The following blog post was adapted from an essay by Senior Music Specialist Ray White and Digital Conversion Specialist James Wolf.
This week the Music Division launches a new online collection of Yiddish American Sheet Music. The Library’s holdings of Yiddish American popular songs include the Irene Heskes Collection of Yiddish American sheet music as well as copyright deposits already in the custody of the Library and materials drawn from other sources and gleaned from other Library collections, primarily in the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division and the Music Division.
The majority of the selections found here originated in the Yiddish theater, which thrived in the Bowery area of the Lower East Side of New York City from the 1880s into the mid-twentieth century, and which expanded into a network of theaters in Jewish communities around the country. The collection includes popular-style arrangements of folk songs and sacred songs as well as instrumental numbers. Some compositions, most notably those of Abe Schwartz, became standards in the field of klezmer music.
Composer Joseph Brody penned our feature selection, with lyrics by the prolific Solomon Small, ne Solomon Smulewitz. The title of the song, “Das is schnoriske bisness,” suggests a clever pun, but rather means “This is beggarly business.” Likewise, the show title, King of the Schnorrers, recalls a line form “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” in the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers. Groucho’s classic question, “Did someone call me schnorrer?” does not refer to disruptive bedtime manners, but to the Yiddish word for beggar.