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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Monday, October 16, 2017

Guter bruder, nit gekhapt - a Yiddish song about fighting sexual harassment sung by Pepi Litmann c 1907

Also seen as Giter Bruder nicht gechapt, Giter brider nisht gechapt, and Giter Brüder nicht gechapt, this song was published in 1907 and, along with the previous song on the blog, is from the Professor Hurwitz show Malke Shvo (Queen of Sheba).

In that show it was sung by "Madame Shapiro" but I found only this 78 by Pepi Littman...

(Incidentally, the flip side is Norbert Glimer singing that weird and wonderful song Yente di Royte -- aka Jent di roiti kom, Yentl die roti kom -- which I posted on the PolishJewishCabaret.com blog.)

Yhe song title is weirdly translated online as I Don Not Have a Good Brother.  

Khapn means to catch, grab, grasp (meaning) ... hurry, rush. So כאַפּט נישט is translated in the dictionary as "Not so fast! Take it easy!"

I found the second line odd. מיען זיך means to strive, take pains, trouble oneself, and מיִען זיך פֿאַר means "intercede on behalf of." I tentatively chose this last meaning. If the grandmother is deceased, then she can intercede in behalf of her granddaughter with the Master of the Universe.

In another Pepi Littmann song previously posted here, Mener, Mener, she sang in passing: "If a man insults me, let him not deceive himself, I'll shame him with some fine blows." Here the threats are vociferous and prolonged.

The melody of this song is fascinating, it's sort of pentatonic.

Pepi generally dressed in men's clothing onstage. She had a great voice. Here she is singing Guter bruder:


Transliteration and translation after the jump.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Men vet dir nit mitgebn in keyver arayn (You don't get anything to take into the grave with you) Yiddish theater song

It seems there was a song like this in most Yiddish operettas, a song in which the rich man is warned he will get his comeuppance. I think the Yiddish theater audience was mostly poor people and they wanted to think there would be justice ... eventually.

The song is from the show Malke Shvo (The Queen of Sheba) by Shundmeister Hurwitz, it came out in 1907 and the music was published in 1913. The original singer was Madame Shapiro. The words are by Anshel Shor, the music is by Joseph Brody.

I put an original recording sung by Sam Stern on Youtube: Men vet dir keinsach nit mit geben in keivir arein ...

... it's also transcribed as Men wet dir nit mitgeben in keiver, Men Wet Dir Kein Sach nit mitgeben in Kever arein, and Men Vet Dir Kein Sach Nit Mit Geben In Keiver Arein ...

... Sam sang only the first verse, and because it is a fun song, and it's almost Halloween, I decided to record it myself this morning with both verses. Here it is:


While I was singing it I was thinking about one who will not be named, but who is a

שאַנד און שמאַך

SHAME AND DISGRACE UPON OUR COUNTRY

Transliteration and translation after the jump.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

HIt aykh, meydlekh! (Beware, girls!) Yiddish theater song sung by William Schwartz, 1922

Transliterated as Hit eich and Hit aich meidelach (Girls beware), the song was published in 1922. Music Sholom Secunda, lyrics Anshel Shorr, who wrote the show it was from: An oyg far an oyg (An Eye for an Eye).

As usual, a girl who does not stay home quietly obeying her mother ends up in the hospital. The wages of sin...

In the show, Dora Weissman sang the song, but on this unfortunately awful sounding 78 it's sung by the magnificent William Schwartz. Hit aykh, meydelekh!


When I was just a child, I remember as if it were today,
I used to run around every minute with boys, playing in the street.
Laughing, fooling around, it wasn't nice.
That's what I've always been drawn to.
And sometimes I went to the movies and mother didn't know.
And when I went home, exhausted, so tired,
She sat me on her lap and sang me this song:

Girls, if life is dear to you, don't run around after a "good time"
Girls, protect yourselves as from fire. Kids, don't run away from home.
Girls, don't run along the evil path, because the shock will be too much for you.
Don't sell your innocence, girls, protect it like the eyes in your head.

I knew a girl, Rose, from a very respectable home,
She fell in love with a charlatan who promised to be her husband.
Her mother didn't like him. She ran away from home with him.
He promised her a wedding and seduced her. It was terrible.
Now she's lying sick in the hospital with a high fever.
And her mother hears how her feverish child sings a sad song:





For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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Froyen rekht (Womens rights) sung by Gus Goldstein in 1911

Womens suffrage was not an easy sell in misogynistic America. The suffragettes struggled year after year and were not successful in getting the right to vote until 1920.

In the Gimpel Beynish cartoons, Gimpel (a matchmaker by trade) ends up working for the ladies because he needs a buck. But he isn't happy about it as you can see from this image.

I believe part of why Yiddish songs from the early twentieth century are not beloved is because they are so misogynistic.

Here's the song, from 1916, sung by Gus Goldstein. On the record the transliteration is Frouen recht.


The interesting word barayen: What I found online was "Luxembourgish / Old High German bihriuwan; regret. German bereuen regret, repent, rue.

The interesting lyrics of the song, with my translation, after the jump. Before that I just want to dump a bunch of cool images on the subject. There are multiple dissertations waiting to be written.




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Dos bisele erd (sung by Simon Paskal in 1911)

Huh, another song I posted to youtube quite a while ago and forgot to put on this blog.

Written by Perlmutter, Wohl and Tomashefsky, it was published in 1911 along with three other songs from the show Dos darfs meydl (Country Girl) it is transliterated variously as Dus Bisele Erd and Das Bissele Erd and Das Bissle Erd (see label)

One of those other three songs: As du kenst nit un veyst nit, nemt men zikh nit unter which I recorded a few days ago.

This one gloomily reminds us that in the end all that remains to us is the bit of dirt we're buried in.

A bit of earth from the grave.
People, don't remove it
It's a part of the limbs
People, don't forget.

This is what remains to you from all the fruits of your labor,
This is what remains to you from all your strength,
This is what remains to you from your riches:
the bit of earth that covers you.

People, don't forget your father, mother, friends,
People, don't forget the worth of a human being.
While you live, tomorrow and today,
Remember the grave and that bit of earth.

You seek to enjoy the world, riches and high living,
But people, you should know what's waiting for you
You think you'll live forever
You don't want to think about it
You'll have to give an accounting of yourself
When you come to your eternal home






For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Nit gefonfet - Yiddish theater song recorded by Julius Nathanson, written by Aaron Lebedeff

The song was published in 1922. The lyrics were written by Aaron Lebedeff and Isidore Lash, music by Herman Wohl.

On the front cover, the song is called "Gefonfet." Inside, it is "Nit gefonfet."

Fonfen (fonfn) is a great word. The verb’s basic (onomatopoeic) meaning is to speak nasally: a  fonfer is someone who talks through his nose or as if his nose were stuffed. But there are countless other uses. Leo Rosten says a fonfer is:
  1. 1. Somebody who talks through his nose, as if he has a bad cold.
  2. Double-talker
  3. One who is lazy, slow, goofs off
  4. One who does not deliver what he promises
  5. A shady, petty deceiver.
  6. One who cheats
  7. Oone who goes through the motions of a thing without intending to perform to his capacity or your proper expectations
  8. A boaster, full of bravado
  9. A specialist in hot air, baloney — a trumpeter of hollow promises.
Ruth Rubin translated the folksong title Oy di meydelekh, di fonferonkes! as "Oh those young girls, those show-offs!" In British slang "fonfen" is a con man’s spiel!

Philologos of the Forward found fonfe in the 1928 edition of Alexander Harkavy’s Yiddish-Hebrew-English Dictionary: A lighted paper cone for blowing smoke into a person’s nose. (A trick.) From The Forward's article about the verb fonfen:

Harkavy was confused. The paper cone was for blowing smoke not into the nose (it was fonfen’s meaning of “to nasalize” that led him astray), but into the ear, and what he was talking about ... was the old custom of ear coning or ear candling that was once practiced in Eastern Europe ... having inserted into one’s ear the tip of a candle, or a wax-coated paper cone, that is then lit at its other end and slowly burns down toward the ear [creating a vacuum that] sucks out wax, dirt and other unwanted matter and cleans out the nasal and sinus cavities. ... many of the Jews of Eastern Europe regarded ear coning as a hoax, the kind of thimblerig practiced by quacks and tricksters.
 Here's the dishy Julian Nathanson singing the song:



Yiddish transliterated and translated after the jump (including the second verse, which Nathanson did not sing).

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Az du kenst nit un veyst nit, nemt men zikh nit unter (If you can't do it and don't understand, don't try it.)

I picked this song because I loved the title. I wasn't able to find a period recording (or any recording) so I sang it myself this morning.

I don't know much about it. The music was written by Perlmutter & Wohl, the words by Hyman Altman, and it was sung by Mr Bernstein.

The transliteration they use is: As du kenst nit un weist nit, nemt men sich nit unter.


A second published music cover says it is from the "Latest Comedydrama played with great success at the Peoples Theatre" - the show being Dos Darfs Meydl (The Village Girl or The Country Girl).

Here's my recording:


Words after the jump.


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