicitly than any other song of the era. Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ven ikh volt gevezn president: a Yiddish parody to the tune of Pretty Little Dinah Jones

Here's our recording of Ven ikh volt gevezn prezident, from the cd Yiddish Ragtime.Randy Kloko is singing, Glenn Mehrbach is playing keyboard.

Isidore Lillien (Isidor Lilien etc) later had a very respectable career writing for the Yiddish theater, but here he put his hand to the work of writing Yiddish lyrics for currently popular American songs, in this case a gentle ragtime number by J. B. Mullen, published in 1902.

The original song is about a little maid in Florida's sunny clime. The parody is a fantasy based on complaints about life, problems that would be remedied by the speaker if he were to become president.

Lilien was born in Rzeszow (Reyshe), Galicia in 1882. He came to America with his family at the age of ten, joined a dramatic union at 16 and at 17 was working at a vaudeville house. Of interest to me: Zylbercweig wrote that Lillian's comedy "Gimpel Beynish der Shadkhn" was staged in 1911. I hadn't thought Gimpel was even invented until a year later.

The lyrics here give a rich detailed overview of immigrant life on the lower east side.

Oddly, the fourth verse is about Nicholas II and the pogroms. The song was long already so we decided to skip that verse.

Transliteration of the yiddish and translation after the jump.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Rayst arop di shleser! (Tear down the castles) Yiddish parody of 1904 "Give My Regards to Broadway"

This one was such a pleasure. Louis Gilrod, one of the two most prolific parodists featured in Lider magazin, wrote a classic workers' anthem, stirring, furious, bitter, to the cheerful tune of a frivolous WASPy classic.

Here's our recording from the cd Yiddish Ragtime, with Randy Kloko on vocals with me and Glenn Mehrbach on keyboard:

A lot of people have told me they're surprised that "Give My Regards To Broadway" was published in 1904 - they thought it was a song from a generation or two later. Also, people only recognize the chorus, the verse has not survived in popular memory.

In Yiddish shleser usually just means locks, but in German it also means castles, and Gilrod used both meanings very cleverly in this lyric, also the idea of people being locked up and locked out.

The song rings true in our current age when robber barons are flourishing and workers are oppressed. One sad difference between now and 115 years ago is that the service industry is almost all that's left in America: after decades of decline our country's industry, home industries, the trades, the labor unions, all have fallen on hard times. Who is standing up for workers now?

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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