Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Di zi! Sung to the tune of Sweet Marie. And a response: Der er.

UPDATE: I'm reposting because I just found a fascinating riposte to this song, Der er, printed right next to Di zi in an issue of Lider magazin. Here it is (click for a larger view)

The lyrics, transliteration and translation for both parodies can be found after the jump.

Interestingly, while on the songsheet that contains both songs Louis Koppelman is named as composer of "Di Zi," the other one, "Der Er," says: "Farfast fun der Bostoner khokhmanis," "Written by the Very Intelligent Woman of Boston." Who was she? or was it a man pretending to be a woman? MYSTERY.

The original parody was created by Louis Kopelman (left) to the tune of the 1894 hit "Sweet Marie."

Sweet Marie was an unbelievably sappy love song so popular that it got a candy bar named after it in Canada. The "poem" was written by Cy Warman and the music by Raymon Moore.

I see in the book Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish that Kopelman was one of several coupletists hired by the Katzenelebogen company to make Yiddish versions of Tin Pan Alley songs around the turn of the 20th century. The others cited (Louis Gilrod, Isaac Reingold, Solomon Small/Shlomo Shmulevitz, and David Meyerowitz are also all represented in the Penny Song collection. Kopelman died of consumption in 1901. UPDATE: I'm finding tons more of these Katsenelenbogn parodies in the Lider magazinen so expect to see many more of them soon, watch this space!

This post was originally from four years ago and I was experimenting with live videos: I got a cheap green screen and tried to drop out the background because I'm tired of showing how messy my studio is. However, I didn't get it quite right. Thanks to Roger Lynn Spears for his great piano playing.

You can listen to the 1893 recording of Ada Jones singing Sweet Marie on Youtube. According to the notes there,
Ada Jones (1873-1922) was the leading female recording artist in the acoustic recording era, especially popular from 1905 to 1912 or so. Always working as a freelance artist, she recorded for most American companies. Her singing range was limited but she was remarkably versatile, able to perform vaudeville sketches, sentimental ballads, popular duets, hits from Broadway shows, British music hall material, ragtime songs, and Irish comic songs. She was known for an ability to mimic dialects... the song been introduced in the show A Knotty Affair, which opened in New York in May 1891. Jones performed in A Knotty Affair in December 1893, but the song was sung on stage by its composer, Raymon Moore.
OK, text and translations after the jump.

Di zi

Di velt volt zayn a paradiz, ven nit di zi,
Der man volt zayn stark vi a riz, ven nit di zi,
Ikh hob shoyn mer keyn kraft tsu shtraytn
Shrayendik fun lange tsaytn
Dos gezinter iz - tsu zayn fun vaytn fun a zi.

Ven eyner vil fun a lebn visn, hert mikh tsi
Zol er keyne frayndshaft shlisn mit a zi
Fun onfang zaynen zey sheyn un erlekh
Nokher vern zey nor geferlekh
Oystsukumen iz dokh shverlekh mit di zi

Oy di zi, nemt zi tsi,
Den men hot fun zey keynmol keyn ri
Ven ikh hob nor keyn toes,
Hob Shloyme Hamelekh nit gemeynt af katoves
Ven er hot gezogt: Ishe roeh mar-mimoves
A singlman ze ikh denken nokh a zi
a farheyrat man ze ikh krenken fun a zi
Ikh hob gekent fil layt
Vos hobn gliklekh gelebt a tsayt
Vayl zey hobn zikh gehaltn vayt fun a zi

Vos der sof mit zey iz geven, hert nor tsi:
Zey hobn plutsim derzen a sheyne zi,
Zey hobn nit gefolgt mayn rat
Kukn zey yetst oys krank un mat)
Vayl zey hobn khasene gehat mit a zi.

Kurtsn seykhl, veyst a yeder, hot a zi
Redn a gantsn tog keseyder ken a zi
Ikh hob a mol mit eyne shptatsirt
Un hob zi in a gortn gefirt
Hert nor vos es hot pasirt mit di zi

Ikh hob zi gebetn afn ort, hert nor tsi
Zi zol nit dertseylt keyn vort far mayn zi
Shtelt aykh ober for mayn shrek
Az zi iz tsu mayn vayb avek
Un ikh hob oysgekhapt di shlek tsulib a zi.


The world would be a paradise if it weren't for "The She."
Man would be strong as a giant, if it weren't for "The She."
I don't have any more strength for fighting or shouting for a long time
It would be better to stay far away from a woman.

If someone wants to know about life, listen to me
Don't get friendly with a woman
At the start, they're beautiful and virtuous
Later they are just plain dangerous
Things are pretty dangerous with women

O, the she, take her away
You can't get any rest from them
If I'm not mistaken, King Solomon was not joking around
When he said: an evil woman is more bitter than death.

I see a single man thinking about a "she"
I see a married man pining over a "she"
I've known a lot of people who lived happily a long time
Because they stayed far away from women

What happens with them in the end, listen up:
They suddenly caught signt of a beautiful "she"
They didn't follow my advice,
Now they look sick and tired
Because they married a "she"

Everybody knows a "she" doesn't have much sense
A "she" can talk all day long
I once went walking with one of them
And took her into a garden
Just here what happened with this "she"

I begged her right on the spot, listen,
She shouldn't say a word in front of my wife
So just imagine my terror
When she went right off to my wife...
I really caught it bad for the sake of a "she"


Der er

Dos lebn ken zo prakhtfol zayn on der er
Di froy volt nit bavust fun payn ven nit der er
Keynem volt zikh shlekhts geglust
Prizens voltn gevezn pust
Ven di velt volt nit gevust fun dem er
Heyratn af katoves tsulib nodn ken der er
Opredn a Mises fun ir man tut der er
Ferdreyen a yunges meydkhn dem kop,
Un zi krikht fun veg arop
Un ir lozn zitsn biz'n groyen tsop dos ken der er

Oy der er, der shtoltser herr,
Nor tsu shlekhts iz zayn bager
Ven es volt zikh on mir gevent
Volt ikh mit mayne eygene hent
A yedn er af azsh ferbrent.

Makhn khoyzek fun di zi den der er!
Faln far ir af di kni tut der er
Shpiln in kortn gantse nekht
Un kumen aheym shpet farshvekht (dishonored, profaned)
Shrayendik az er iz baym vayb a knekht,
Dos ken der er
Zayn a macher in fareyn, vil der er
Iberal oybn on tsu shteyn zukht der er
Tshuen, smuken un shpiln pool
Zayn a president in shul
Un makhn fun a tsen a nul, dos ken der er

Life can be so beautiful without "The He."
Woman would not know pain if it weren't for "The He."
Nobody would desire evil, prisons would be empty
If the world didn't know from "The He."
"The He" can marry frivolously, for the dowry.
"The He" can convince a landlady to leave her husband.
"The He" can turn a young woman's head so she becomes corruptd
And then he can let her sit unmarried until her braid is gray.

Oh "The He," that proud master,
He's always lusting after sin
If it were up to me, with my own hand,
I would burn every "He" to ash.

"The He" can make fun of "The She,"
He can fall on his knees before her,
Play cards all night and come home dishonored,
Shouting that she treats him like a slave
He wants to be a big shot in the union,
He wants a place of honor everywhere
He chews, smokes, and plays pool
He's president of the shul
And he can turn ten into zero.

Oh "The He," that proud master,
He's always lusting after sin
If it were up to me, with my own hand,
I would burn every "He" to ash.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:



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