Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, August 31, 2020

A yenke lidl - to be sung to "Ta Ra Ra Boom De Aye" or close equivalent

A Yankee song
To sing with the English melody
"Bom Ta Ra Ra Bom Di Aye"
Created by Isaac Reingold
Sung by A. Fishkind

 

 

We've heard this chorus 1,000s of times, in cartoons and comedies. We associate it with high kicking women in frilly knickers. It's as simple as Happy Birthday and in its day was so popular the first huge media-circus music copyright court room battle was fought over it (see below). 

 

I read that this refrain originated among sailors from the west coast of Africa who used it in a pulling shantey. It was said that Black dockworkers in New Orleans caught the refrain and soon it had reached far into Louisiana, "where a Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay was shouted when anything was to be hoisted at the sugar mills"

 

It was perhaps the year 1890 when Henry Sayers, the white manager of a blackface minstrel company, went to a nightclub/brothel in New Orleans (or maybe St. Louis) run by Babe Connors. There he heard the resident singer, Mama Lou, deliver the song. He stole the song for his own troupe, replacing the "unspeakable" lyrics, and featured the song in a blackface farce called Tuxedo, which opened in 1891.

 

The American husband of English music hall star Lottie Collins saw the show and acquired the English rights to the song from Sayers. Obviously neither Babe Collins nor Mama Lou saw a cent of that money.

 

Lottie made the song a sensation in England and her song and dance act is said to have ushered in the Naughty Nineties. There are many accounts which speak of it as a "Bacchanalian frenzy" though she mainly twirled, ran, and jumped around the state, kicking up on the word "Boom."

 

Lottie brought the song back to New York in 1892 but was not a success. By that time, audiences were expecting something more like the can-can of the Moulin Rouge.

 

"In 1894 there was a lawsuit in London over the rights to the song. The defendants produced an affidavit from a woman who sang the song in the US as far back as 1884. Counsel read aloud the ("unspeakable") words of the original song. The text and its solemn delivery by the lawyer were irresistibly comic, and the spectators roared, and there was an attempt to join in the chorus, which was sternly repressed by the court..."

 

In a musical world with thievery as rampant as it is today, there were many knockoffs of this already knocked-off song (I featured some of their sheet music covers in the video). Also response songs, like I'll give him Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay and Boom Ta-Ra-Ra, Boom Ta Zing by Richard Stahl:

Ev'ry night and through the day
You hear Ta ra boom de aye
All the people sing or say
Naught but ta ra boom de aye
In our graves we cannot rest
For ta ra ra boom de ay
And the man we oft have blessed
Who wrote ta ra boom de aye
And the next time someone tries
To sing ta ra boom de aye
Be sure to blacken both his eyes
Stop that ta ra boom de aye

It was obvious that some Yiddish ditty would be set to this song and Isaac Reingold was the rhymer who did it. In the recording I omitted the first verse (the usual "Everybody is singing this ditty" intro). Each verse uses the catchphrase to stand in for something unsaid.

 

What's interesting (and lucky for me) is that he specified as a tune one of the knockoffs: Bom Ta Ra!. This one has a more interesting melody than the usual. Also, he did not even bother to write the chorus into the song sheet since its nonsense syllables were no harder for Yiddish speakers than for English speakers. (And I didn't bother to sing it.)

Here's my living room recording from yesterday:

Translation and transliteration of the Yiddish after the jump.

A bomer geyt shpet bay nakht 
Un zingt dos lid zeyer fartrakht
Klern: Vu nemt men sentn mer?
Un nokh a viski benkt er zeyer
Nor vayl im dreyt der kop 
krikht er fun dem veg arop
un falt zingendik in shney. 
Bom tarara bom tarey

Dem opreyter vos geyn on?
Traybt dem redl vi er kon.
Durkh dem sveter lebt er git
Dokh tsu frayhayt shtrebt er nit.
Farzunken in dem dales tif
Un hot fun lebn keyn bagrif
Dokh zingt er zikh bay'n geney:
Bom tarara bom tarey

A meydl treft a mol a zakh
Shtifndik mit boyes a sakh. 
Mame merkt af ir etvos...
Fregt ir bald, "Vos iz dos?
"Zog mir tokhter, vey iz mir!
Zog mir, vi kumt dos tsu dir?"
"Dos kumt, mame," entfert zi,
"Fun bom tarara bom taree"

Un kukt nor dortn yenem on
Ligt nor imer in salon
Kumt nor a heym shiker vi Loyt
Der froy in hoyz, nebekh, felt broyt.
Un ven im fregt zayn froy:
"Tsharli, zog, iz sheyn azoy?"
Krigt zi fun zayn hand a tsvey
Bom tarara bom tarey

Khatskil, ven du host mikh lib,
Bet ikh dikh: zits in shtib.
Ven keyn arbet iz bay dir
Dan kum zets zikh nebn mir.
Nem aroys dayn fidele,
Shpil mir uf dos lidele
Mitn zmitshik tsimbl tsi
Bom tarara bom taree

===

A bum walks around at night 
and sings this song, very distracted.
He's thinking: where can one find another cent? 
And he's longing for a whisky.
But while his head is in the clouds 
he wanders off the path
And falls singing into the snow: Bom tarara bom tarey

What's going on with the sewing machine operator? 
He drives its wheel as he can.
His boss treats him "well", 
of course he isn't struggling for freedom.
Sunken in deep poverty he has only one idea:
So he sings by his sewing: bom tarara bom tarey

A girl gets something 
fooling around with a lot of boys.
Her mother notices the something 
and soon asks: "What's this?
Tell me daughter, oy vey! 
Tell me, how'd you get this?
"This came, mama," she answers, 
"from Bom Tarara Bom Taree."

And just take a look at that guy, 
he's always lying around in the saloon.
He comes home as drunk as Lot. 
His wife at home, poor thing, lacks bread.
And when his wife asks him: 
"Charlie, tell me, is this pretty?"
She receives from his hand a pair [of] Bom Tarara Bom Tarey[s]

Khatskl, if you love me, 
I beg you: sit in the house.
When you don't have work
Then come sit next to me.
Take out your fiddle,
Play me that little song
With your bow, strike up the tune:
Bom tarara bom taree


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

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