Yiddish Ragtime

Jewish lyricists wrote parodies of American Tin Pan Alley songs at the turn of the 20th century. Research and recordings by Jane Peppler.

The cd is live!

YIDDISH RAGTIME with vocals by Jane Peppler and Randy Kloko; piano by Glenn Mehrbach and Barb Coffman; guitar and mandolin by Bob Vasile and Jack Herrick. Click here to preview all the tracks and/or purchase. A cd of Yiddish vaudeville songs from the "Jewish Bowery Revues" of the Lower East Side in New York City.

The material is drawn from a collection of Yiddish theater song broadsides housed at Hebrew Union College, and issues of Lider magazin, housed at YIVO in Manhattan (but not found in their catalogue as of this date).

Liner notes (11 pages of transliterations and translations from the Yiddish, plus the cover art) available automatically as a download with purchase of the album for only $7. The actual hold-it-in-your-hand physical cd is also available for $9 plus shipping/handling. Click here to preview all the tracks and/or purchase.

During the late 1880s, New York City bookseller Judah Katzenelenbogen printed what was probably the first example of published Yiddish-American sheet music, Goldfaden's renowned lullaby "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen." Its success led to the issuance of a series of booklet songsters, called Lider Magazin (words only, no music).

In a wonderful article from 1985 entitled "Zion's Harp by the East River," Professor Fred Somkin wrote:

"Altogether 27 issues of the Lider magazin are extant... undated, unpaged, and priced always at five cents, the issues were continually republished for years with new advertisements. Numbers 1-25 can with assurance be dated 1897-1911, while the last issue seems to have appeared in 1914, although the copyright notice on the cover says 1911."

This was a time when any family aspiring to the middle class had a piano in the parlor, and folios of music in the piano bench. The illustration below was on the cover of several publications from the Katzenelenbogen company. Professor Somkin:

"In the era of vaudeville, song-pluggers, and the parlor and player pianos, with no airconditioning but open windows, these were the songs the immigrants heard eveerywhere. And in their struggles to adapt to unfamiliar ways of speech, life, work and leisure in the new land this immigrant generation found the American popular song an immediately accessible agency of Americanization. ... "Dissonances of culture, language, and taste determined that only infrequently would the Yiddish lyrics be simple translations, and neither were they usually the "parodies" which they were commonly labeled. Mostly they were adaptations to Jewish uses, to both the historic concerns of Jews and the peculiar exigencies of their life in America."

Translators hired by Katzenelenbogen to make Yiddish versions of Tin Pan Alley songs included Louis Gilrod and Isaac Reingold, Shlomo Shmulevitz (also known as Solomon Small), Isadore Lillian, Michal Aronson, Louis Kopelman, and David Meyerowitz... [they were] rarely translating quid pro quo, but adapting the material to the more familiar terrain of Jewish life." (From "Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish")

Sometimes the Yiddish versions of the American popular songs were approximate translations, but more often they were on related or unrelated themes: "old style didactic minstrelsy of heritage and ethics... applied to the newer American ways. (Irene Heskes)

Joseph Werbelowsky formed the Hebrew American Publishing Company (later the Hebrew Publishing Company) and took over the Katzenelenbogen music catalog. At the time when Lider magazin was published, the copyrights were still held by Judah Katzenelenbogen, Washington DC.

Here's a page from the second issue of Lider magazin. It has lyrics to two songs. One is "Nem tsurik dayn gold," a fairly close approximation of the English language song referenced, "Take Back Your Gold." Most unusually, both the English and the Yiddish versions seem to have been written by the same person, Morris Rosenfeld. The second song is "A Yenke lidl" (A Little Yankee Song), a parody of what may be Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay (I haven't looked this one up yet). Isaac Reingold, "Bard of the West," wrote the parody of the original song.

Here's a sheet music cover of one of the original songs, which are all from about 1890-1910:

I'm putting the Yiddish ragtime recordings on youtube. Click here to visit them:

List of lyricists named in Lider magazin:

A. Goldfaden
Anshel Shor
Bertha Kalish
Boris Thomashefsky
Broydo & Anshel Shor
D. Edelshtot
David Meyerowitz
Elias Rothstein
G. Zelikovits
Gilrod & Meyerowitz
H. Meyzel
I. Bovshover
I. Meyzel
Isaac Reingold
Isidor Lillien
Julius Rosenvaser
Louis Gilrod
Louis Kopelman
Max Ovromovits
Max Zavodnik
Mikhl Aronson / Oranson
Morris Rosenfeld
Sadie Levin
Solomon Smulewitz
Zigmund Mogulesko

I just got a copy of Fred Somkin's wonderful article from 1985, about these songs, called "Zion's Harp by the East River" and, from YIVO, an essay on the subject from "Pionern fun yidisher poeziye in Amerike." Stay tuned.

I perform with the world music band Mappamundi; I give workshops and performances (all with subtitles on the wall so everybody gets the jokes) of rare Yiddish theater music and the Yiddish vaudeville / music hall / cabaret repertoire, appearances including the Library of Congress, the Jubilee meeting of Jewish librarians, the International Association of Yiddish Clubs, Chicago Arbeter Ring and YIVO, at Yidish Vokh and Trip to Yiddishland, and the Warsaw Poland zumerkurs. She was 2015 Grand Champion of the International Idisher Idol competition in Mexico City.

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