Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Herring mit potatoes: a Yiddish vaudeville song from the Gaslight era.

a few keywordsSo Bulbes is not the only intentionally repetitive Yiddish song about potatoes. There is this one. I recorded it because my friends Gary and Beth Berman chose a "food" theme for the "What's Not To Like?" benefit concert this fall and were looking for Yiddish food songs.

There are supposedly two recordings of this song (I haven't heard either of them) under the name Herring mit potatoes: one from 1913 by Simon Paskal (Pascal) and a later one by Miriam Kressyn and Seymour Rechtzeit on their "From Ellis Island to the East Side" LP  הערינג מיט פּאָטײטאָס

The title on the manuscript copy (see it at the bottom of this post) sent by composer Isadore Lillian to the copyright office is Herring Mit Potaties - I have two different songsheets with (see above) Hering mit pitetis on one and Hering mit pateytes on the other. Since the tuber is rhymed with "farshteyt es," I went with piteytes when I recorded the song today, and I admit I added some fanciful chords to liven it up a bit. Click the picture below to see the video:


There is still another variant, sent to me by Carol Freeman - she recorded Abraham Solomon of the Bronx singing it as Hering mit kartofl (the German word for potato) - listen! Abraham Solomon sings Hering mit kartofl.

There are other variations between what Isidore Lillian sent to the copyright office and what was printed on the two Yiddish broadsides. Lillian considered maykhl to be a neuter noun and wrote "Dos beste maykhl far dem baykhl" - the songsheet printer changed it to "Der bester maykhl." Lillian wrote that the Galitsianer eats "fish in season" while the songsheet says "fleysh un zisn."


I didn't know what kalibatn is. Larry Feinberg and Larry Gillig thought it related to "a Ukrainian word kowbatka meaning "morsel of meat", which has the same source as the familiar Slavic words for sausage." David Forman proposed: "I wonder if, (mis)spelled with a kof, this could be a variant of כּליבית housewares, a compound from כלי (dishes) and house." YMMV.

Here's my English translation from the Yiddish, and below, the transliteration.:

In New York, if you want to make a living
Don't laugh at somebody who's peddling sausage
If you want to go into business, run, quickly,
Open a store, put up a sign, and start selling...

Herring with potatoes, herring with potatoes!
Don't bother with meat, steak,
Duck, sponge cake and cheese cake
Chicken is a dog compared to this, it's understood!
The best dish for the belly is - herring with potatoes!

Eat what you want, it won't annoy me.
The Hungarian eats goulash, the Galitsianer eats meat and sweets
Romanians eat corn pudding, the goyim eat crabs
The Germans eat sauerkraut. What do the Litvaks eat?

Any of you have a bad stomach and can't chew?
Any of you suffer lack of appetite and can't digest?
Don't run to a doctor, your salvation doesn't lie there
It's I who have the best cure for a bad stomach...

Late at night a thief crept into a house
He'd soon opened the door and cracked the safe
When he opened the safe he almost lost his mind.
He thought there'd be gold lying there, but instead he found:

My neighbor went to childbed, her shouts rose to the ceiling
A doctor said it positively was going to be twins
A second doctor soon swore it would be quadruplets
When she delivered, guess what she bore?

In the Yiddish theater I've already seen a lot of shows
The names are sort of the same, I'm not going to forget them
"The Swarthy Jew," "The pintele Yid," everybody knows those
Why shouldn't a writer make a show that will be called:

An election is coming as you know, don't get involved in it
Democrats, Republicans, they'll have a pillow fight
Roosevelt, Taft and Mr. Wilson, you shouldn't know from them
I hope in the next election they elect:

Here's what Isidor Lillian sent to the copyright office (click for larger view):


In New York az ir vilt do a lebn makhn
Az eyner pedelt mit kalibatn zolt ir fun im nit lakhn
Oyb ir vilt geyn in biznes, zolt ir shnel nit loyfn
Efnt uf a stor un shtelt aroys a 'sayn' un fangt on tsu farkoyfn

Hering mit pateytes, hering mit pateytes!
A kapore fleysh mit 'steak', katshke, 'sponge-cake' un 'cheesecake'!
'Chicken' iz a hund, tsu-/farglaykhendik tsu dem farshteyt es
Der bester maykhl for dem baykhl - iz hering mit pateytes.


Esn megt ir vos ir vilt, es vet mikh nit fardrisn,
'Goulash' est der Ungar, Galitsianer fleysh un zisn, [fish in 'season' siesen]
Rumaynier esn mamelige, goyim esn rakes
Daytshn esn zoyer-kroyt - vos esn di litvakes?

Hot ver fun aykh a shlekhtn mogn un er ken nit kayen
Hot ver fun aykh keyn apetit nit un ken nit fardrayen
Loyft nit tsu keyn doktor, dort ligt nit ayer yeshueh
Far a shlekhtn mogn hob ikh di beste refueh

A ganev, shpet bay nakht is in a hoyz arayngekrokhn
Di tir bald geefnt un di 'safe' ufgebrokhn
Ven her hot di 'safe' geefnt iz er shir arop fun zinen,
Gemeynt hot er dort ligt geld, tsum sof hot er gefinen:

Mayn shkheyne geyt tsu kind, di koyles geyn biz in 'siling'
A doktor zogt az zi hot shver iz pozitiv a tsviling
A tsveyter doktor hot ir bald far fir kinder geshvorn
Ven zi iz gelegn veyst ir vos zi hot geborn:

In yidishn teater hob ikh shoyn gezen a sakh 'piesn'
Di nemen zaynen di zelbe ikh vel zey nisht fargesn
Der shvartser yid, dos pintele yid, ale dos veysn
Far vos zol a shrayber nit makhn a piese zi zol heysn...

Es kumt dokh an 'elekshon' dan zolg ir zikh nit mishn
Demokratn, Repoblikaner zoln zikh shlogn kop in kishn
Ruzvelt, Teft un Mister Vilson, fun zey zolg ir nit klern
Ikh hof far nekstn elekshon vet elektet vern...

A ganev shpet bay nakht iz in a hoyz arayngekrokhn
Di tir bald geefnt un di 'safe' oyfgebrokhn
Ven er hot di 'safe' geefent iz er shir arop fun zinen
Gemeynt hot er dort ligt geld, tsum sof hot er gefinen:

Mayn shkheyne geyt tsu kind, di koyles geyen biz in 'ceiling'
A doktor zogt az zi hot shver iz pozitiv a tsviling
A tsveyter doktor hot ir bald far fir kinder geshvoyrn
Ven zi iz gelegn veyst ir vos zi hot geboyrn

In yidishn teater hob ikh shoyn gezen a sakh piesn
Di nemen zaynen di zelbe, ikh vel zey nisht fargesn
Der shvartser yid, dos pintele yid, ale dos veysn
Far vos zol a shrayber nit makhn a piese zi zol heysn

Es kumt dokh an elekshon dan zolt ir zikh nit mishn
Demokratn, Republicaner zoln zikh shlogn kop in kishn
Ruzevelt, Teft un Mister Vilson, fun zey zolt ir nit klern
Ikh hof far nekstn elekshon vet elektet vern



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

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