Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The freeing of Mendel Beilis - a Yiddish penny song.

Mendel Beilis(Moved from PolishJewishCabaret.com - this is an update of my earlier post on this song.)

Today I got an email from someone asking if I'd found the song's melody yet, as it is close to Mendel's yartsayt and the guy wants to sing the song for his Yiddish club! Well this is such a rare occurrence, somebody to be interested in the Yiddish Penny Songs, that I spent two hours searching for the melody and I found it!

At the top of the songsheet (see below) it says, To sing with the English melody "When the Warfield is Singing Margaret." I'd looked for a song of that name unsuccessfully before. This time I went to the Library of Congress site and looked for songs starting "When the." There are more than 600 of them. The Library of Congress has a huge and comprehensive collection of World War I songs, yet there was no "When the Warfield is Singing Margaret."

However, among the 600 songs there was one called "When the Whippoorwill Sings Marguerite." I think this is the right tune, and that it was also used for a (now lost) First World War parody called "When the Warfield is Singing Marguerite." The tune fits the lyrics, and the original song has a yearning man talking about coming home in the chorus, which would suit the narratives of both alternate texts. Click the picture below to hear the original song as sung in 1906 by Irving Gillette (aka Henry Burr).


Now since my correspondent is in a hurry, and I'm not good enough to play the piano part, I wrote out the sheet music, exported it as a MIDI file, and used an online conversion service to turn the midi into a wav file. Then I recorded the vocal over that wav file. You're right, it sounds terrible. But here it is, click the picture to see the video, which has subtitles in English as always:


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 - I guess the immigrants wanted to get American ASAP and if these were the tunes surrounding them in their new home, they were going to adopt them.

The Yiddish Forverts just 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:


There in pitiless, terrible Russia
Where a person's life has no worth
Day and night is constantly slaughter
The sword is honed ever sharper
To annihilate innocent people
Because they carry the name "Jew"
For one blood libel people would execute
This Mendl Beilis, an innocent Jew

In the land of pogroms and blood
People plague an innocent Jew
Now he has awoken from his dark night
The persecuted, broken Jew
With great courage he stood fast
He convinced the whole world
Because he was prepared, he was freed (through his innocence)
Just as the Jews were freed from pogroms and blood

The whole world is overjoyed
By his release, which happened quickly
It made all the Jews happy
When Mendl Beilis was released from the tyrant's teeth
It's all thanks to the American brothers
Who made such an outcry
The Russian pig was terrified by the tumult
And he was forced to release Mendl

In the land of pogroms and blood
Nobody will murder any Jews
But we must still see that such a libel doesn't happen again
There must be agreement: an end to blood-libel
Therefore, be happy all you Jews, side by side
Mendil Beilis is coming here into the land
Welcome him! Welcome the red, white and blue flag
From America the free land









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

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