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:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chicken: a cheerful sexist song by Rubin Doctor from 1922

This song and Ikh bin a boarder bay mayn vayb are probably Rubin Doctor's most famous songs. It was recorded by several people back in the day including Nellie Casman, and unlike most of the penny songs, it continues to be recorded to this very day, probably because people who don't know any Yiddish are happy to recognize the word "chicken" in the lyrics.

The tune was co-opted a decade later in Poland for a song recorded by Sam Goldberg and also by Betty Koenig. Click to read about it and hear it on my other blog: Meydlekh

The second verse is, like many songs of its era, disrespectful to women. Henry Sapoznik wrote a different second verse when his band recorded it back in the 1980s.

Anna Hoffman, the singer here, is possibly Annie Hoffman-Schneider was born April 15 1882 in Odessa and died August 3 1984, buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Here's her version of the song:

Words (translation) and transliteration after the jump, and the photo of Anna Hoffman, after the jump.

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

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Ikh bin a boarder bay mayn vayb (I room at my wife's place) by Rubin Doctor. Sung by Abraham Moscowitz.

This song and Chicken are probably Rubin Doctor's most famous songs. You'll find this one transliterated as Ich bin A border bei mein Weib and Ich bin a border by mein weib and other variations.

I prefer the recording by Jacob Jacobs, it's on Youtube under the ridiculous transliteration Ich Bin Aborder By Myn Weib ...

... but Jacobs does not sing the words which were available on the sheet music (at the Library of Congress as Ich bin a boarder by mein weib.

Here's how the title looks as Rubin Doctor himself wrote it out on the manuscript he submitted to the copyright office, see how tortured and indecisive he was about it:

Abraham Moscowitz is great too, of course. Here's his version:

translation and original Yiddish typescript after the jump

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

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, February 17, 2017

Oy oy di vayber! Written by Rubin Doctor, sung by William Schwartz

This guy has nothing bad to say about women, which makes this an exceptional song. Well, he does say his wife ran away, but he doesn't seem resentful and it didn't keep him from trying again.

The singer, William Schwartz (left), was very dishy. He was born in April 8, 1894 in Yassi, Romania into a poor family and didn't get much education. The family emigrated to New York in 1905; he sold newspapers in the street and went to night school. In 1911 he went to St Louis to begin his days as a wandering Yiddish Theater actor and in 1914 Jacob P Adler took him into the Liberty Theater in New York, then Thomashevsky hired him for the National Theater and, with his handsome face and beautiful voice he became the toast of the town. He and his wife Blanche had at least one child, Shirley Schwartz, born in September 1916, and Leonard, born December 24 1921. I'd love to hear from descendants.

Here he is singing Rubin Doctor's song:

Rubin Doctor was born in Bessarabia in 1882, his dad was a kosher meat tax collector. As a teenager he emigrated to England and became a Yiddish theater actor and worked in vaudeville. In 1908 he came to America, continuing to work vaudeville. He wrote many songs, maybe "Chicken" and "Ikh bin a border bay mayn vayb" are currently his most famous.

I have the habit of loving every woman, but without luck
I don't consider any of them ugly, I press them to my heart
I love them like my life
I'm a sacrifice to them
Without them my life is dreary
I'd die for them

Oy, the women, I love them
Every step of the way they please me
Oy, the women, I'll love them even in my grave
Without a woman, brother, it's not good
Keyle, Beyle, Yente, Shoshe, Sime, Blume, Feyge, Rose,
They make things happy in every house
Ugly, beautiful, married, single,
An old grannie - anybody in a skirt
Oy, oy, the women, I love them

Don't think I'm single, listen to this miracle:
I had a wife myself, she pleased me, but, children,
My Khaye ran away one week, may it not happen to you,
I didn't have to think about it long
I caught a new wife.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Alts far gelt (The original version as written by Aaron Lebedeff in 1923)

1923 (the last year when music published in America is unquestionably in the public domain) is kind of the dividing line between this blog and the later songs I post on ... Alts far gelt, this cynical Yiddish song, was issued on that cusp, in 1923, by Aaron Lebedeff.

The fine picture on the right was drawn by Sam Zagat, it was a political cartoon published in the Warheit in 1917.

A generation later Henry Gerro added an introduction and wrote his own couplets and I posted his version on the other side: Henri Gerro sings Alts far gelt. You'll find it spelled Als far geld or Alles far geld or Alz for gelt or any combination you can think of.

Sheva Zucker and I tried to pick the words off the scratchy Lebedeff recording we had access to, but it was frustrating work, and then I remembered to look in Irene Heskes' guide, and the song was there, so I was able to get the original manuscript from Copyright Office. I deciphered it last week and recorded the song today.

Translation and transliteration after the jump.

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

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Oy der yeytser hore (Oh, the Evil Inclination) - Aaron Lebedeff's anti-Valentine's Day anthem

I'm in a hurry to get off to the protest at my senator's office (why won't Thom Tillis hold a town hall meeting and listen to his constituents?) so this is a quickie, I wanted it to launch on Valentine's Day.

Aaron Lebedeff (Lebedof, Lebedoff, Lebedev, Lebedef, etc) was known as a womanizer. But what a voice! And I guess when he tells girls to be careful, boys don't mean everything they say, he knows from personal experience.

I think he was about five feet tall.

Anyway, I came across this song when I was looking for another one (a cooler one) with the same title, sung by Annie Lubin. I don't have the words for that one but hope to find them some day.

"Der yeytser hore" is a creepy concept. I was taught it means "the evil inclination" but it's often used to mean "sex." Its original meaning is richer and more nuanced, I encourage you to google it and find out.

The song was transliterated "Oi der jeizer hore" and "Oi der yeizer hore" if you want to find it.

Click below for the video:

Text and translation (including the first verse, which is not on the recording) and also the sheet music cover after the jump.

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

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Yakres (The High Cost of Living) - Gus Goldstein's plaint of 1917

First I'd like to apologize for having to fake it in a couple places in the lyrics. I don't have a song sheet for this one and Sheva Zucker and I gave up on a few spots after listening many times. If you have corrections please let me know and I'll fix the video.

I love songs that reflect history, and this one reminds us of the New York City food riots of 1917. Speculators were selling American foodstuffs to Europe at a high price and that drove the prices up in the US too. Read about the food riot here.

I looked for this song online and couldn't find it. Then I searched Harvard's Hollis catalog and saw they had the song, so when I was in Boston I went through the whole tiresome process of begging access to the library and they nicely dragged a cassette back from their suburban storage vaults. It arrived in the reading room with a note: "The cassette recorder is in the CAGE." So the young library attendant went searching in the back and came to me holding a cassette player in her hands with a dubious look on her face and asked me, do you know how to operate this thing? Uh, yeah. So I was able to listen but they don't let you make any sort of copy so I was frustrated. When I came home I just looked online for all songs by Gus Goldstein and found it hiding in plain site on several sites but under this spelling: YAKRYS. Had not thought of that one.
price hike, high cost of living; dearth, scarcity

The political cartoons I put in the video are all from Di Warheit newspaper, and were drawn by Sam Zagat, the father of Gimpel Beynish the matchmaker

Here's the video:

Words (as well as Sheva Zucker and I could figure them out) and translation after the jump.
>>>>>READ MORE >>>>>

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Uptown, Downtown (though it really should be Fun downtown, uptown) - Jews leave the Lower East Side

I found this song in a little printed collection of Rumshinsky songs.

The more famous song from this 1917 show is "Fifty Fifty."

This mini-description of Jewish upward mobility one is so short, it seems incomplete. Probably it led right on into another song or maybe a dance or something.

Boris Thomashefsky wrote the words and produced the show. The original libretto was by Zishe Kornblith.

There evidently was a Victor recording with Anna Hoffman and Jacob Jacobs singing the duet, in 1919, but I didn't find their recording.

Here's my recording from earlier today:

You'll find "Fifty Fifty" in the Milken Archive, which dutifully and correctly transliterates the title of the show as Op-to'un un da'un-to'un. Neil W. Levin's synopses of Yiddish theater shows are, in my opinion, the high point of the Milken Archive. Go read what he has to say about Uptown and Downtown here...

... but to summarize, Thomashefsky plays Khayim Yosi Plotkin, a poor cabinetmaker who invents a 'combination bed' [?], gets rich suddenly, changes his name to Gustav Plato, becomes a banker and businessman, and moves his family uptown to a mansion with maidservant and a supposedly Japanese butler.

One of his daughter is engaged to marry "Baron Geoffrey West" of London, who claims his grandmother and Queen Victoria once looked through a makhzer (prayerbook) together. The butler (actually not Jewish but instead, a Litvak in disguise) recognizes the Baron as a poor Jewish waiter he knows.

And Khayim's brother Abie is about to lead a strike at one of Khayim's businesses! Due to a life-changing nightmare of the previous night, Khayim gives in to the strikers’ demands, on condition that the workers promise to pray at the new synagogue he intends to found. And in the end, the family decides to live downtown again in their old neighborhood.

Words and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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

Labels: , ,