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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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.

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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

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Di letste blum fun zumer - Yiddish version of The Last Rose of Summer, 1897

The Last Bloom of Summer
(inspired by) Tom Moore
"The Last Rose of Summer"
from the famous opera MARTHA




There seem to be hundreds of videos of The Last Rose of Summer on Youtube. It's been a popular song for almost 200 years. There are dozens of sheet music arrangements available online as pdf downloads (but I made up my own).

Whoever wrote this Yiddish version (published in Yehudah Katzenelenbogen's Lider Magazin) remains anonymous. The Yiddish is very German.

I thought you'd enjoy this Bromo Seltzer version of the sheet music. Click for a larger view.




And click below for my living room recording, made yesterday and today:


Translation from the Yiddish and transliteration after the jump

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Imer dos zelbe vert nimes - Everything the same is boring - Yiddish vaudeville song to a Harry von Tilzer favorite

Always the same becomes boring
To sing with the melody from the English song IDAHO!
by Louis Gilrod



Here is a song title nobody would ever use any more, Whoah IDA-HO! Whoah. It's evidently capitalizing on some wild-west theme. Here is the rather naughty beginning of the chorus:
Ida-ho, whoa!
Don't go so fast, dear
My horse won't last, dear,
So please go slow.
I did a little digging on the composer and discovered his original name was Arie Gumbinsky and his parents were married by a rabbi in Detroit. You can read what I put together here: Harry Von Tilzer. His life is a case study in obliterating a Jewish heritage via artful obfuscations.

He's written loads of the songs on this blog. His half-brother Albert wrote "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."

Louis Gilrod is in his usual period-appropriate misogynist, cynical form here with the parody. I cobbled the piano part together by myself and recorded the song yesterday (just the 2nd and 3rd verses):


Some infrequently used Daytshmerisms in this song like nie (never) and imertsu - immerzu (always)

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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Monday, June 15, 2020

Harry Von Tilzer - the real story?

Many of the songs on this blog have tunes by Harry von Tilzer so I did a little poking around at Ancestry.com to find out more about him. Such an aristocratic Goyish German name, right? I think he was actually born Arie Gumbinsky to Jacob and Rachel Gumbinsky in 1891.

His father was born around 1857 in Russian Poland and emigrated to Detroit Michigan in 1874; in the 1880 census he is listed as a peddler in his older brother Joel's household (Joel was a rag merchant). He and wife Rachel J. Simon were married in 1883 by Detroit Rabbi Louis Bloomgarden. I'm guessing this was his second wife, as his eldest son Albert was born in 1878. Perhaps Albert's mother was the Sarah Tilzer of the legend.

In the 1900 census Jacob is a junk dealer living with wife, daughter Celia, and four sons: Oscar 14, Arie 9, Nathan 6, and Moses 4 (the eldest son, Albert, had already moved out). By 1910 he was proprietor of a paper mill, living with his wife and four sons (Oscar 1886, Harry 1891, Nathan 1894, Herman 1896), all of them listing parents' birthplace as "Russ. Pol. German" At some point it is said he changed his last name to Gumm but I found no evidence of that. (It's said that eventually all five of his sons were going by the "Van Tilzer" last name). He died in 1915 and is buried with his wife in the Beth Olem cemetery in Hamtramck, Michigan.

Now on to Harry, or Arie as he was listed in 1900, or Aaron (as Wikipedia suggests). He was born in 1891 according to the census. According to Wikipedia in 1905 he left home to join the Cole Brothers as an acrobat and singer and in 1906 went to Chicago "where he became an actor, pianist and composer in a small local theatrical troupe."

A biography on his "Find a Grave" site says he published his first song in 1892 and that he moved to New York "with only $1.65 in his pocket and earned his train fare by working as a groom, tending to and cleaning up after a carload of horses on the trip. For the next several years, he found work playing piano and singing in saloons, eventually finding roles in vaudeville and burlesque shows... in 1898 he and his roommate, lyricist Andrew Sterling, took the eviction notice and on the back, wrote what was to become "My Old New Hampshire Home". They sold the song to a publishing house for $10 and it went on to sell over a million copies... He said his stage name, Von Tilzer, was "an artistic embellishment of his mother’s maiden name Tilzer" - but unless she was a widow or divorcee when she married his father (or he's referring to the mother of his eldest brother Albert), that isn't true.

He was made a partner of the Shapiro Bernstein Publishing Company. His 1900 song "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" became one of the biggest hits of the time. In 1902 he formed his own publishing company, The Harry Von Tilzer Music Company, which would become one of the most respected in the business, publishing thousands of songs and discovering new talent such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

He married around 1906 - I found him with his wife Ida (her third marriage?) in a boarding house in Manhattan in 1910. They now say their parentage is "German." He is a composer. Subsequent inconsistencies were common among immigrants trying to whiten up their ancestry. He died in 1946 and is buried with his wife Ida (d. 1930) in the Mt Carmel cemetery in Queens.

His older half-brother Albert worked in a shoe store but, having musical ambitions of his own and inspired by his brother's success, left to become musical director of a vaudeville troupe. He wrote "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" in 1908. His song "Teasing" is on this blog. Harry gave him a job with the Chicago, Illinois field office of his music publishing company. (There's a listing in the Chicago city directory of 1912.)

In 1970, Albert and Harry were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.




Friday, June 12, 2020

Ikh lib dikh beser als before - Yiddish parlor song, tune: "I Loved You Better Than You Knew"

I love you better than before
To sing with the melody from the English song
I Love You Better Than You Know
Created by the famous artist Elias Rothstein


I've only seen the name Elias Rothstein a couple times before, so I looked him up.

Rothstein was born in Warsaw (though in the census it says Russia) in 1870 and early took to the boards. He came to America in 1891.

Zylberzweig wrote:

In theatre circles Rothstein was known as an elegant gentleman. He used to continually dress in an English style and sought to make a good impression both with his clothing, as with his manners.


He died in 1932 and is buried in Brooklyn.



The 1903 sheet music for the American song (note they got the title a bit wrong, as is usually the case) spells the composer's name both as Johnnie and Johnny Carroll. It's a typical Tin Pan Alley tear-jerker, as is the Yiddish version.

Bob Vasile risked the coronavirus to come over and record the guitar track. I was sitting next to him sort of conducting because I couldn't sing and louse up his track. Then I stuck earbuds in my ears and sang along to his track for the video. Here's our living room recording:


Transliteration of the Yiddish and translation after the break.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Mame koyf mir a shvester (Yiddish version of Please, mamma, buy me a baby) from 1903

Mama buy me a sister by Shloyme Shmulewitz
To sing with the melody from the song
Please mamma buy me a baby



We have had many songs on this blog written by Solomon Smulewitz - note that at this early date he was still going with Shloyme, the old-country version of his first name. In later years he used the name Solomon Small. (He was a very portly man.)

The English song was published in 1903 by Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards. I suppose it was popular in its day, but it's mostly disappeared now, and I will not weep over it. Couldn't find sheet music so I transcribed the singing of Byron G. Harlan (of Harlan and Collins): Please Mamma ... on Youtube.

When I sing these songs I never think normal people would want to sing them but I do think that someday they will make somebody a rich topic for a PhD thesis on Jewish immigrant life in New York at the turn of the century. Here's my living room recording:


Translation from the Yiddish and transliteration after the jump.

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