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The Celebration of Yiddish Music in America

by Gad Nahshon

In their quest to build a unique American-Jewish cultural ethnic spiritual center, scholars such as Henry Sapoznik, for example, also paid attention to the history of Jewish and Yiddish music in America. He, himself a famous Klezmer, wrote the history of the American Klezmer music and has a record, A Discography of Ethnic Recording, 1893-1942.

But today we can enjoy the best of this great music that also was performed in the Yiddish Theaters of Second Avenue. This revival was recorded by various artists under the title of From Avenue A to the Great White Way: Yiddish and American Popular Songs, 1914-1950. This is a 2 CD set (Columbia Legacy (212) 833-4448). This is certainly a new contribution to an important legacy to be preserved.

There are 50 songs included on this CD. The project enjoyed the fact that in early the 20th century, Columbia Phonograph Company (song) produced records (78) of Jewish music and songs mostly the ones from Yiddish Theaters. It is known that most of their productions were melodramas or musicals. So were the plays of Avrum Goldfaden, the 'Father of Yiddish Theater' who died penniless in America. We still do have a biography of Goldfaden although there are so many pretenders who claim to accomplish this mission.

The following were the ones who contributed to this project: Arthur Levy, Adam Block, Henry Sapoznik, Michael Brooks, Lilian Lux, Chana Mlotek, Ray Musiker, and the Yivo Institute and many others.

Among the songs and their composers and lyricists which are featured in this project are: Mother is Good (Yiddish) by Olshansky-Jocobs; You Can Believe it Or Not (Yiddish) by Molly Picon; Whoopee Secunda Rosenberg (singer: Pessach Burstein.) The film The Comediant by Arnon Goldfinger tells his story; Hot Dogs by Rumshinsky; The Shepherd's Dream Abe Schwartz Orchestra; 40 Years Ago Rumshinsky-Jacobson (Yiddish) singer: Menashe Skulnik; She Is My Bride (Yiddish) Donaldson-Burstein; We Are Hasidim Jewish Art Quartet; To Me You Are So Beautiful, Jacob-Secunda Cahn-Chaplin (Yiddish: it is, perhaps, the most famous Yiddish popular song, Bei Mir Bist Du Schon, the singer, Belle Baker. But the famous 'hit' was performed by the Bary Sisters.)

Matzoh Balls Slim Gaillard and his Flat Foot Floogie Boys; Yiddish Charleston, Fisher-Rose (Nathan Glantz's Orchestra); The New Sher (Yiddish) Ellstein (singer Symour Rechzeit); Romania, Romania Lebedeff; (This song is eternal. It's still well and alive in any Jewish concert of ceremony!); Palesteena, Conrad-Robinson (singer Eddie Cantor); Tomorrow In Another Day, Stept-Green (singer Al Johnson); and Yosel, Steinberg (singer Nellie Casman); This project should be praised for its musical accomplishments. It is an illumination of less known musical world which we should preserve. We should give recognition to these performers, composers and writers. They should get their place in our Jewish Hall of Fame. Furthermore, we enjoy the fruits of their work today as well.

Of course, as Sapoznik, a Zemler (collector) pointed out, the great ones were: Joseph Rumshinsky, Sholom Secunda and Alexander Olshanetsky, or the Theater Composers. One also learns about the links between the Yiddish music and the American one.

Great American stars such as Al Jolson or Irving Berlin or Benny Goodman had links to Jewish music. And many American songs were translated to Yiddish to be arranged for Jewish audiences as well.

One can say that with the disappearance of the Yiddish world in America, the Yiddish music, almost vanished to be revived today: "Never put stones on the grave of the Yiddish Theater," said Pessach Burstein.


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