Posts tagged: vintage phonograph recordings

Al Drucker: A man who made a difference

By , December 14, 2010 10:42 am

What is a renaissance man? According to the dictionary a renaissance  man  is someone who is knowledgeable, educated, and proficient in a wide range of fields. Al Drucker was such a man.

A graduate of Adelphi University, he pursued a career in engineering. He eventually got a job with Grumman where he helped design the guidance system for the lunar lander.

Throughout his life he expressed his love of science and math and engineering by working on fix-it projects.  He loved to use engineering principles to solve practical problems.

A true renaissance man, he was not only creative in the engineering and science fields, he was creative in the arts as well. He loved to paint, was an accomplished photographer, and sang in the synagogue choir.

His grandchildren called him “Albert Einstein” because they thought he was a genius who often involved them in science “projects.” He was not only a genius.  He was a genius who enjoyed using his knowledge to help others. After he moved to Florida he started a small business to coach seniors how to use their computers. He was always available to friends and neighbors when they needed help.

What attracted Al to the Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries? Was it his love of Jewish music? His desire to be a part of an historic cultural preservation project? The inclination to help in whatever way he could? For many years Al was a dedicated volunteer at the JSA. He did many jobs and helped out in many ways.

One day he noticed that we were having trouble cleaning 78 rpm recordings, some of which were over 100 years old. These fragile discs accumulated dirt in their grooves which interfered with our efforts to get good sound quality when we digitized them. We had purchased a commercial product designed for this purpose but found that all it did was make mud out of the dirt which then only made matters worse.

Al designed a sonic multi-record cleaner using the same technology that jewelers use for cleaning fine jewelry. With this problem solved, the JSA was able to greatly speed up the process of getting the music out of the trash and onto the website.

Al was 88 years old. All of us at the Judaica Sound Archives are deeply saddened by his passing.

Al Drucker (left) with sonic record cleaner he invented

Mischa Elman

By , December 10, 2010 5:31 pm

The world of music has been enriched beyond measure by the efforts of Jewish performers, conductors and composers.  Today we highlight the talents of one of the great violinists of the 20th century, Mischa Elman.

Famed for his passionate style and beautiful tone, this world-famous virtuoso was the grandson of a violin-playing klezmer performer.  By the age of six he was already understood to be a prodigy and when he was 11 he was admitted to the St. Petersburg Conservatory for further training.

He made his Berlin debut in 1904 at age 13 and his London debut a year later. While still in his teens he traveled to the USA to appear at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Fifty years later, in 1958, he celebrated this occasion with a wonderful return performance.

Elman’s recorded legacy spanned over 60 years. His first 78 rpm discs were made for Pathe, in Paris, in 1906.  He continued recording until shortly before his death in 1967.

The Judaica Sound Archives has created six digitized “albums” from Elman’s 78 rpm discs produced by Victor/Victrola between 1906 and 1921.

Click either record label to hear any of the 77 songs in this collection.


“You ain’t heard nothin’ yet”: Al Jolson sings

By , October 4, 2010 9:35 am

“The Jazz Singer,” released in 1927, was the first commercially successful “talking motion picture.” One of the most iconic moments in movie history occurs in this film when Al Jolson on stage, turns to his enthusiastic audience and says, “Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”  This promise of even more exciting entertainment to come is fulfilled as he sings “Toot-toot-tootsie” using moves that could have made Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson jealous. The effect is electrifying.

Known as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” during his lifetime, Al Jolson’s life story (on which the movie was based) tells of a young Jewish boy who is driven to become a Pop singer despite the fact that his Orthodox father wants him to be a Cantor.

Who would think that a Jewish child born in anti-Semitic Tsarist Russia could become an American entertainment icon whose fame would continue to flourish  more than 50 years after his death?

When Asa Yoelson was only four years old his father became a rabbi and left his family and the old country to find a better life. After four years the Rabbi found a position in Washington D.C. and his family joined him. Tragically Asa’s mother died in 1895 only a short time after her arrival in the USA.

Embracing their “American” identities, young Asa soon became known as Al and his older brother Hirsh became Harry. The boys were obsessed with show business and by 1901 they were getting bookings in burlesque and vaudeville.

In 1904 Al, now known as Al Jolson, was called upon to fill-in for a performer in a blackface vaudeville comedy show.  Blackface, an important performance tradition in the American theater beginning around 1830 can now be seen as racist and offensive. But to young Al Jolson it was a blessing. Hidden behind the make-up, he found that he could give a freer, more energetic performance.  When this chance opportunity was well-received by the audience and critics, he soon decided to continue using blackface. The spontaneity and freedom he felt when in blackface elevated his performance and his fame.

In 1911 Jolson had his Broadway debut. His rendition of George M. Cohan’s Haunting Melody in the show “Vera Violetta “made him a Broadway star.

This was followed by other Broadway musicals and other hits for Jolson including You Made Me Love You in 1913 where he sang the final chorus pleading on one knee, a pose he would assume many times over in his career; Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody (1918); and George Gershwins’s Swanee (1918).

To hear all 55 songs in the JSA’s collection, click here. This collection of songs originally recorded by Al Jolson on 78 rpm discs between 1911 and 1919 was digitized and compiled by The Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University Libraries. These albums are not available for sale or reproduction.

Yiddish musical comedy making a comeback?

By , August 5, 2010 1:40 pm

Who said Yiddish Musical Comedy is dead?

Now you can revisit the glory days of the Lower East Side and hear the songs as they were actually sung.

The recordings in this special JSA collection were produced on 78 rpm recordings between 1901 and 1922, at the height of Yiddish Theater’s popularity.

Four stars of Yiddish Musical Comedy are highlighted: Gus Goldstein, Clara Gold, Anna Hoffman and Jacob Jacobs.

Gus Goldstein, an American Yiddish actor of the early 20th century made many recordings for Columbia Records.  This JSA collection features 37 of his solo songs.

He also made recordings with Clara Gold that focused on immigrant issues and Yiddish humor, and featuring Litvak, Galitzianer and Italian dialects. Clara Gold played character roles in the Yiddish Theater and was known for her comedic performances. She partnered with Gus Goldstein from 1916 to 1926. Forty-four of the songs they recorded together are in this collection.

Gus Goldstein also partnered with Anna Hoffman, a well-known comedic singer of her day. This collection includes 7 of their songs. It also features 25 songs that she recorded solo.

Jacob Jacobs was known for adding timely dialogue to his Yiddish comedy acts and translating English songs into Yiddish. This collection includes 12 of his songs recorded between 1909 and 1922. An interesting historical note is that in 1932 he collaborated with composer Sholom Secunda on a Yiddish musical comedy, “I Would If I Could.”  Although the show was not a great success it did produce a song that would later become the #1 hit, Bei Mir Bist du Shon.

If you understand Yiddish, remember Yiddish Theater, or just want a nostalgic journey, you won’t be disappointed. Click here to listen to any of the 14 digitized albums in the collection.

Or select one of these favorites tunes: America, Ich Lieb Dich; Ich bin a boarder by mein viebYente Telebende.

These albums are not available for sale or reproduction but can be heard in their entirety on the JSA website.

Jascha Heifetz: Violin brilliance

By , June 9, 2010 3:18 pm

There have been many great classical violinists in the past, but few have achieved the fame of Jascha Heifetz. His use of rapid vibrato and emotionally charged fast tempos, together with exquisite control over his instrument helped to make his music distinctive, exciting, and brilliant.

A child prodigy, he began making phonograph recordings in Russia when he was only 9 years old. These early recordings are quite rare. On October 27, 1917, at the age of 16 he made his NYC debut in Carnegie Hall.  Shortly thereafter he began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company and later RCA Victor. The Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University Libraries has created four audio albums consisting of 32 of these Victor recordings produced between 1917 and 1922. This vintage collection of music originally recorded on 78 rpm discs was digitized and compiled by The Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University Libraries. These albums are not available for sale or reproduction but can be heard in their entirety on the JSA website.

Heifetz was often a controversial figure. He was attacked in Israel in 1953 because he insisted on including the works of Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner in his repertoire despite the strong sentiment at the time that they were Nazis. On the other hand, he was a strong critic of the Soviet Union and was considered to be a defector by other Russian musicians.

Click on any label to hear that song.

The trail of our vinyl

By , December 18, 2009 3:49 pm

                                                                                                                                                 Josh Kun__SS500_                                                                                                                                                                                      

I was listening to my local public radio station while I was driving to work the other day. Roger Bennett, co-author of And You Shall Know Us By the Trail of Our Vinyl, was talking with Marco Werman about his attempt to save decades of American Jewish music from obscurity.

We, at the JSA, are very proud of our participation in helping Roger and his co-auther, Josh Kun to find materials that eventually found its way into their wonderful book.

Even though he didn’t mention us by name, we knew who Roger was talking about when he mentioned visiting Boca Raton, Florida, “where old Jewish vinyl goes to die.” When JSA Director, Nathan Tinanoff listened to the interview he told me, “He got that wrong! The JSA isn’t where old Jewish vinyl goes to die.  It is where it goes to be reborn!”

The book is a wonderful compendium of stories, information, photos, and album covers from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  

Josh Kun, Associate Professor of communication and journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication and the author of Audiotopia: Music, Race, and   America, which won a 2006 American Book Award, co-authored the book with Roger Bennett who also co-authored Bar Mitzvah Disco

The authors write about how they “encountered the Judaica Sound Archives of Florida Atlantic University, where Nathan Tinanoff and his devoted staff generously opened their collection to us.”  And where they found “thousands of LPs, shelf after shelf filled with dsicarded cardboard and vinyl that we gushed over like scientists marveling at new speciments” (p.17).

Looking through the book is an education and a trip down memory lane. From Steisand to Bagels and Bongos by the Irving Fields Trio, from Molly Pecon to the Four Bursteins, from Neil Sedaka to Theodore Bikel, the names and images pop off the pages.

The following JSA featured performers are highlighted in the book: Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Oysher-Michaels Family, Benny Bell , The 4 Bursteins, Gladys Gewirtz, Shimon & Ilana Gewirtz, Gadi Elon.

 A friend of mine who loves the book told me that when she goes on the JSA website it is like the “book comes to life” right on her computer. I can’t think of a nicer compliment.

We shall never pass this way again

By , November 4, 2009 11:34 am

Baby-Snooks-LearnsYou might be able to imagine the excitement that is generated at the Judaica Sound Archives whenever we uncover a genuine piece of history. Today I will share with you three 78 rpm albums from the Jack Saul Collection which have sitirred up some nostalgia here at the JSA.

(1)  Fanny Brice starred in the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1920s and 1930s. A pioneer female comic, she was one of the most popular Jewish entertainers of her day. And her fame became even greater when Barbra Streisand played the starring role in Brice’s life story, “Funny Girl” (1968). From 1938 until her death in 1951 Brice had an incredibly successful radio show based on just one character, Baby Snooks, a precocious, bratty toddler. This album of three double-sided 78 rpm recordings was produced in 1949 on the Capitol Records label.

Baby-Snooks-Record

[audio:http://rsa.fau.edu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Good-And-Bad-Snippet.mp3]

Click here to play a non-downloading snippet from this album.

(2)  Born in Brooklyn, NY as Moishe Miller Robert Merrill became one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most Brooklyn-Baseball-Cantataenduring and acclaimed baritones. He was also a famous baseball fan who often sang the National Anthem on opening day at Yankee Stadium.

In 1948 he recorded Brooklyn Baseball Cantata about an imagined World Series game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees. Unlike the real world where the Dodgers consistently blew their chances, in this imaginary game the Dodgers were the winners! Fantasy became reality in 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers did actually beat the NY Yankees to win the World Series for the first and only time. This album of two double-sided 78 rpm recordings was produced on the RCA Victor Red Seal label. The sheet music, produced by Mills Music, which originally sold for $1.25 is included.

[audio:http://rsa.fau.edu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Baseball-Cantata-Snippet.mp3]

Click here to play a non-downloading snippet from this album.

Irving-Berlin-Songs(3)  Paul Whiteman secured his place in history in 1924 when he commissioned and introduced George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Irving Berlin has been called “the greatest of American popular composers.” Born in Russia (1888), the family left for America when their home was burned to the ground. So it was in a crowded tenenment on Cherry Street in New York’s lower East Side that Irving Berlin (born Baline) grew up. His first big hit came in 1911 (Alexander’s Ragtime Band). He has written more than a thousand popular songs. During World War I his song, Oh, How I Hate To Get up In The Morning, became an anthem for the ordinary foot soldier.

The song became the band’s signature tune. Produced on the Decca label in 1939, Volume 1 of this collection of George Gershwin’s  most popular tunes consists of five double-sided 78 rpm recordings and includes: All Alone, Remember, Easter Parade, and How Deep Is The Ocean. Volume 2, also consisting of five double-sided 78 rpm recordings includes: Alexander’s Ragtime Band, What’ll I Do, Blue Skies,  and A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody.

[audio:http://rsa.fau.edu/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/All-Alone-Snippet.mp3]

Click here to play a non-downloading snippet from this album.

PLEASE NOTE: In accordance with US Copyright Laws these recordings are NOT featured on the JSA website (www.fau.edu/jsa). For further information about these or other recordings in the Jack Saul Collection, please contact the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic University Libraries (561-297-0080).

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