Yiddish Curiosities: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs from the late 1920s and after (includes Polish Jewish Cabaret). Have a listen!

1. Link to list of posts on this site
2. Link to songs for sale
3. Click here for our music videos of Yiddish songs with English subtitles (mainly post-1925)
4. List of the still lost songs. Do you know any of them?
5. Warszawa zumerkurs song links


Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sex Appeal! Sung (then) by Benzion Witler and Adam Aston - now by Mappamundi!

UPDATED so I can post the video we made last month at the Shadowbox Studio, thanks to Mark Sidell for the audio and Paul Deblinger for the video. This was one of the first songs Beth and I found that existed in both a Polish version, lyric is by Ludwik Starski (see the iconic performance by Eugeniusz Bodo singing "Sex appeal" in drag) and a Yiddish version, written by Igor S. Korn-Teurer, more famous for serious Holocaust poetry. (Menasze Oppenheim singing "Sex Appeal" in 1938)
If you want the words write me.

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Der Dales - Nikodem - Yiddish and Polish versions of the same theater song

UPDATED to add a video made from our May 8 2022 concert. 

When my band Mappamundi was making the Cabaret Warsaw cd, we were looking for songs from the 1920s and 1930s which had both a Polish and a Yiddish version, and this song was one of them.

We wondered which came first until I found, at YIVO, Ben-Zion Witler's copy of this published sheet music for Nikodem with his own handwritten lyrics, in Yiddish, tucked inside. In my later research I've found several Polish songs which he re-wrote for his own repertoire.

The Polish version is about an obnoxious guy who thinks he's hot stuff. Witler's version is more interesting - it's about the anthropomorphized concept of Poverty as a sentient creature who comes to live with you and, sadly, like a leech of an uninvited guest, will not leave.

We recorded it for our Cabaret Warsaw cd: Der Dales and Nikodem by Mappamundi. We sing two of the three verses Witler recorded and then just the chorus of the Polish version (Nikodem) by Starski and Wars.

Here's my translation of the Yiddish lyrics. For a charming description of "Der Dales" (Mr. Poverty) see the bottom of this post.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

An eytsele tsum vaser-treger (Advice for the water carrier) - Moyshe Broderson and Henech Kon

UPDATE: We recently got a rare opportunity to sing this song, at the Shadowbox Studio. Paul Deblinger filmed it and Mark Sidell ran sound off the board and so here is a new video.

Way back in 2010, Beth Holmgren and I were very taken by a video we heard on Youtube of Ola Lilith and Willy Godik singing together, An'Eicele, 1928 - "(Text Moses Brodersohn, Musik H. Kohn) - Ola Lilith u. Wł. Godik aus jüdischen Revue-Theater, mit Orchester Begleitung, Homocord Pl.29078, Wyrób Polski (Polish) c. 1928"

In standard transliteration that would be An eytsele (Some Advice).

I wasn't satisfied with my ability to transcribe the words and, besides, it was about women from various places and how lousy they would all be as wives, we didn't want to sing that. So I replaced the text with one from the Itzik Zhelonek's lost songs, one that at the time was still lost (ie had no melody) but which I have since found: Der vaser treger as sung by Moshe Kraus. Though I didn't know it then, Der vaser treger was also written by Moshe Broderzon and Henech Kon. I added a different punch line. (In the original song, the punch line is, "so we don't have any potatoes to go with our bread - God will provide.")

Here's us singing the concocted song for the first time:

Here are the words. If you ever sing it (or any of the others) please let me know and I'll link to your performance!
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Monday, June 13, 2022

Cockeyed Jenny: a new version of the Barton Brothers hit, from a woman's point of view.

There is a wonderful guy known online as Arye Menachem but, in the real world, as Len Misikoff. He has a skill few have (and fewer still are willing to share with the world): he can listen to Yiddish songs and tease out the lyrics! I asked him to help me with Cockeyed Jenny and he graciously did so, but then it turned out the words were horrendously misogynistic, which was typical of Yiddish comedians of the time...

... so I wrote a version from a woman's point of view and Len and I batted it back and forth until the Yiddish was more or less correct. And then I recorded it with my buddies Jim Baird and Beth Holmgren from our band Mappamundi. (I'm sad we can't all be on the video but in these days of COVID most tracks are done by folks in their own homes and mixed later). Jack Herrick mixed it with me in his barn. Here it is:

The Barton Brothers, for all their fame, are now pretty lost. Who even knows where they were born? Or when? What we do know is that they specialized in vulgar songs in Yiddish AND English, for an audience which was losing its Yiddish and so appreciated being thrown a bone (in the form of English punchlines).

Ron Robboy, who guesses they were born in the 1910s, has studied them and shared this with the Mendele listserv (excerpted):

The Barton Brothers humor was often tasteless, stereotypically engaging the Yiddish language at a crude level. Much of the comedy is bilingual (Yiddish-English), with off-color punch lines in Yiddish, if the exposition is in English; or English, if the exposition is in Yiddish. I would imagine that sociolinguists can offer some theoretical framework for this phenomenon of switching language for the naughty moment. Whatever the explanation, the Barton Brothers present a case study of what was happening to Yiddish in the United States in the years following the Second World War. The taboo subjects range from adolescent masturbation to the ubiquitous topic of sex with gentiles. The material, in short, is HILARIOUS!

[Their] musical miscegenation creates a rich bath of metaphor for the sexual transgressions the lyrics describe, and all *that* in a naughty bilingual conjugality.

Among the most amazing displays of cross-cultural referentiality which I noticed in the album is in the song "Cockeye Jenny." Aside from the last four lines, which are in English and entirely tasteless, the entire song is Yiddish, with the exception, about a third of the way through, of one couplet sung in English: "I tell you, people, it's no use talking." This is a line whose yikhes would be worth exploring. ...

Saturday, June 11, 2022

A fine review of a Barton Brothers show (1951)

The first mention I found of them was in a newspaper listed their show on radio station WEAF, January 1933. 

The show "Bagels and Yox" opened in NYC in September 1951. 

Two Bilingual Revues Visit Broadway Looking for 'Family Trade' By JOHN CHAPMAN 

After long, persistent and tiresome publicity campaigns, two Yiddish-English or American-Yiddish revues have come to occupy theatres which might otherwise be unoccupied at the moment. They have the appalling titles of "Bagles and Yox" and "Borscht Capades." 

A bagel is a plaster doughnut. Borscht, the dictionary says, is "a Little Russian soup of various ingredients colored with beets." Yox are more than one yock. Walter Winchell says he didn't invent yock, but he made it current slanguage. He thinks he first heard the word around Lindy's, and it's a kind of phonetic description of a belly-laugh. A capade isn't anything but if a skating show can call itself an icecapade a borscht show can call itself a borscht capade if it has the nerve. And the best thing either of these new revues has is nerve. Both are specialized and semi-pro, and would not be given room on Broadway later in the season when theatres begin to fill up. 

One, Bagels and Yox," is quite awful in a good-natured way. It is a smalltime night club floor show with no scenery and no evidence of organi. tation. Its principals, who include Lou Saxon, master of ceremonies: Rickie Layne, a ventriloquist; Mary Forrest, a loud singer, and the Barton brothers, who impersonate people, can be given a B for effort. Their material grades no better than F for frightful. 

Another review of this same show said: "Next come the Barton brothers, three [sic] energetic gentlemen who not only give imitations of the songs they have recorded for phonograph records, but also reasonably recognizable imitations of Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx and Charles Laughton." 

In March 1960 Daily News: "The Barton Brothers, comedy team at Arele's, are the only Yiddish recording stars to have sold a million copies of a record (Joe and Paul)." 

The last mention I found was June 1977, when they were playing at Far Rockaway High School in a "Jewish-American vaudeville show" sponsored by the Far Rockaway Chapter of Hadassah.