Polish Jewish Cabaret: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs of the 1920s - 1930s. 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

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What happened to Yiddish theater star Herman Fenigstein?

Fenigstein, who is featured prominently among the singers cited in the Itzik Zhelonek collection, left very few traces. I was only ever able to find one picture of him, for instance, and it's not a very good one. There are a very few existing recordings. I always assumed he was one of the many singers and actors who died in the Holocaust but recently I heard from a researcher in Scotland who sent me this:

I'm a researcher at Glasgow university looking at Jewish music in Scotland in the early 20th century, and just discovering Herman Fenigstein. After leaving Warsaw (and a short spell in London), Fenigstein worked as a chazzan in Glasgow for several decades. Interestingly, he seems to have completely abandoned what seems to have been a successful Yiddish stage once here in Scotland.

He also sent me this obituary. You're welcome!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Masquerade balls - featured for decades.

There are two Zhelonek songs about masked balls. In each case, a spouse is carousing with a supposed stranger who turns out to be - the spouse. Not a very interesting conceit. But the songs are fun nevertheless. One is A Mistake! and the other is Af a maskn bal.

At the time I thought this was an idea that arose in the swinging 1920s, but today I found a song from about 1911 with exactly the same plot. It is in Judah Katzenelenbogen's Lider magazin (a sporadically issued compendium of Yiddish theater songs famous at the time and, more importantly, Yiddish lyrics set to famous American songs of the times, as we saw here with In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht, set to In the Shade of an Old Apple Tree).

It's called Mall Oy Mally! and it's set to the tune of Molly, O! Oh, Molly! written in 1911 by Irving Berlin. Thanks to Fred Feild, the Sheet Music Singer, for finding this music for me. Here is the Yiddish songsheet. If you want more information get in touch with me. Click for a larger view.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Benzin (Max Perlman's hit) - fossil fuels, gambling, and a tired old bridegroom

That's a picture of Gimpel Beynish the Matchmaker and one of his non-functioning cars. He's setting the scene for this prescient song about the role of gasoline (benzine) in our lives.

A reader of this blog from South Africa, Eli Goldstein, wrote and asked if I had this song, and I didn't, but I said if he would get me the text I'd make him sheet music. So he got his friend Cedric Ginsberg to do it, and then I traded some work with Sheva Zucker and had her vet the transcription, so while I was going to all that trouble, why not record it? So I did. Even though Max Perlman's wonderful version is on YouTube.


Max Perlman is a great singer, and it's so wonderful that a lot of his songs have been posted on youtube. He was born in 1909 in Riga, Latvia to a middle-class family. From the age of 6 he sang in a choir and then in Yiddish theater. He studied and performed in Riga, in Russian and in Yiddish. By the age of 20 he was performing in Kovno, Vienna, he toured Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium andEngland. In 1939 he was invited to Argentina, where he stayed for 3 years before moving onto Uruguay and Chile and, in 1945, to Latin America where he died in 1985. I don't know when he died.

Transliteration and translation after the jump.


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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Der dishvasher (The Dishwasher) - Yiddish theater song from Herman Yablokoff's 1934 show

I bought this sheet music on eBay a couple months ago but was too busy and too sick to sing it until now.

Then, weirdly, Itzik Gottesman scooped me by a couple of days with this same very obscure number!

Since he provides a lot of information, I'm sending you over there - check it out on his blog: Der dishvasher performed by Harris. He shares a recording made in his living room and also points you to a performance by Yablokoff himself.

I have to laugh when I see how this dishwasher is dressed in a sort of toreador outfit, with a dashing gypsy kerchief and a cigarette. He doesn't look to me like he does many dishes.

Vivi Lachs thinks the Bundist song Arum dem fayer was stolen from this song. Or perhaps vice versa. You may remember that Yablokoff is the author of Shvayg mayn harts which he insisted was plagiarized in the making of the far more famous jazz standard "Nature Boy." He did get a nice little pot of money in settlement.

Here's my living room version:



The sheet music has more lines per verse and more verses than the version Itzik Gottesman provided. Transliteration and translation from the Yiddish after the jump.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht (In a house where one cries and laughs) - Yiddish song about a brothel.

UPDATE: Vivi Lachs sent me pdfs of a magazine called Lider Magazin, published in New York at the turn of the century, and I just found in Issue #9 a text for this song which is the basis for what was sung to Ruth Rubin! It's too bad the song sheet is so torn up but here it is (click it for larger view):



Previous update: Avery Gosfield recently gave me a new word for this kind of song, it's a contrafactum: "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music." I've been calling them parodies, but parody to me implies humor or sarcasm, and in this case, neither is present. She also used 'canta si come' - so thanks, Avery!

Here's the video:



Or click below to buy the song or the whole album (In Odess) at Skylark Productions:



in the shade of the old apple treeIn the 1950s ethnomusicologist and Yiddish enthusiast Ruth Rubin recorded many 10" tape reels of Yiddish songs, some now vanishingly obscure. One of the "lost" songs from the Itzik Zielonek collection was in the Rubin collection; it was sung by a Mrs. Dillman in the 1950s in Montreal. The tapes reside at the New York Public Library but it was Lorin Sklamberg at YIVO who kindly sent me the a capella verse-and-a-half on this reel.

Itzik has it as "In a hoyz vu men veynt un men lakht" but the Ruth Rubin recording has: "In dem hoyz..." The title means: "In a house where there's tears and laughter" (or "In the house where people cry and laugh"). There was supposedly a recording in 1912 by L. Braun on a Syrena Grand Record, In der haus wu men weint un men lacht, but I've never heard it.

I recognized the tune but couldn't remember the name, so I turned to one of those "name this tune" internet services and turns out it's from a 1905 song by Egbert Van Alstyne (original words: Harry H. Williams) called "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree." I wonder if perhaps this Yiddish song became so thoroughly lost because this tune is so completely un-Jewish and its sweet, sentimental affect is so bizarre paired with these dark lyrics.

Being so Gilded Age and goyish, the song is not typical of the Zhelonek collection. Aviva Enoch and I recorded it in March 2013 and Randy Kloko added baritone on the chorus.

The version printed by Zhelonek is about a whorehouse. I wonder which came first? Here are his lyrics, which do not scan very well. I was especially pained by the word tsuzamen (together) which should have the accent on the second syllable but which fits in this chorus only with the accent on the last syllable.

Just think, now, people, how life goes for mankind:
One rushes around, plagued,
Happy is the one who is blessed
But one doesn't think about what will happen later
You should now think, and pay attention
to one thing: don't send your wife and child to that place...

In a house where one cries and laughs
I once spent a whole night
I saw women and men together there
In a house where there's laughter and tears

I went into a house, a young girl I see sitting, very sad
I went to her, she cried many tears in front of me
She begged me: "Young man, save me! I don't want to be here
I was deceived away from my home by a young charlatan
And here I suffer from hunger and pain."

I became acquainted with a woman, she was young and pretty then
Late at night I fooled around with her in a dancehall
When we sat by a little table and drank champagne
I wanted to leave, she said to me:
"No, young man, you'll be with me today."

I ask her, "Tell me, dear woman,
Where did you come from, to end up here?"
And see how the woman doesn't answer,
In her eyes one sees a lament:
"I had a husband and two children
Things were good for me then
I parted from him and had nowhere to go
I was forced, a poor thing, to come here."


The version Mrs. Dillman sang has a few English words in it and is more literally about a (tenement) house in which there are happy people and sad people.

In the house where one cries and laughs
Where the landlord comes into the tenement to get his rent
And it makes people sweat
Where the greenhorn quickly becomes ?
And the rooms are as dark as in a jail
From the basement to the roof, each gets a punishment
In the house...

Sunday the tenement house is noisy
On each floor it's a different scene
On the first floor a girl plays piano
On the second floor a sick person grows still
On the third floor a bride is getting ready
On the fourth floor a corpse is lying
The bride is taken to the wedding canopy
The corpse is taken to the grave

In the house where there's crying and laughter
So much trouble, day and night,
They wish the bride good luck
The corpse never comes back
In the house...

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