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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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Di zi! Sung to the tune of Sweet Marie. And a response: Der er.

UPDATE: I'm reposting because I just found a fascinating riposte to this song, Der er, printed right next to Di zi in an issue of Lider magazin. Here it is (click for a larger view)

The lyrics, transliteration and translation for both parodies can be found after the jump.

Interestingly, while on the songsheet that contains both songs Louis Koppelman is named as composer of "Di Zi," the other one, "Der Er," says: "Farfast fun der Bostoner khokhmanis," "Written by the Very Intelligent Woman of Boston." Who was she? or was it a man pretending to be a woman? MYSTERY.

The original parody was created by Louis Kopelman (left) to the tune of "Sweet Marie."

Sweet Marie was an unbelievably sappy love song so popular that it got a candy bar named after it in Canada. The "poem" was written by Cy Warman and the music by Raymon Moore.

I see in the book Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish that Kopelman was one of several coupletists hired by the Katzenelebogen company to make Yiddish versions of Tin Pan Alley songs around the turn of the 20th century. The others cited (Louis Gilrod, Isaac Reingold, Solomon Small/Shlomo Shmulevitz, and David Meyerowitz are also all represented in the Penny Song collection. Kopelman died of consumption in 1901. UPDATE: I'm finding tons more of these Katsenelenbogn parodies in the Lider magazinen so expect to see many more of them soon, watch this space!

This post was originally from four years ago and I was experimenting with live videos: I got a cheap green screen and tried to drop out the background because I'm tired of showing how messy my studio is. However, I didn't get it quite right. Thanks to Roger Lynn Spears for his great piano playing.

You can listen to the 1893 recording of Ada Jones singing Sweet Marie on Youtube. According to the notes there,
Ada Jones (1873-1922) was the leading female recording artist in the acoustic recording era, especially popular from 1905 to 1912 or so. Always working as a freelance artist, she recorded for most American companies. Her singing range was limited but she was remarkably versatile, able to perform vaudeville sketches, sentimental ballads, popular duets, hits from Broadway shows, British music hall material, ragtime songs, and Irish comic songs. She was known for an ability to mimic dialects... the song been introduced in the show A Knotty Affair, which opened in New York in May 1891. Jones performed in A Knotty Affair in December 1893, but the song was sung on stage by its composer, Raymon Moore.
OK, text and translations after the jump.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mener, mener - written by Oskar Solomonescu for Pepi Littman

UPDATE: In a collection from YIVO of publications called Lider Magazin (sent to me by Vivi Lachs) I found another set of lyrics for this song ("sung by Madame Finkel"). If anybody cares I'll post a translation. Here it is, click for a larger view.

This tune was supposedly from a Goldfaden operetta called "Bais Duwed" of which I can't find mention online. I found the lyrics, along with Der Tsiferblat, at Harvard -- written out longhand in Yiddish cursive by the composer, Oscar Solomonescu, and notated: for Pepi Littman, New York. And what a great song it is! I just can't believe this amazing tune, found for me by Michael Aylward, sung here by the magnificent Frank Seiden: Menner Menner, von Bais Duwed

And here's my version, sung this morning (the first time I've tried singing since our wretched election).

The composer, Osias Solomonescu, was born April 1869 in Yasi, Romania, to poor, Orthodox parents. Orphaned early, and penniless, but blessed with a beautiful voice, he found a home in some Romanian Yiddish theater troupe, where he sang in the chorus and played children's roles. His first adult role was Benyominl in Goldfaden's "Podriatshik" and after that he began playing comic roles, especially dressing as and playing a woman. He came to American in 1901 and played at the Eldorado. He also worked as a stage manager and "episode actor" in the Bronx Prospect Theater and in Philadelphia's Orchard Street Theater.

He wrote many theater songs most of which he sang himself. While still in Romania he translated the one act "The Red Trousers," which was later shown in Yiddish variety houses. Zylberzweig: "Solomonescu was unique in the Yiddish actors' world with his humorous letters, in which he described that era of the Yiddish theater." I'll have to look for that.

I think it's quite interesting that Solomonescu -- an actor known for playing women's roles in drag --  wrote these two songs for Pepi, an actress known for playing men's roles in drag (or at least, she played women pretending to be men). Quite modern.

Back to Frank Seiden (of whom I have not found a picture) -- he was one of the earliest Yiddish recording artists in America. I love his records even though they're very scratchy. Peter Nahon via avers that Seiden "led a wild life, winning a bar in New York's bowery during a poker game and tending bar there after his recording career was over."

One sees at that he was born in 1861 or 1862 in Austria/Galicia, immigrated in 1876 and was naturalized in 1886. He had one wife, Rachael, and four children: Jacob, Eva, Amalia/Mary, Joseph. He was listed in 1900 in Manhattan as a phonograph dealer, in 1905 in Brooklyn as an actor, in 1910 as "Vaudeville" in 1920 he was retired or unemployed. He was perhaps the Frank Seiden who died September 1926 and is buried at Mount Hebron cemetery in Flushing, Queens.

I hope some descendant will get in touch at some point and email me his picture!

Words and translation after the jump.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

A firter hashiveinu nazad - a Yiddish parody advertising a book store in London

I met Vivi Lachs at the first European Yidish-vokh, which took place in Sounion Greece a few weeks ago. Vivi is a performer and an academic and she is researching (among other things) penny songsheets sold in London around the turn of the 20th century. If you think that sounds like something that would interest me intensely, you'd be right. We talked quite a bit and I very much enjoyed her lecture.

(I'm also jealous of Vivi because she gets invited to present her music and research in loads of places that ignore me because I'm not an academic.)

I bought her book, Whitechapel Noise, which was recently published by Wayne State University Press, and was intrigued by her commentary on Hashiveynu nazad (or Hashivenu nasad as it's spelled on the sheet music).

The original is one of Abraham Goldfaden's numerous songs about returning to Zion and it was featured in a show I would like to see, called Der Yidisher Faust.

Vivi wrote:
The title is unusual and not commonplace Yiddish, but a carefully crafted Yiddish hybrid. The word hashiveynu comes from a Hebrew word meaning "return us." It is a familiar term to synagogue-going Jews, as it is part of the Sabbath morning liturgy... The familiarity of the liturgy gives the word intense and deep resonances. ... The second word of the title, nazad, is also not standard Yiddish and comes from Russian meaning "back there." The title in full means "return us back" or "take us back." ...

"A firter hashiveynu nazad" and "A finfter hashiveynu nazad" ... were both written and published by Yozef the bookseller and are double parodies, both of the Goldfaden original and of "Dem nayem hashiveynu nazad" ... the songbook being advertised ... was the "Idishe bine," an 800-page American publication of theater songs published in a double volume in 1897.

I'd certainly love to see the book Der idishe bine!

And by the way, Vivi herself has recorded the first parody, Dem nayem hashiveynu nazad, which is quite serious and deals explicitly with issues for London Jews, with her own melody. You can hear it on Youtube and on her cd with the Klezmer Club, Whitechapel, Mayn Vaytshepl.

I love songs that get turned into ads so I asked Vivi for the songsheet and she sent it. I couldn't find a recording of the original song (or its parodies), but the sheet music is available from the Library of Congress website.

Here's my recording from this morning of Mr Yozef's text (verses 1 and 3) shoehorned into the original melody. Sorry about my rotten piano playing.

Text and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Country Pleasure: A Yiddish vaudeville ditty about summer vacation

The National Library of Israel has some digitized magazines/newspapers (not sure what we would call them) of the song lyrics by Solomon Smulewitz. Or at least, most of them are.

This parody, printed in the Smulewitz publication, is to be sung to the tune of Heinie. It doesn't have an author listed. Maybe because it's so ridiculously dumb.

Yet another story about the mischief people get up to out in the "country." The husbands stayed in town (probably doing some canoodling themselves) but sent their wives to the country for some "fresh air." This arrangement was a status symbol.

Click for a larger view.

Now, about Heinie, "Comic Waltz Song" published 1904, words by Ed Rose, music by Ted Snyder. Recorded by Billy Murray. (Click for a larger view.)

It's a mighty dumb song, though possibly intentionally so. The heroine pines for her sailor sweetheart who hasn't come home even though he said he would. She addresses a letter to him, addressed "To Heinie, Atlantic Ocean," and the chorus goes:

Heinie, oh Heinie, I love but you
No one can cut my love half in two
Heinie, oh Heinie, if you will be minie,
I'll promise to stick to you just like glue
Heinie, I'm tiny 'longside of you
But I've a heart that is big and true,
Heinie, oh Heinie, if you should decline me,
I'd jump in the ocean and swim out to you

Here's my living room recording from yesterday. Yiddish lyrics in transliteration and translation after the jump.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Shemen megt ir zikh (You should be ashamed) Yiddish theater song from 1908

This song is from a show called דער יךסון Der Yakhsn, which is translated on the sheet music as "The Pride" but is translated in the dictionary as "member of a prestigious family; privileged person." (Usually דער יחסן)

Herman Wohl and Arnold Perlmutter wrote the music, which has a Gilbert and Sullivan flair to it, and Solomon Smulewitz (aka Solomon Small) wrote the words and sings on this recording, though "Mr Bernstein" sang it in the show. The title is also transliterated as Schemen megt ihr sich and Shemen megt ihr sich.

There was some lively discussion on Facebook about the meaning in the second verse of this couplet:

Kh'gey a mol a zuntik fri,
zey ikh a groysn oylem
Kum ikh oykh geveynlikh tsi,
ersht Miryam'l heyngt af a tseylem

Ri Turner came up with some references to Mary on the cross including, simply, this: "In the Church of the Mother of God of Polish Martyrs in Warsaw, Poland, Mary is depicted hanging on the cross holding the child Jesus." Shalom Goldman suggests this is just the typical Sunday morning scene as our Jewish narrator passes by a church and sees the goyim making a big fuss over Mary's image/statue.

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

S'iz do a sod derbay (There's a Secret Here) Yiddish theater song from 1908

This is the third in a row from the show A mentsh zol men zayn otherwise known as Abraham Hashkenazi, "The success of three leading New York Theaters: Windsor, People's and New Star." It was written by Herman Wohl and Arnold Perlmutter with words by Anshel Shorr.

It was sung by Bernard Bernstein, who I wrote about recently. He was one of a trio of stars whose pictures appear on the cover of the sheet music the other two being Kalman Juvelier and Regina Prager, each of whom has been featured in this blog.

I couldn't find a period recording, so here is me singing it this morning in super-minimalist fashion:

I recently saw a long and charming article about Regina Prager in the online Museum of Family History. She was born in 1866 in Lemberg. During a Friday night fire in the house her mother was burned to death, and the young orphan was sent away to a nearby village, where it was discovered that P. possessed a very beautiful voice. She joined an opera choir. She held herself aloof from everyone, as she did throughout her career, remaining at all times a pious Jewish daughter.

Supporters wanted her to get the chance to study opera, but at that time Abraham Goldfaden came to Lemberg and convinced her that on the non-Yiddish stage she would come to play roles in which she would have to make the sign of the cross. This had such an effect on her that she gave up her aspiration to become an opera singer.

After several attempts to get her to come to America, Berl Bernshtayn, convinced her and she emigrated in 1895. Bessie Thomashefsky wrote that Prager's success was enormous. Before every performance she said: “God, don’t humiliate me!”

Yiddish lyrics and translation after the jump.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Ikh vil mer keyn skeb nit zayn (I don't want to be a scab any more) Yiddish theater song about labor organizing

This is from the 1909 show "A mentsh zol men zayn," One should be an honorable person. It was sung by Berl or Bernard Bernstein.

I have found that many younger people in my state of North Carolina don't know what a scab is (somebody who works while the union is on strike). They hardly know what a union is. The Republicans destroyed the unions here, we are now what is called a right-to-work state, which really means right-to-fire-you-for-no-reason-at-all and right-to-pay-the-barest-minimum-wages. Republicans busted the unions because union people tended to vote against them. Now there is no job security, jobs don't pay a living wage, and people think unions are the devil. But back when this song was written, unions were brave people putting their lives and livelihoods on the line for each other. The struggle got brutal but we had unions to thank for shorter work days, higher wages, and benefits. Jobs like that hardly exist any more. Oh well.

Let's talk a little about the original singer, Bernard Bernstein. He was born around 1860 in Warsaw. His father traded in geese. It's written that he was a funny, jolly singer and dancer and people called him Berele Hotske. He worked in a cigarette factory and sang on the side. He wanted to be an opera singer, but ended up touring with as a quartet in which everybody's name ended with "stein". At 17 he was in London, a comic, then to Paris and then to Lemberg where he acted with Gimpel. Adler brought him to America, where he became very popular. He was a first-class burlesque comic with many charms and had a fine career, but later in life his kind of comedy went out of style. He died in 1922.

I didn't find any recording so I made my own this morning.

Text and translation after the jump

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