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


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Goodbye New York by Pesach Burstein (aka Gud-bay Nyu York)

UPDATE:Reposted because a reader of the blog found a recording of this song, by Aaron Lebedeff, at the Mayrent collection in Wisconsin. Have a listen: גוד־באַי, ניו יאָרק.

Here's a 1-minute Instagram video. It's fun making short videos and the square size is entertaining! Here it is:

Click the album cover to listen to and/or buy our recording of this song, Good-bye New York, from the In Odess cd.

On page 130 of Pesach Burstein's autobiography Oh, What a Life! he mentions this song as being sung in Warsaw, and it appears in one of the Itzik Zhelanek books along with "Zi Hot Es," another number from the same show. Zhelanek says the show was Gasn Zinger but Burstein says it was from Radio Singer.

On my trip to Harvard's Judaica collection I found orchestra parts for this song, but not a lead sheet. That was the case for a number of other songs; I wonder if this was because the singers were afraid their songs would be stolen so they committed them to memory and ate the lyrics pages. I reconstructed the tune from the fiddle part, so it might not be exactly right - I've never heard the song as it was sung. If you "click to order" you can buy the sheet music with translation etc for $2.50 (includes the mp3 of the song):

I think it's pretty obvious why this song became "lost" - the protagonist says he has had ill luck in New York and is going back to Eastern Europe. Nobody would have sung such a thing after the Holocaust. Nikolai Borodulin found, maybe, the town our protagonist was returning to - Berëzovka [Russia], Berezivka [Ukraine], Berezówka [Polish], Beresowka, Beresovka - in Ukraine, 223 miles south of Kiev.

As always, if you have information about this song let me know. I reconstructed the melody from a hand-written fiddle part for the score in Harvard's Widener Library Judaica Collection, it might not be quite right, I've never actually heard anybody sing the song.

Here's the transcription:

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Yamtsa daritsa a tsa tsa - Pesach Burstein's hit of the 1930s

Burstein has been featured on this blog many times, because his songs were popular in Warsaw (where he was known as the Vilner Komiker!) between the wars. This song was not printed in any of Zhelonek's books but it's from the same era - though he probably continued to sing it throughout his career.

I have to give huge thanks to Arye Mechachem's Cornucopia of Yiddish Song, a Youtube channel with unusual and wonderful songs, and some of them (like this one) even have transliterations in the comment section. Thanks, Arye!

It is rare for somebody to have the skills and take the time to write down the words from these recordings, and people who do so are tayerer fun gold.

I couldn't find information about this recording online, but I did see that the refrain appears in a famous Russian book from 1930, the Golden Calf: "There was tram number ten / Someone died on the site / Pull-pull the dead / Lamtsa-dritsa-tsa-tsa-tsa." It's also pointed out that this refrain appeared before the revolution in the collection of 1921 "Couplets of the Russian army in the Turkish emigration."

Here's the recording I made, adding transliteration and translation on screen:

Transliteration and translation after the jump

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Sunday, February 7, 2021

Dir a nickel, mir a nickel - from Fishel der gerotener, a song about getting ahead as a trolley conductor

This song is in the Kemmen Folio of Famous Jewish Theatre Songs I bought on eBay. It's from the show Fishel der gerotener. Gerotener means a well-made, all round class A type of person, but Menashe Skulnik played the hapless trolleyman so you know the nickname was sarcastic. The lyrics are by Isidore Lillian and the music is by Joseph Rumshinsky.

It could be "Dir a nikl mir a nikl," but the correct way to spell nickel in Yiddish is problematic, since at the time the Jews were cramming English into their vocabularies as fast as possible. You'll also find it as Fishl der Konduktor. Fishel is enjoying the shmirn (smears, bribes) that come his way.

The idea was stolen from a previous (1917) Yiddish theater hit, Fifty-fifty, in which we see:

Mayn bruder iz arumgegangen gebrokhn a lange tsayt.
Keyn zakh iz im nit gelungen, vos er hot getrayt.
Af eyn mol kumt er aheym mit gelt un zogt tsu mir; you see,
Ikh bin conductor af a kar un teyl zikh mit der company—

Fifty-fifty, Fifty-fifty, oy oy oy, fifty!
Ikh kling di bel gor on a shier.
A nickel far zey un a nickel far mir;
Fifty-fifty! es geyt bay mir af stim.
A tsi dos shtrikl, s'iz do a nickel
Mit fifty-fifty-skem!
My brother's been going around broke for a long time. Nothing he's tried has been a success. Once he came home with money and told me: "You see, I'm conductor of a trolleycar and share with the company: Fifty-fifty! I ring the bell endlessly, a nickel for them and a nickel for me! It's going gangbusters. A tug on the string, there's a nickel, with the fifty-fifty scheme!"

I hadn't intended to make a video of this song because Bruce Adler did a great one, with subtitles, and an orchestra! His version is featured at the Milken Archive where you can read the plot of Fishl der gerotener. (I have special interest in this show because Ola Lilith played one of the love interests.)

But then my friend Aviva Enoch and I ended up doing a version one afternoon just for fun and I forgot about it until I started trying to figure out why the song "Fifty-fifty" sounded so familiar... Anyway, the file lay in my computer for six years. Here it is.

If you want the sheet music with lyrics, translation, chords, etc., here it is:

My translation:

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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.