Resources for Field Recordings

We provide here information about significant collections of field recordings of Yiddish folksong. Please find below a resource-rich article, which was originally published by the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Newsletter (Vol. 5, No. 1-2, 1981) and issued by the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society (in collaboration with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the Department of Folklore and Folklife, University of Pennsylvania). The article was released during the first Jewish Ethnic Music Festival in 1981 in New York City as an informative supplement to the festival program, highlighting the resource materials used for the ethnographic study of Jewish music and dance.

Many thanks to Barbara Kirshenblatt- Gimblett, Ph.D., for allowing the reproduction of this article. Please note that the Center for Traditional Music and Dance (formerly the Balkan Arts Center and the Ethnic Folk Arts Center) additionally has a rich collection of field recordings of Yiddish folksingers in its Archive, as does the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive at the University of Pennsylvania. There are additionally important materials in the personal collections of a number of researchers. For an excellent bibliography of print Yiddish song collections and materials, see the reference page by ethnomusicologist Abbi Wood, Ph.D .


Resources for the Study of Jewish Music and Dance I: Archives, Libraries and Research Projects

A Preliminary Guide to Jewish Music Holdings in Selected American Archives and Libraries

by Jane Myers, Philadelphia

Though important collections of Jewish music may be found in American archives, there is no systematic guide to these resources. Indeed, many collections are in urgent need of preservation and cataloging. We hope that this guide and future supplements will stimulate efforts to make archival materials more accessible, a prerequisite for serious research and publication. To facilitate the preparation of supplements to this preliminary guide, please send additional information to JFEN.


Berkeley, California

Judah Magnes Memorial Museum
Jane Levy, Librarian
2911 Russell Street
Berkeley, CA 94705
(415) 849-2710

This museum has an extensive collection of folk and cantorial records and popular Yiddish sheet music produced in America during the early 20th century. Only the record collection has been catalogued.


Bloomington, Indiana

Archives of Traditional Music
157 Maxwell Hall
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47410
(812) 337-8632

The archives contain both commercial and field recordings, supplemented by written materials, of Jewish music from America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Of special interest are the Yiddish folksongs recorded by Richard Bauman from his grandmother in the Bronx in 1961. She was one of the original informants for Y.L. Cahan, who included her songs in his classic collection, Yidishe Folkslider Mit Melodyes, New York: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1957.

Holdings are listed in A Catalogue of Phonorecordings of Music and Oral Data held by the Archives of Traditional Music (under “Indiana University, Archives of Traditional Music”, in the card catalogue of a  reference library) or write directly to the Archives of Traditional Music.

Some Jewish folk music may also be found in the Folklore Archives, 504 North Fess, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47401. The archives contain songs in the Michigan State University collection, which are listed under JF8.0.


Cincinnati, Ohio

Hebrew Union College Library
Jonathan Rodgers, Special Collections
3101 Clifton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45220
(513) 222-1875

In addition to an excellent Jewish music library, Hebrew Union College houses the Eduard Birnbaum Manuscript Collection of Jewish Music, which consists of about 250,000 items. The manuscripts include European liturgical compositions from the 18th and 19th centuries, Eduard Birnbaum’s thematic catalogue of synagogue music, and his research apparatus and resource material for a projected history of Jewish music.

The collection and finding aids are available in the original and on microfilm (70 reels). An inventory of the Birnbaum collection is obtainable for a fee from the library.


Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland Public Library
John G. White Department
325 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114

This collection of folklore publications, which is one of the largest in the world, was formed by John Griswold White, a prominent Cleveland attorney, during the last half of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th centuries. The Jewish folklore holdings include from 600 to 800 volumes.

See the subject entries in Cleveland Public Library, John G. White Department, Catalog of Folklore and Folk Songs, 2 volumes, 1965. See also, Out-of-Print Books from the John G. White Folklore Collection at the Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland: Micro Photo Division, Bell and Howell Company, 1966. This volume may still be available free of charge from Micro Photo Division, Duopage Department, Bell and Howell Company, 1700 Shaw Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44112. (216) 761-5758.


Detroit, Michigan

Folklore Archives
Wayne State University
448 Purdy Library
Detroit, MI, 48202

Most of the holdings are field collections made by students working in the Detroit area from 1942 to the present. An annotated list of the Jewish holdings is available, and the collections are being computerized for more efficient retrieval.


New York, New York

Jewish Music Library, Hebrew Arts School
Helen Wegsman
Abraham Goodman House
129 West 67th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 362-8060

This library is now collecting materials and is planning to open within a year.

The Max Wohlberg Collection
The Jewish Theological Seminary Library
3080 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
(212) 749-8000

This collection, which belonged to Cantor Max Wohlberg, contains fifteen volumes of unpublished synagogue music, mainly from Eastern Europe, but also from the West. Published materials in the collection deal with synagogue music, Yiddish folksong, history of the liturgy and cantorate, and biographies of cantors and composers.

By spring 1981, the collection will be fully catalogued and housed within the Jewish Theological Seminary Library.

New York Public Library at Lincoln Center
111 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(212) 870-1650

Music Division of the Performing Arts Research Center. The Music Division houses manuscripts and published sheet music of Yiddish songs and other music of well-known American Jewish composers. A card catalogue is available for the liturgical music collection. The Music Division also houses the Mailamm Collection of Manuscripts and Published Music. For further information, contact the Music Division of the Performing Arts Research Center at the above address, or phone (212) 870-1650.

Rodgers and Hammerstein Sound Archives. The Stambler Collection includes records of Jewish popular, cantorial and theater music. Though the Stambler Collection and other collections of folk music on tape are not fully catalogued, they are numbered, and the library staff is very helpful. For further information, contact the Rodgers and Hammerstein Sound Archives at the above address, or phone (212) 870-1663.

Martin Steinberg Center for Jewish Artists
American Jewish Congress
Rabbi David Levy, Librarian/ Aide
15 East 84th Street
New York, NY 10028
(212) 879-4500 ext. 744

The Klezmer Archive. Developed by Henry Sapoznik, this archive is a tape collection of early 20th-century rare commercial records of traditional East European Jewish instrumental music, interviews with famous klezmer musicians, and various documents and memorabilia of the era.

The Ladino Archive. Developed by Robin Greenstein, this archive is a taped and transcribed collection of Ladino folksongs from the residents of the Sephardic Home for the Aged of Brooklyn.

The Jewish Family Music Bank. Developed by Dorothy Osofsky, this archive contains folksongs recorded from elderly folk artists, as well as printed materials pertaining to Jewish folksong. A “Collector’s Guide” is available free of charge upon request.

The use of these archives is by appointment. Contact the researchers or the Center’s director Jeff Oboler at the above address.

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
1048 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10028
(212) 535-6700

YIVO’s music collections include theatre, cantorial, and folk materials. Of special importance are the sound recordings, which include about 6,000 musical items on 1,200 records, some of them made in Poland and Russia as early as 1895, and 600 hours of tape recordings. In addition, the collections are rich in sheet music, manuscripts, scores and orchestral parts, programs and correspondence, and field notes. Of special interest to ethnomusicologists are the following collections:
Esther Rokhl Kaminska Theater Museum. This collection, formed in the 1930’s, was a division of the Vilna YIVO. It consists of over 500 folders of manuscripts pertaining to Yiddish theatre and folk music in Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania from the 1890’s until World War II.

The Y.L. Cahan Collection. Y.L. Cahan arrived in New York from Warsaw in 1904 and began immediately to record Yiddish folksongs from recently arrived immigrants. The collections and papers of this pioneering Yiddish folklorist are preserved in the YIVO archives.

The A. Litwin Collection. A. Litwin was a journalist and folklorist who collected Yiddish folklore in Russia, Poland, and Romania before World War II.

The Louis Gross Collection. This collection contains 112 records and 40 tapes pertaining to the Jewish programs broadcast on the WHAT radio station in Philadelphia during the 1940s.

The Ruth Rubin Collection. The 1200 folksongs recorded by Ruth Rubin during the 1940s and 1950s in Canada and the United States are preserved on 48 tapes and 90 non-commercially produced records.

The Ben Stonehill Collection. During the 1950s and 1960s, Stonehill recorded 1,078 Yiddish folksongs, which are preserved on 9 tapes.

Archives of East European Jewish Folksong in its Social Context. From 1972 until 1975, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett directed a project on East European Jewish Folksong in its Social Context: An Analysis of the Social Systematization of Folksong Performance, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Data were collected in New York, Toronto, and Montreal, consisting of 240 hours of tape recordings and 75 singers, 3 hours of videotape, 3,000 pages of transcription, 2,000 recorded and documented songs, in-depth interviews with 13 singers, photographs, resource materials, and finding aids.

Yiddish Folklore and Folksong in Toronto. From 1967 to 1970, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett recorded almost 200 hours of traditional storytelling and song from East European Jews living in Toronto. The collection includes documentation of the performers and their traditions, with special attention to immigration.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Free Library of Philadelphia
Music Department
14th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 686-5316

The holdings in Jewish music include many out-of-print books and Jewish sheet music donated by Eric Mandell.

The Schreiber Jewish Music Library
Shalom Altman, Director

Bertha and Monty H. Tyson Music Department
Gratz College
10th and Tabor Road
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 329-3372

Eric Mandell Collection. This collection contains Ashkenazic and Sephardic liturgical, popular and folk music in many languages. Included are American Jewish music dating back to the colonial period, music created in Europe during the Holocaust, vocal and instrumental sheet music published in Europe prior to World War II, volumes of folksongs from Western and Eastern Europe, North and South America. Eric Mandell also collected many rare books in several languages about the development of liturgy and cantillation from ancient times, as well as about the history of folksong. A list of books in this collection is being published by Warner S. Victor, who can be reached at the library.

Jewish Sound Archives. This collection includes 78 rpm recordings of popular, theatre, and klezmer music made in America and tapes of folk music recorded in many countries.

The Schreiber Jewish Music Library also contains current American, Israeli, and other Jewish music. The staff will assist researchers and performers seeking material.


Providence, Rhode Island

The Vaxer Collection
Rosemary Cullen, Special Collections Librarian
John Hay Library
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
(401) 863-2146

In 1967, Brown University purchased the collection of Menachem Vaxer, a New York City Yiddish bookseller, originally from Russia. The 1,700 volumes of catalogued items and twelve boxes of 699 pieces of uncatalogued sheet music include Yiddish popular music published in America after 1900, music (without words) composed or arranged by American Jewish composers, Yiddish song books, 53 manuscripts for plays and operettas, which were either written by the composer or were working copies for productions of the Yiddish theatre in Europe and America, and memoirs and books about the Yiddish theatre. The collection is also rich in Yiddish poetry and non-musical drama.

For a fuller description of the contents of this collection, see Alvin R. Rosenfeld, “Yiddish Poets and Playwrights of America: A Preliminary Report on a Recent Addition to the Harris Collection“, Books at Brown 22 (1968). See also the G.K. Hall Library reference volumes for Brown University, Dictionary Catalog of the Harris Collection, First Supplement. The material in this library is non-circulating and there are no inter-library loans, but photocopying is available.


Washington, DC

Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20540

Archive of Folksong. The Archive of Folk Song has its own reading room, with thousands of reference works selected from the general collection of the library, and its own reference services, which include 155 bibliographies, directories, and finding aids available free of charge on request. Of special value is the list of folklore and folksong archives in the United States, many of which contain Jewish music materials.

Jewish music collections in the Archive of Folk Song include field recordings on disc that were made in New York City in 1948; recordings on disc and tape made by cantors in New York and New Jersey; a large collection of Yiddish folksong recorded on wire from immigrants by Ben Stonehill (for which there are also tape copies in this collection and at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research); the Ruth Rubin Collection of 125 tapes of her field recordings of Yiddish folksong in Canada, America, Israel, and England (much of this material is also available at YIVO, the Museum of Man in Ottawa, the Haifa Music Museum and AMLI Library, and Indiana University’s Archives of Traditional Music); and a large collection of Sephardic liturgical music from Morocco recorded on tape by Paul Bowles and Abraham Pinto.

The reference staff of the Archive of Folk Song answers requests for information, duplications, and referrals to specialists and resources in other parts of the country. For further information, contact Joseph C. Hickerson, Head, Archive of Folk Song, at the above address, or phone (202) 287-5510.

The Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Thousands of commercial recordings pertaining to folklore and ethnomusicology, among them Jewish examples, may be found in this division.

American Folklife Center. The Center will provide assistance with the documentation of musical and other folk traditions, using audio tape, video tape, still photography, and film. Their field guide for collecting folklore, prepared by Peter Bartis, is partially reprinted in this issue, and available from the Center free of charge. In addition, they have prepared a list of the names and addresses of state folklorists and of folk arts coordinators at the state arts councils throughout the country. For further information, contact Alan Jabbour, Director, American Folklife Center, at the above address, or phone (202) 287-6590.

In addition to the plethora of Jewish musical documentation listed above, the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Newsletter includes information about two Jerusalem-based institutions with excellent sound recordings and archives. A synopsis of these two organizations is given below:


The Jewish Music Research Center:

Trends in the Study of Jewish Music

Uri Shavit

Hebrew University, Jerusalem


The work of the Center encompasses both ethnomusicological and historical areas of inquiry. The main tasks of the Center are to collect and study documents relating to the musical traditions and musical life of Jewish communities throughout their histories and to foster publications in this field. Projects are generally conducted in two stages: 1) interviewing and recording in the studio and in the field the many individuals who are the “culture bearers” of a particular community; 2) observation and documentation of all musical performances within their cultural context. Documentation includes recording, video-taping, and photographing those social events involving music.

An important publication based on existing historical materials is the catalogue of the Idelsohn Archives in the Jewish National and University Library (Adler and Cohen, 1976). The inventory’s ethnomusicological section contains a vast collection of musical recordings stored at the National Sound Archives of the Jewish National and University Library.


The National Sound Archives

Avigdor Herzog, Director

the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem


The National Sound Archives (NSA) in the Jewish National and University Library (JNUL) is responsible for preserving “recorded documents” not only of Israel, but also of Jews throughout the world. Most of the “documents” in the NSA are recordings of traditional music, although there are also oral and aural traditions, from folktales to “voice portraits,” from oral history to recordings of significant national, cultural and social happenings. The collection includes historical recordings (wax cylinders, metal records, shellac records), early commercial records, LPs, and video and audio tapes. The 3,500 hours of tape recordings constitute the largest part of the collection.

The first step taken by the NSA after its establishment in 1963 was to acquire recordings or copies of recordings made by institutions and individuals prior to 1963. From that time on, the Jewish Music Research Center (JMRC) in the Hebrew University has been the main source of new field recordings. Week after week, scholars of the JMRC record synagogue services, wedding ceremonies, and the many other religious and traditional social gatherings in which music plays a vital party. The collection is also enriched through collaboration with music departments in universities, scholars and students in Israel, as well as those who visit the country. The NSA can provide facilities for making field recordings if a copy of such recordings is retained by the Archives.
The recordings of the NSA include about 700 hours of music of European Ashkenazim, among a variety of other kinds of Jewish music.

The JNUL itself operates a fine music library with a large collection of music, books, periodicals, and other written documents pertaining to music. It also maintains a sizeable collection of commercial recordings which serve the needs of teaching and of research related to general and Israeli-Jewish music.

However, the written musical compositions which may be defined as “Jewish” are a mere fraction of Jewish musical creativity. The major part of Jewish musical culture is almost entirely oral. Therefore, the NSA is an essential resource for the study of the music of the Jews. NSA welcomes the deposit of recordings and is happy to assist those studying Jewish music. For further information, contact: Avigdor Herzog, The National Sound Archives, The Jewish National and University Library, Hebrew University, POB 503, Jerusalem 91.000, Israel.


Edited by Shelley Thomas

One Response to “Resources for Field Recordings”

  1. Petra bonk Says:

    Blogroll: the link of Yiddish Summer Weimar is not correct. Please change it into

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