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.”
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),
Amazing that you just posted this two days ago. I haven’t looked on the web for information about Moishele in a very long time. He was a distant uncle on mine. When I was young, he came to our house in Chicago and played the piano while we all took turns singing songs. My father had a friend who came and recorded the evening (not a common thing in those days!) and then pressed records for us. Moishele was an amazing pianist playing by ear the songs we sang, most of which he had never heard before. We also attended High Holy Day services where he sang. A funny story – a woman sitting behind us didn’t believe that he had memorized the entire liturgy. There was someone next to Moishele touching his back gently to give him cues. This woman said he could not have possibly known all the music and that the man was spelling out the words and notes to Moishele with his fingers!
Thank you so much for the biography! I have one recording of his on a collection of Cantors’ pieces. Are any of his recordings available? I’m now a Cantorial Soloist and would love to hear them.
Thanks for you note. Soorkis made six commercial sides that were issued. We have four of them – the two instrumentals and the cantorials Vchulom Mkablim and Lamahan Jirbu Jemechem. We don’t have his Kidush – yet…
Would you by any chance still have the recording of Soorkis playing the piano? We’d love to have a copy for our collection.
Thanks again for your kind words…
Thank you so much for posting that, Lorin. I was so impressed. It is the next best thing to an accordion improvisation – ‘just kidding. I would LOVE to hear more.
Thanks for posting this information. Just came across Victor Scroll V-9002 featuring Moishele Soorkis. Couldn’t find out anything about it. It’s titled Kidush-Teil 1 and Kidush-Teil 2. I’m cataloging it on Discogs now.
Hi there. We don’t have a copy of the Soorkis Kidush in our collection, but there is one in FAU’s Judaica collection. Please write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.