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?
Search the blog:

Friday, January 15, 2021

Oylem habe [iz tayerer fun gelt] - Heaven's worth more than money - Pepi Littman 1913 and Jane Peppler 2021

UPDATE: Reposted to include the video I just made of me singing the same song, but with the lyrics (mostly) as printed on a broadside songsheet in the Morris Rund Penny Songs collection. This version has lovely Yinglish in it, like "ven zi hot di bar-room geklint" (she cleaned the bar room), which Pepi Littman eliminated in her version. Also, it didn't occur to me until I was singing the song myself that the oylem habe the poor girl in the second verse achieves is a baby.


The title Oylem Habe is spelled Ojlom Habu on the recording issued by Frau Pepi Litman. (Aka olam habah, the Next World, the World to Come, heaven.) You can find it on volume 3 of Cantors, Klezmorim And Crooners 1905-1953, a great collection curated by Henry Sapoznik. Her singing is accompanied by flute. Archive.org notes:
Yiddish song recorded by Pepi Littman 1913, issued on 78rpm disc as "Ojlom Habu" by "Frau Pepi Littmann with violin and flute" on Victor record label, catalog number 657185, originally issued on Parlophone record label, catalog number 702. Possibly recorded in Budapest or Lemberg (Polish: Lwow, Yiddish: Lviv), possibly with musicians from Gimpel's Lemberg Yiddish Theatre, exact date and location unknown; date of 1913? is attributed by YIVO music archive in New York.

Pepi lived and performed mainly in Europe, but she made several records in New York. She is a famous darling now for being a cross-dresser: she liked to wear men's clothing when she performed. Read more about her here.

The lyrics (including the first verse, which she did not sing) are found in the Morris Rund Penny Songs collection and it's wonderful to reunite them with their melody. Comparing what Pepi sang to the broadside, we see a number of differences. I believe this is not the first song where Pepi removed the Yinglishisms and substituted proper Yiddish words. Also, on the Warsaw songsheet we have Dos meydl hot keyn shies gemakht [שהיות ‪= delays] while the American songsheet has Dos meydl hot keyn yeshues gemakht [ישהות = Salvation] - let's lay it on the line, the "heaven" the boss achieves is the kind that gives girls like this one a "heaven" that needs diapers.

 Here's a recording:



No composer is given.

Miriam Isaacs says that most theater songs mentioning rebbes are dirty, and this one is no exception. The Forward writes:
Her famous oylem habo ditty brought sex to the staid and the holy in the shtetl where a rabbi decides to ‘help’ a barren woman conceive — so he can enjoy a piece of the ‘world to come.’ With Littman’s help it becomes a term for, well, lightning in your pants.

 Transliteration of the songsheet and translation after the jump.

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

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Forward disdained the dirty lyrics and "double entendre" of the Yiddish music hall songs

Found in Forverts Jan 1 1926, thanks to Steven Lasky of the Museum of Family History:
 


The lyrics in comedies very often had an unclean character, and in the melodramas they rarely stuck to the script. Every year the Forverts carried out a vigorous campaign against the dirty words and the unclean "between the lines" [style] the songs possessed.


As a gullible and naive modern person, I'm afraid I sometimes miss these secondary meanings and hope those of you with a, erm, broader background will enlighten me when necessary.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Hakt hakt hakt - A still missing melody (Next next next) and its anonymous Yiddish parody

Hakt, hakt, hakt
Tsu zingen mit englisher melodiye -- Next--Next--Next


Click for a larger view



I've looked year in and year out for an American or English tune from the turn of the century (probably not earlier than 1890 or later than 1911), probably a vaudeville or music hall song, called Next--Next--Next. I think it's also possible the song has a different title, but certainly the chorus begins "Next! Next! Next!" I've queried around with no success. Maybe some day.

The Yiddish is more suggestive and double-entendre stuffed than usual, also full of folksy expressions I don't know. Hakn has a lot of meanings which can be dirty: Chop, cut, mince, break, bang, knock, hit, even "down a drink."

I asked the Yiddish research group on Facebook for help with the first chorus, containing a word I'd never seen, tshok. Two suggestions were put forward, both Yinglish: the first was "chuck," a cut of meat. The other was "chalk," referring to an account of someone's debt to the butcher chalked onto the wall. I'm not very good at ferreting out double entendre. I'm sure you could do a better job of translating this than I did.

Translation and transliteration of the Yiddish after the jump. If you come across the original English language song please let me know! 

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

Friday, January 1, 2021

Lozt arayn (Let Them In) - Immigration song by Rumshinsky & Jaffee, sung by Aaron Lebedeff

Thanks to Arye Mechachem who transcribed the lyrics of this song about the cruelty of US immigration policy (sound familiar?) 

 Here is one of my favorite pictures of Lebedeff in his youth.

Per a reader request, I made a video with lyrics and translations on screen:


 
In elis aylend, in der grates, shteyt an alte froy un shmakht.
Ongeton in kleyder shmates, ir ponim gel un shvarts vi di nakht.
Di alte mame iz geforn tsu di kinder ful mit glik...
Un do di kvote, vey di yorn, zogt az zi muz geyn tsurik.
On rakhmones, fil korbones,
Lozt tsefaln dort bay der tir.
Keyn harts, keyn oyern, dort bay di toyrn,
Akh, golden land, vos iz mit dir?

Lozt arayn, lozt arayn, oy,
Hot nit keyn hertser fun shteyn.
Efnt di toyrn fun dem golden land,
Ir zet mentshn faln, shtrekn zey oys di hant.
Lozt arayn, lozt arayn,
Tsebrekht keyn hertser, oy, neyn
Di gantse velt, mentshn, vet aykh farbentshn --
Di toyrn makht uf un lozt arayn.

An alter tate mit dem kop geboygn,
In elis aylend ful mit leyd.
Tsvey kinder kleyne hot er dertsoygn,
Yesoymim beyde zaynen zey.
Di mame hobn zey farloyrn,
Un aher gekumen mit groys mid.
Farshlosn iz far zey di toyrn.
Tsum tatn lozt men zey nit tsi.
Frish tserisn, ongevizn,
Vern hertser do bay der tir
oy, im tsu trern kumt zol aykh hern
Di gantse velt shrayt itst tsu dir:

----

At Ellis Island, behind bars, stands an old woman, wasting away,
Dressed in rags, her face yellowed and dark as night.
The old mother traveled to the children, full of joy,
And here, the quota (ay no!) says she must go back again.
Without pity, so many victims left to fall there by the door
No heart, no ears, there by the gateway…
Ah, golden land, what is with you?

Let them in, let them in, oy
Don’t have hearts of stone
Open the gates of the Golden Land
When you see people fall, stretch out your hand to them
Let them in, let them in, don’t break any hearts
The world, people, will bless you --
Open the gates and let them in.

An old father, his head bent, in Ellis Island, full of sorrow,
He raised two little children, they were both orphans.
They lost their mother and came here, so tired.
The gates are locked against them,
They aren’t allowed to join their father.
Torn away so recently, dependent
Hearts dependent by the door.
Oy, come listen to him brought to tears
The whole world cries out to you now:

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

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say (They're going to smite me anyway)

Sung with the greatest success by the famous coupletist
Mr. Morris Seidman
Distributed by Sani Shapiro 120 Delancey Street

I've pretty much given up on finding any more of the melodies in the Morris Rund Penny Song collection but every once in a while I give the orphans a whirl. Yesterday I was lucky at the Sound Archives of the National Library of Israel - they have the song printed by Sani Shapiro on a broadside as "Shmaysn" but recorded as Schmasen wet men dich. - and not by Max Zaydman (Seidman) who is named on the Shapiro songsheet, but by comic singer Max Streng (1874-1928).

Max Streng was born in 1874 in Lemberg, Galicia. He was a chorus boy in Gimpel's theatre and started to act in 1891 on the Polish stage, soon after on the Yiddish stage. He toured England, France, Romania, Poland and Germany and then staged theater for for many years in Vienna.

I found this recording of great interest because it is the first I've found of a Yiddish parody set to an American tune! In this case it's "I'm Goin' To Live Anyhow Till I Die," by Shep Edmonds, a tune also used for a parody I recorded called Ven ales iz farbay (check there for a longer discussion). On today's songsheet the original melody is not cited (perhaps because there are minor tweaks to make the Yiddish fit better) and the parodist is anonymous.

There is a strong flavor of the original in the contrafactum. In each version we have a non-religious, good-time-loving hero. In the original English chorus he sings:

I’m goin’ to live anyhow, till I die
I knows ma’ kind of a life ain’t very high
With sticks and stones a you can break a ma bones
[note in the Yiddish he is a "treyf bone"]
You may talk all you want to ’bout me when I’m gone
But I’m goin’ to live anyhow, till I die


I love Max Streng's voice, it is so joyous! Have a listen.




Transliteration of all three verses (Streng sang only two) and translation from the Yiddish after the jump. I had to face the fact that I don't know how to use smote and smitten.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Dos iberike farshteyt aleyn (You understand the rest) - 1897 Isaac Reingold Yiddish parody of "Oh, Ebenezer!"

The rest, you yourself understand
by Isaac Reingold
To sing with the melody from the English song Oh! Ebenezer!




I had another song with this exact theme, by Solomon Smulewitz, called Shtoys Zikh On ("Figure It Out"), but it's disappeared off the blog so I'll have to dig it up and repost it.

Vaudeville audiences must have enjoyed feeling superior guessing the barely-hidden double or single entendres behind these verses.

The original song was by Dave Reed Jr.

This was one of the rare cases where the lyrics in Lider magazin were not nigh unreadable, so I used them in the video; I want folks to see what the songs look like in the original.

Here's my recording from this morning:



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

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Shmuelik, Ezrielik aka Shmilik Gavrilik - not really a children's song by Isaac Reingold

Shmulik, Ezrilik
Created by Isaac Reingold
Music by G Mendelson (or N Mendelson)

(Click for larger view)


I couldn't find this song, I couldn't even find the composer, but thanks to the Yiddish music group on Facebook, the song was found - under the title Shmilik Gavrilik (or Shmulik Gavrilik). There are two recordings on YouTube: by Mark Olf and by Helene Engel

Both of these performances imply the song is for children, but the words are quite dark (as we expect from Isaac Reingold). We don't have a good word for a shmayser - it means somebody who whips or flogs, so "driver" is a very pallid translation and the bite of the original is lost.

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