Happy spring, everyone!

There’s lots to report here in the Sound Archives, but I’d like to focus on the exciting recent developments in the digitization and dissemination of the field recordings of the legendary Yiddish song zamler (collector), historian and performer Ruth Rubin – arguably the world’s largest and most invaluable collection of traditional Ashkenazic songs and singers.



Last summer, Bay Area Yiddish singer/accordionist Jeanette Lewicki spent a fruitful month interning in the Sound Archives, cataloging and transferring a large portion of the Rubin tapes to the digital domain. The Ruth Rubin database now contains 926 songs (an estimated 1/2 of the entire list), of which 357 (of an estimated 2,000) have been digitized – a great start. Heartfelt thanks go to Jeanette and to New York’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance for its financial support and ongoing encouragement towards the eventual completion of the project.




In the meantime, north of the border in Québec, a Canadian cultural activist and friend of YIVO has been raising funds locally (where she has dubbed the project The Lost Reels) through the auspices of the city’s Foundation for Yiddish Culture and the Jewish Public Library to help us continue our work in making Montréal native daughter Rubin’s materials widely available at last. A first Canadian fundraising effort was held last August:










Subsequently, a letter was sent out to the local constituency. In part, it read:


Dear Lover of Yiddish and Music

I’m coming to you as a Yiddish-speaking music-loving technology-embracing journalist, because our Jewish heritage is being lost. Disintegrating at New York’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research are 125 hours of undiscovered Ruth Rubin recordings. If we don’t take action, these songs will be lost to the world forever.

Ruth Rubin, born Rivka Rosenblatt in 1906 in Montréal, was a self-taught ethnomusicologist and Yiddish folklorist.

In the 1920s she married, moved to New York City and began her zamling. For decades Rubin travelled North America, gathering together lovers of Yiddish and song. Sticking a microphone in every potential troubadour’s hand, she would ask them to warble songs from their childhoods in Europe. Every melody was accompanied by an oral synopsis and the how the crooner came to know the tune.

Prior to her death in 1990 at age 93, Rubin donated her un-archived materials to YIVO. For over 20 years, the boxes containing hundreds of undiscovered songs have sat essentially untouched and unexplored.

After hearing about this collection from Lorin Sklamberg, YIVO’s Sound Archivist, I decided I wasn’t going to let that continue. With your help, these delicate reel-to-reel and acetate disks will be restored and digitized for public access.  Your donation will support the management of the project in New York, conservation of tapes that are damaged and the transfer to digital media. In conjunction with YIVO and the Jewish Public Library of Montreal, once digitized and cataloged, these “brand new” Yiddish songs will be made available for musicians, historians, sociologists, Jewish educators and lovers of Yiddish the world over. This is truly a now-or-never opportunity. Together, we can save history and help this generation keep a link to their past and a seed for preserving their future.

Losing hundreds of voices and unique songs – to let them die, after Ruth Rubin so deliberately preserved them, would be a shande (shame). We simply can’t succeed without your help…

To further entice you, here is Mannie Bach introducing and performing the charming song Uha, ikhe libe dir, as recorded by Ruth Rubin in Montréal in 1955:

Our Montréaler has set up an easy way  to support this project – all donations above $54 will receive a Canadian tax receipt. Please click below to get started:


We are setting up an account for U.S. donations as I write.

Stay tuned for more information on the Ruth Rubin preservation project and other goings on in the Sound Archives.

Looking forward…


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Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011) ז” ל

A meydl in di yorn

Performed by Adrienne Cooper accompanied by Zalmen Mlotek, piano

Recorded at KlezKamp: The Yiddish Folk Arts Program

Paramount Hotel, Parksville, NY

December 1989

Photo by Layle Silbert

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Sholem Aleichem

This is a slightly expanded version of an article published in the Fall 2011 issue of Yedies, YIVO’s newsletter,  featuring full color scans of artwork and sound clips.

In commemoration of the 95th yortsayt of the beloved Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916), I’ve selected some vivid period artwork and sound samples of the respective recordings of the writer’s work from which it derives.

First, here is the unique purple label from the test recording made by Sholem Aleichem for the Victor company in 1915 and issued in memoriam, accompanied by the two short excerpts he read for the acoustic horn.

Ven ikh bin Rotshild/A freylekher yontev – If I Were Rothschild/A Joyful Holiday (Sholem Aleichem), excerpts read by Sholem Aleichem. 10-inch 78rpm disc label. Victor Recording Company, New York, 1916

An anonymous colorful depiction of shtetl life decorates the cover of a deluxe 12-inch double 78rpm disc set Tales from the Old Country as told by Howard Da Silva issued by American Decca in 1948.

The Fiddle (Sholem Aleichem, translation by Julius and Frances Butwin, adaptation by Howard Da Silva, music by Serge Hovey, violin solo by Oscar Shumsky) read by Howard Da Silva, from Sholem Aleichem’s Tales from the Old Country as told by Howard Da Silva. 12-inch 78rpm album cover, designer and artist unknown. Decca Records, New York, 1948.

Actor-director Da Silva, born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland to Yiddish-speaking parents from Russia, maintained a relationship on stage and record with Sholem Aleichem’s work; he was featured in Arnold Perl’s 1953 dramatization of several stories presented as The World of Sholem Aleichem (the lp jacket features drawings by the renowned artist Ben Shahn) and directed its 1957 sequel Tevya and His Daughters – the catalyst for the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof.

The High School, excerpt (Sholem Aleichem, dramatization by Howard Da Silva, music by Serge Hovey and Robert de Cormier) performed by Howard Da Silva, Morris Carnovsky, Pearl Sommers, Gilbert S. Green, David Pressman and Ruby Dee. The World of Sholom Aleichem. 10-inch lp album cover, designer unknown, artwork by Ben Shahn. Rachel Recordings, New York, circa 1953.

Typical of the same period for smaller, privately owned Jewish record companies is the lp cover art for Holiday Stories, a wonderful, rare West Coast disc by Yiddish stage and Hollywood screen character actor Elihu Tenenholtz.

Kopel Mineester (Sholem Aleichem) read by Elihu Tenenholtz, from Holiday Stories: Elihu Tenenholtz Reading Sholom Aleichem. 12-inch lp album cover, designer unknown. Yiddish Literature Records, Hollywood, CA, date unknown.

Most striking of all, (visually speaking) perhaps, is spoken word label Caedmon Records’ Menasha Skulnik: Stories of Sholem Aleichem, illustrated by the well-known husband and wife team of Diane and Leo Dillon.

It’s a Lie (Sholem Aleichem), read by Menasha Skulnik, from Stories of Sholem Aleichem read by Menasha Skulnik. 12-inch lp album cover, artwork by Leo and Diane Dillon. Caedmon Records, New York, date unknown.

The artwork created for commercial discs was designed for the purpose of selling them to a public familiar with the happy experience of browsing through record store bins. Though those days are sadly a thing of the past, maybe you’ll be inspired by what you’ve seen and heard here to come and give some more of these treasures a look and listen.

The Max and Frieda Weinstein Archives of YIVO Sound Recordings is open to researchers by appointment: (212) 294-6169,

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Back to Isa Kremer

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I was contacted a week ago by Itzik Gottesman, director of the An-sky Jewish Folklore Research Project regarding a song he has posted on the blog The Yiddish Song of the Week (, “Ven ikh volt gehat dem keysers oytsres” (If I had the Emperor’s treasures), specifically regarding a recording of the song by our old friend, Isa Kremer.

Isa Kremer

Apparently it figured prominently in her repertoire. So, not only did she commit the song to disc, but she did so twice, and published it in her collection Album of Jewish Folk-Songs (The Jewish Life in Song) (Chappel & Co., Ltd., London, New York and Sydney, 1930).

So I thought it might be nice to post her version here. Please do refer to the Yiddish Song of the Week blog for more detailed information on the song itself.

Here is Kremer’s first version, recorded in New York in February 1923 with Kurt Heltzel at the piano.

A Wiegelied








Here is the second version, recorded circa 1945 with an ensemble led by Yiddish theater composer Alexander (Shura) Olshanetsky.








The first version includes the middle verse mentioned in Itzik’s blog notes, the second doesn’t. Interesting to note the difference in the two performances, 20 years apart – at age 40 and 60, respectively. In addition to a lower key and deeper vocal sound (presumably to accommodate Kremer’s vocal resources in her later years), the 1940s brings a beautiful use of her floated head voice at the end.

Here is the song as it appears in Kremer’s music folio:






















I also thought it might be interesting to show the original lyrics by Mikhl Gordon on which this song is based, as they appeared in his collection Di bord, un dertsu nokh andere sheyne yidishe lider (The Beard and Other Beautiful Yiddish Songs, Zhitomir, 1868).





























I also cataloged recently a test pressing of an apparently unissued recording of Kremer performing a creepy French song, “Le Petit Navire,” which appears in its entirety in a collection of essays published by Sigmund Freud (!). But that’ll have to wait until next time…


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A Quick One for the New Year

Hi, all

I’m running out of oxygen here in the Sound Archives (on Fridays they turn off the ventilation mid-afternoon) so I gotta be fast before I pass out.

I thought I might post a couple of seasonal things for our listening pleasure.

First, a heartfelt B’rosh Hashonoh (New Year’s Prayer) from Cantor Joseph Shapiro (1890-1938) with Machtenburg’s Choir, recorded for Victor in New York City in July 1929, one of only four issued sides by this great singer.

Cantor Joseph Shapiro

(This performance was also reissued on the Yazoo cd Mysteries of the Sabbath).

Here’s a beautiful art song based on the theme of Kol Nidre. The piece is called, appropriately enough, Yom Kippur, words and music by H.B. Silberstein and Rhea Silberta.

This from a 1922 Brunswick recording by the soprano Dorothy Jardon, a singer unknown to me until now. She’s included on the cd-rom of classical Jewish singers, Stars of David, which I can’t put my fingers on at the moment. But here, at least is a photo of our prima donna…


All this fervor reminds me of the hellfire-and-brimstone Torah-reader at my family’s shul in Alhambra, CA, Edward Wellman.

Something to look forward to in the new year…

Leshone toyve!


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Sometimes you’ve just gotta laugh…

Hi, all. Hope you’re keeping cool. Me, I’m gearing up to go KlezKanada in Montréal to teach folksongs collected by Ruth Rubin.

Ruth Rubin

Meantime, last week I was working with a researcher interested in examples of songs combining Yiddish and English, most of which ended up being of a comic nature. One particular favorite that had us rolling on the floor was a disc from the 1950s called Kreplach performed by the debonair Leo Fuchs.

Leo Fuchs

(I believe this 45rpm disc was donated by Itzik Gottesman).


Let’s give it a spin…

So fun. It sounds to me like Mickey Katz’s band featuring the incredible Manny Klein on trumpet.

Before we leave Leo Fuchs, click on the title to see and hear him in action in a song from Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1940 film American Matchmaker.

As I’ve often remarked, I learn or find something new every day here in the Sound Archives. While we were laughing the afternoon away we came across a great routine from 1922 by Yiddish theater greats Anna Hoffman and Jacob Jacobs.

I guess this is the Yiddish answer to what was apparently the “party disc” of the era, the so-called “laughing record.” We have one around here somewhere… if I find it, you’ll be the first to hear it.

But let’s get back to Hoffman and Jacobs. Bet you can’t help but chuckle, even a little…

Sometimes you’ve just gotta laugh <g>


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Glad to be back in NYC

Greetings. I’m almost back in my apartment after over two months of renovations. Can’t wait to be cooking on that new stove. But then, that’s not why you’re here. (Also, fwiw, the a/c in the Sound Archives is working again – good for me, good for you, good for the Jews).

I apologize for not writing more often – I thought I might be able to do this from the road, but so far, no…

Therefore, since I’m back, I tried to think of something really special to share. About ten years ago, I cataloged a 1928 Victor disc by Moishele Soorkis, “The Blind Cantor.”

Moishele Soorkis

Here is a biography from the jacket of the Collectors Guild lp Cantorial Rarities, on which two of his four known issued cantorial sides appear:

Moishele Soorkis (1900-1974) was born in Uman, now Ukraine. Tragically, he lost his sight through illness when he was only eight weeks old; this was not discovered until he was nearly one. When at age of six the boy showed promise as a singer, his father, Leib Soorkis, a well known synagogue composer and choral conductor, began to keep him at his side during services; thus Moishele learned both chazzanuth and choral song. When he was ten, he became a boy cantor and for three years traveled through Russia on concert tours. In December 1913 he was brought to the United States. Here he spent two years at the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, where he learned to read and write in Braille. At seventeen Moishele accepted the position of cantor in the Rozistzever Synagogue of Philadelphia, serving for two years. Since then, he has officiated only at High Holiday services : ten years in Philadelphia at Rozistzever and Tikvas Israel Synagogues, five years in Chicago, five years in Boston, and one year in New York. His flexible tenor voice has both a lyric and dramatic coloration.

(YIVO houses about a third of the masters for the Collectors Guild label in the papers of its owner, Benedict Stambler. The collection also includes field recordings of various Hasidic dynasties made in Brooklyn around 1960).

So I was curious to read what was on the label:

What the bio doesn’t mention is that Cantor Soorkis was also apparently an accomplished klezmer organist. Listen and you’ll here what I mean:

We want more…

Lovely. Really beautiful.

Until next time (and hopefully sooner),


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