Hearing the Great American Songbook’s Jewish Roots
The Great American Songbook is steeped in Jewish liturgical tunes and songs from Yiddish theater, music that was an integral part of the lives of many Jewish songwriters and composers in the early 20th century. Click below to hear some of this music.
Di grine kuzine (The Greenhorn Cousin)
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By Abe Schwartz
This theatrical song from 1921, written by Abe Schwartz, was a major boost to his career and helped him gain access to some of New York’s major Yiddish theaters.
The piece reflects many immigrants’ feelings of disillusionment about their lives in the “promised land” of America. Other such “disillusionment” songs of the era became folksongs, some lighthearted, some not so much. These songs all spoke of the unexpected economic hardships and difficult, sweatshop conditions they found where they had heard that the streets were paved with gold.
This piece also initiated a genre of songs about “greenhorns”—a reference to newly arrived, un-Americanized immigrants.
Courtesy of the Milken Archive of Jewish Experience. For more information visit http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/582
Sheyyibbaneh beit hammikdash (Song for When the Temple is Rebuilt)
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By Israel Schorr
This prayer’s structure is one example of the type of Jewish liturgy that many argue has seeped into the American Songbook.
“Sheyyibane beit hammikdash” is Israel Schorr’s best-known composition, one that expresses hope that the messiah will come, that the ancient Temple will be rebuilt and the Jewish people’s spiritual and sovereignty in its biblical homeland will be restored.
Schorr (1886-1935), born in what is now Poland, began his cantorial career as a child soprano to the Hasidic courts of two rabbis. In 1904, he became the official cantor for the rebbe in Rymanover, succeeding his relative Boruch Schorr. After serving in the Imperial army during World War I, he had cantorial pulpits in Brunn, Krakow, Piestany, west Slovakia and Zurich. When he immigrated to the United States in 1924, he was cantor at synagogues in Chicago and New York, during which time he began to compose his own pieces. Many of these became well known and were expanded by other virtuoso cantors to concert versions and recordings. In this case, Schorr’s composition became famous through performances and recordings by Moshe Koussevitzky (1899–1966), a renowned chazzan first in Poland, then New York.
For more information visit The Milken Archive.
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