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, firstname.lastname@example.org