Defying expectations, changing the rules, and making us laugh.
The Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries honors the work and life of Molly Picon. Compiling 58 of her earliest songs produced on 78 rpm records and four of her LP albums produced later in her career, the JSA invites you to revisit the talents of a truly great Jewish female icon.
Who was Molly Picon?
She was an actress, singer, and comedian whose career spanned over 70 years. Debuting in the Yiddish Theater at the age of 6 she emerged as a respected American actress, performing in Come Blow Your Horn (1963) with Frank Sinatra, and having starring roles on Broadway in Milk & Honey (1961) and film, Fiddler on the Roof (1971).
Molly Picon’s career followed Yiddish culture from the shtetl into mainstream America. Small and very youthful-looking she often had to fight to be taken seriously. She wore male clothing as a disguise through most of her breakout performance in Yidl Mit’n Fidl (1936) and many of her other early roles, including the well-known “Yankele.” In today’s world she might be considered to be a voice for women’s rights.
Click here to hear Mischa Elman’s digitized recordings at the Judaica Sound Archives.
Click here to see a video of Mischa Elman playing Humoresque.
This film short, produced in 1926 by Vitaphone Sound Pictures, demonstrated a new technology as innovative and exciting in its day as the first i-phone. A year later the first feature-length talking motion picture, “The Jazz Singer,” put an end to silent movies.
For five generations, the Lind Family, descended from Belzer Hassidim in Galicia, sang the songs of the synagogue. It was from this lineage that Joshua Lind (1890—1973) rose to prominence as a composer, cantor and teacher. Joining his father’s synagogue choir at the age of 5, young David Lind quickly became a Cantorial wunderkind touring the country and recording for RCA Victor.
Together with his brothers, Murray and Phil, David formed the Lind Brothers Trio in 1937. They became quite popular performing a repertoire especially created for them by their father, Cantor Joshua Lind.
The Trio not only had great success in the pulpit, they also became well-known popular entertainers, appearing in night clubs, on the radio, on TV, and in films (Universal International Pictures).
During WWII David and his brothers entertained troops and shared the stage with such stars as Danny Kaye and Betty Hutton. Following the war they headlined in Las Vegas, Hollywood, and on Broadway.
Dale eventually returned to Chicago to pursue a career as a solo performer and cantor, officiating at the Congregation Sons of Joshua since 1974.
The early settlers of Israel looked towards their roots for musical inspiration. For many this meant the tones and tunes of Eastern Europe. However, there were were also those who wanted to create a new style of music that would belong uniquely to Israel and reflect their new country. The songs written in this new “Israeli” style combined familiar Eastern European motifs, traditional Sephardic melodies and more exotic Middle Eastern and North African influences. For many these more “Eastern” exotic influences seemed closer to biblical music and reflective of the land of Israel. This new musical style is generally known as Mizrahi music.
A pioneer of this new style of Israeli music was Josef “Jo” Amar. A noted Moroccan-born Israeli singer and hazzan, Amar began his singing career in the late 1940s in Morocco before he moved to Israel in 1956.
Jo Amar’s love of Arabic music was strong and he made several recordings in Arabic. But it was his Hebrew recordings which introduced Mizrahi music to mainstream Israeli culture and was responsible, to a great extent, for its growing popularity.
By 1970 he was living in New York singing professionally as a well-known cantor. He spent the last two decades of his life in his beloved Israel where his artistry brought him many honors and awards.
Ben Shalev wrote about Jo Amar in his July 2, 2009 obituary on Haaretz.com: “His songs still gladden the heart and bring excitement into the lives of many, just as they did decades ago, and they have been an important factor in the acceptance in Israel of Mizrahi music.”
The Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries is pleased to share three albums by Israeli legend, Jo Amar, courtesy of Menorah Records:
Bob Berkman’s pianola brings a rich new sound to vintage early 20th century Jewish music
The first time I heard Bob Berkman’s CD, Klezmerola, I just couldn’t stop playing it. I loved the old time sound that Bob was able to achieve with his pianola. I loved the way the sound of the pianola (player piano) augmented the impact of the music that had once defined a generation of Jews and now was fading from memory.
I am delighted that the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University can now boast a collection of 47 Jewish songs by America’s premier pianolist, Bob Berkman.
I wrote the following review in September 2008 for the Association of Jewish Libraries. After listening to the CD many times since then, I still feel the same way.
“Take an almost vanished technology (player pianos), add vintage Jewish music and stir with just a hint of ragtime and what do you get? Klezmerola! An absolutely delightful CD album that is fun, fresh and freylekh. In this album of “Jewish music from rare piano rolls” Bob Berkman does an incredible job of bringing the music to life with a vitality achieved by actually foot-pumping an old upright player piano. The accompanying 16 page booklet provides information about each song and about the rediscovery of Jewish piano rolls. Such old familiar Yiddish songs as “Odesser Bulgar,” “Yosel,” and “Die Griene Cosina” seem especially well-suited for Bob Berkman’s pianola interpretations. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite track. I loved them all!”
In the liner notes for his two volume CD, Klezmerola at the Yiddish Theater, Bob Berkman tells us that ” Piano roll manufacturers…were eager to record and sell current hits, and for attracting immigrant Jewish customers there was no greater source than Yiddish Theater…The market was never a large one…and surviving examples are rare.” The music on these three CDs took over 35 years to assemble.
The piano rolls only contain notes (like sheet music). Bringing them to life with dynamics, accents, phrasing, and emotion is the work of the pianolist, the person operating the player piano. Bob Berkman’s unique talent revitalizes this vintage music, providing a generous portion of nostalgia. . . . with a twist!
Bob Berkman’s love affair with the pianola began in 1975 when he was hired by QRS in Buffalo, NY, the world’s last remaining piano roll manufacturer. His talents brought him the opportunity to work on such films as Ragtime, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, and Reds ( in cooperation with Stephen Sondheim). He has appeared on NPR, BBC, and CBS Sunday Morning.
Using a 1912 “push-up” portable pianola, Berkman effectively turns any piano into a player piano allowing him to perform in venues all across America. In great demand as a speaker and performer, his unique and deeply personal work with Jewish rolls has been especially gratifying to him. His important discovery of George Gershwin’s only Jewish piano roll and the haunting A Gitte Nacht by the obscure Samuel Perlstein are among his most treasured accomplishments.
For information about how to buy recordings by Bob Berkman, pleaseclick here.
Rabbi/Cantor David Sirull posted this upbeat musical Rosh Hashanna video on You Tube. He is the spiritual leader of the Conservative synagogue in Augusta, Georgia and was classically trained in the art of Eastern European Chazanut. To hear a different side of Cantor Sirull’s talents listen to Mizmor Shir which is part of the Judaica Sound Archives collection.
Jacob Barkin became an internationally acclaimed cantor and operatic performer during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He performed with the Pittsburgh and New York Symphony Orchestras and was offered a contract by the Metropolitan Opera (which he declined). Early in his career he became a White House favorite of presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. While officiating at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington DC (1952 – 1975) he was invited to perform at the White House by presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
A highlight of his career was being asked to step into Richard Tucker’s role as Cantor for High Holiday services at the famous Concord Hotel in upstate New York (Catskills). He officiated at Holy Blossom Congregation in Toronto, until his retirement in 1995.
A strong supporter of Israeli statehood, he was decorated by the Israeli government.
The JSA’s collection of recordings by Cantor Barkin is comprised of 10 albums, one of which was created at the JSA from previously unreleased recordings.
Click here to listen to any or all of these recordings.
Shoshana Damari was born in Yemen in 1923 and brought to Palestine by her parents as a toddler. As a young child she joined her mother as she entertained at family gatherings and community events. By the age of 14 Shoshana was already performing regularly on the radio.
Her exotic beauty, along with her distinctive husky voice and Yemenite accent brought a uniquely Middle Eastern flavor to mainstream Israeli music which had previously been totally dominated by Eastern European influences.
During the fight for Israeli independence she frequently performed for the troops. Her inspiring renditions of fighting songs made her a favorite of Israeli soldiers. She became especially well-known for her association with Israeli composer, Moshe Wilensky.
During her first American concert tour in 1949 she recorded Voice of Israel, an album of her favorite concert numbers. This album, along with several live performances recorded from Vistas of Israel radio broadcasts, comprise the JSA’s Shoshana Damari online collection of recordings.
When Shoshana Damari died in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2006 the Knesset honored her memory by proclaiming, “Her voice unified the whole nation, spreading optimism and hope.”
Aaron Lebedeff was a Yiddish theater super star whose popularity among Jews during the 1920s and 1930s made his name a household word. More than 80 years before performers could go viral on the internet, Lebedeff was making a name for himself by driving audiences wild with his energetic and exuberant live performances. He was a super-star, like Mick Jagger, who was able to excite audiences and leave them wanting more.
His devil-may-care free spirit, love of life and allusions to sensual delights helped to create his exciting persona. Whether dressed in traditional Russian garb and boots or formal attire with straw hat and cane, his dynamic presence always kept him the center of attention. He understood nostalgia for the shtetl and was able use it to rouse his audiences’ emotions. His best known recording,Roumania, Roumania, was originally released in 1925. His second version, recorded with Sholem Secunda and Dave Tarras in 1941, became a best-selling Yiddish recording during the 1940s and still brings a smile to almost everyone who hears it!
Because the JSA has received more copies of this recording than any other single 78 rpm disc, we regularly play it on our vintage 1924 Victrola for guests who visit us at FAU’s Wimberly Library in Boca Raton, FL.
Hot Dogs and Knishes! is a comic ditty with a catchy chorus that even includes a barking dog. Hot dogs and knishes, romance and Coney Island ….. you can almost smell the nostalgia. Lebedeff’s output of records was prolific. He recorded for Emerson, Brunswick, and Vocalion.
Born in Homel, White Russia, in 1873, Lebedeff made his NYC debut in October 1920 at Thomashevsky’s National Theater, located at Second Avenue and Houston Street on New York’s Lower East Side. He was an instant sensation! His success and popularity grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s. During the 1940s and into the 1950s his career continued to thrive though revivals. He continued to perform until his death in 1960.
The Judaica Sound Archives has created this special Lebedeff online collection just for you! It contains three LPs produced by Collectors Guild and ten songs recorded on 78rpm which are in the public domain. Users of the Judaica Sound Archives Scholars Research Station have access to 186 songs on 78 rpm discs and 12 LP albums.
If you would like to donate your recordings by Aaron Lebedeff or any other Jewish performer to the JSA, please click here.
Click here to listen to songs in the JSA online collection by Aaron Lebedeff.
Rabbi/Cantor David Shneyer is a singer-composer, guitarist, and clarinetist . He grew up in Lakewood, New Jersey. After graduating from Rutgers University in 1970 Shneyer moved to Washington, D.C. Along with fiddler Alan Oresky he created new Jewish liturgical folk music and founded the popular folk and klezmer band the Fabrangen Fiddlers in 1971. This group remains devoted to the rediscovery of Jewish folk music and the development of new Jewish liturgical folk music.
Sometimes known as a Human Rights Rabbi he is the director of AmKolel Sanctuary and Renewal Center in Pikesville MD.
He recently visited the Occupy DC site in McPherson Square to play music and share the traditions of Sukkot.