Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, September 16, 2019

Der man mit der nodl un di sher - Labor anthem of 1904 by Solomon Smulewitz

Here's our recording of Der man mit der nodl un di sher from the cd Yiddish Ragtime, Randy Kloko sang with me and Glenn Mehrbach is on keyboard:

This song is not from Lider magazin, I found it in the composer's own annual, Der teater zinger. I had the text for a long time and didn't think I'd be able to find the melody, but Eleanore Biezunski and Lorin Sklamberg at YIVO found me a recording of Solomon Smulewitz himself singing it. Thanks!

Although Smulewitz did not credit his source, I discovered that the verse for this song is taken from an American song, Good Bye Little Girl Good Bye by Gus Edwards (original lyrics by Will D. Cobb) published in 1904. (I don't know what war that soldier on the cover was going off to fight.)

Its somewhat martial theme fit this workers' anthem - for the hero of the tailoring trade and the nascent Garments' Union - very well. The chorus is not from the Edwards song; perhaps Smulewitz wrote it himself, or maybe he stole it from elsewhere. As often in these early labor songs, "The Red Flag" - the symbol of Communism - was seen as the solution to their woes. We discovered that wasn't the answer, but what can sustain us against the Robber Barons of our own era?

Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

Der man mit der nodl un di sher

Ver filt on iberal ale sheper?
Der arbetsman, der arbetsman!
Ven s'iz slek, ver kukt oys vi a shleper?
Der arbetsman, der arbetsman!
Ver traybt di mashin mit ale kreften?
Un ver hot shtarbt fun hunger, zogt mir ver?
Ver halt uf iberal di gesheftn?
Der man mit der nodl un di sher!

Der man mit der nodl! Yo, der man mit di sher!
Der man vos arbet far zayn lebn shver.
Er makht kleyder, er makht shikh,
Nor er makht keyn sakh far zikh
Er veyst er darf zikh plogn un nit mer!
Der boss makht a lebn un der arbeter a toyt
Zayn mogn, zayne pockets zaynen ler.
Dokh ze ikh a tsayt kumt on, bashitsn vet di royte fon
Dem man mit der nodl un di sher!

Ver baneyt un gekleydt ale zate?
Der arbetsman, der arbetsman!
Un aleyn ver tut zikh on a shmate?
Der arbetsman, der arbetsman!
Vemens kinder geyn barvus un naket?
Vemens froy zi krenkt un plogt zikh shver?
Ver hot keynmol keyn sent nit in pocket?
Der man mit der nodl un di sher!

The man with the needle and scissors

Who fills all the sweatshops everywhere? The working man! When it's slack, who looks like a tramp? The working man! Who drives the machine with all his strength? And who dies from hunger, tell me, who? Who maintains the business everywhere? The man with the needle and scissors!

The man with the needle, yes, the man with the scissors! The man who works hard for his living. He makes dresses, he makes shoes, But he makes nothing for himself. He knows he just has to slave away, nothing more! The boss makes a living and the arbeter a death. His belly and his pockets are empty. I see a time coming when the red flag will protect the man with the needle and the scissors.

Who sews and makes clothes enough for all? The working man! And who, himself, is dressed in rags? The working man! Whose children go barefoot and naked? Whose wife sickens and slaves away? Who never has a penny in his pocket? The man with the needle and the scissors!

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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