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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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Get Your Money's Worth: a Yiddish parody by Louis Kopelman from 1897



This song is so long, it might as well be an opera. OK that's an exaggeration, but these three verses clock in at almost 6 minutes, and there was a fourth I didn't sing.

The original song was written by Irving Jones, an African-American composer, and it was a big hit for him. I couldn't find a recording online.

The song was written for Bessie Thomashefsky and we see how these Yiddish ragtime songs became the rage:
I know you don't want to hear old songs any more.
And I, myself, find it hard to sing old songs.
And when I see you all coming here (no Evil Eye),
I know you only want to pay to hear novelties.

I was at YIVO this past week and found a wonderful 1985 article by Fred Somkin called "Zion's Harp by the East River." It's all about exactly these parodic songs from Lider magazin. I wish I could call Fred and say "I LOVE YOUR ARTICLE," but he passed away in 2009.

So after the first verse, about how novel and wonderful these ragtime songs are, there is a second verse about a mother and her daughters (I skipped it) and then a verse about the Spanish American War and we finish up with the Dreyfus affair. Here's my recording from this week. Glenn Mehrbach prepared the keyboard track and then I tried to sing along afterwards as I always do, but the words are really packed into it and presented quite a challenge.


So you can look them up, some of the parshoynen in this song are:

Admiral Winfield Scott Schley
Admirals William Sampson
Admiral George Dewey
Hubert-Joseph Henry
Alfred Dreyfus
Charles Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy
Émile Zola
Georges Picquart


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A bom, a bom, a bom! (A bum, a bum, a bum) Yiddish vaudeville parody of "Waltz Me Around Again, Willy."


WHAT A GREAT SHEET MUSIC COVER!!

The original song was written by Ren Shields in 1906 with lyrics by Will D. Cobb.

The Yiddish version, probably published the same year (I found it in Lider magazin), was written by Isidor Lillien (Isidore Lillian).

The parody version takes the common approach of having each verse be a completely different take on the catch phrase, in this case, "a bum."

I like the Yinglish "gereyst dem rent" (raised the rent.)

Also "pendesites" which Larry Gillig kindly translated for me as "appendicitis."


Here's my version from yesterday:




Yiddish transliteration and translation after the jump.


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Friday, May 17, 2019

Mendl - Louis Gilrod parody of "Mandy Won't You Let Me Be Your Beau" - Yiddish ragtime hit of 1902


Another song from Lider magazin. Mendl is a vaybernik. I got enchanted by one once, but never again! Mendl doesn't fare particularly well in this Yiddish parody.

The original song was written by J. Rosamond Johnson, who with his brother wrote the famous African-American anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing."




Louis Gilrod went on to be a very prolific and well-known lyricist for the Yiddish theater.

Here's my living room recording:


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Af katoves - Yiddish vaudeville parody of 1904 "Teasing"


Here's another song lyric from Lider magazin (at YIVO): Simon Smulewitz (aka Solomon Small) wrote this parody of the American song "Teasing" by Albert Von Tilzer.

Solomon's most famous song ever was A brivele der mamen. Von Tilzer's most famous song was Take Me Out To the Ballgame. I wonder if he made a fortune off it.

Pianist Glenn Mehrbach recorded this accompaniment track for me. Thanks, Glenn! I adapted the words a bit for a woman to sing.

I've decided these songs are so much fun, I'm going to make a cd of them called "Yiddish Ragtime."

Here's the recording made in Glenn's studio and my living room:


Transliteration and translation after the jump.
>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tsurik, tsurik, tsurik in shnayder shop (Back, Back, Back to Baltimore) Yiddish ragtime from 1904



Isidore Lillian (left) (also spelled Isidor Lillien or any combination) was born in 1882 in Galicia. He came to New York in 1892 and was 22 when he wrote this parody for the Katsenelenbogen music publishing company.

I've been chewing away on the parodies printed in the Lider magazin found at YIVO (but sent to me by the superlative Vivi Lachs in London). It seems to me that Yiddish vaudeville ragtime is a genre ready for revival!

A problem is that the underlying songs often had racist lyrics; nobody in their right mind would sing them any more. I'm hoping it's ok to bring the melodies back without the baggage.

It was my great fortune to have pianist Glenn Mehrbach play the accompaniment on this track. Thanks, Glenn! We recorded it yesterday:


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.


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

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Sunday, May 5, 2019

Go way back and sit down (Yiddish version) - vaudeville song from 1901

"Go vey bek end sit doun - Parody of the English song Go Away Back and Sit Down"
by Louis Gilrod

Go Way Back and Sit Down is a ragtime song from 1901, written by Al Johns, English language lyrics by Elmer Bowman. The Yiddish version, under the same name but spelled "Go vey bek end sit doun," was written by Louis Gilrod.

A historian I consulted has warned me not to talk about the genre to which this song belongs. "You're standing at the edge of a vortex," she said. I'll just opine that African-American music of the time was a lot more interesting than the insipid post-Victorian schlock being churned out by many popular composers, and they knew it, and so rag-time was co-opted and dragged into white society.

My friend, pianist Aviva Enoch, was kind enough to play the sheet music accompaniment, thanks Aviva!

Here's our recording (I recorded the second and third verses):


Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.
>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

Friday, May 3, 2019

The freeing of Mendel Beilis - a Yiddish penny song. (Revisited)

Mendel BeilisUPDATE: I originally posted this four years ago, and I never re-do them, I just throw them into the huge pile to be forgotten again. However, my original recording suffered from being a failed experiment - I converted a midi file and used that for the backup - and it was so horrible that when I heard it by accident recently I gasped out loud in horror.

So I asked wonderful pianist Aviva Enoch if she would do a real live recording of the piano score and she agreed. Thanks Aviva! Here's our recording from this week:



It took me hours, back then, to find the underlying melody. At the top of the songsheet it says, To sing with the English melody "When the Warfield is Singing Margaret" but I looked for a song of that name unsuccessfully.

When somebody wrote and asked if I'd record this song for him (he wanted it for his Yiddish club, which was studying Beilis), I tried again and searched the Library of Congress website for ALL songs songs starting with the words "When the." There are more than 600 of them. 

I found one (about 550 songs in!) called "When the Whippoorwill Sings Marguerite" and bingo. Probably this tune was first used for a (now lost) First World War parody called "When the Warfield is Singing Marguerite" and the lyricist here wrote a parody of the first parody.

Click the picture below to hear the original song as sung in 1906 by Irving Gillette (aka Henry Burr).


Coming back to our parody - I wonder if you find the combination of these dark lyrics and this sappy tune as peculiar as I do? That's how it is with many of the American Yiddish Penny Songs - it's possible the seemingly hard-wired association of major-key melodies with happy lyrics did not exist among Jewish immigrants - after all, their tunes called "Freylekhs" (it means happy) were mostly in minor keys.

The Yiddish Forverts published a video about Beilis. I hadn't realized he had immigrated to America after leaving Russia for Palestine - that must be why in the end of this song published in New York it says "Mendel Beilis has come into our land, so let's welcome him!" Here's the Yiddish Forward video (with English subtitles):


Here's an article about Mendel Beilis from Tablet Magazine. Mendl Beilis, a Ukrainian Jew born in 1874, was arrested in 1911 by the Russian secret police and charged with ritually murdering a Christian boy to get blood to bake Passover matzah. He was jailed until 1913, when he was acquitted by an all-Christian jury.

Here's another song about Menachem Beilis: Martirer Mendel Beilis at the Brown University collection. See below.

See the original song sheets and translation from the Yiddish after the jump:

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

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