Archive for Los Angeles

About Lyricist Harry Bennett (Boens) by Michael Bennett

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2020 by yiddishsong

I never met my paternal grandfather Harry Boens (pictured left, b. March 17, 1891, Odessa; d. August 9, 1943, Los Angeles), and practically nothing about him was revealed to my brother and me. Innocent childhood questions about family history were met with stoicism and the subject quickly changed. Eventually, I did learn quite a bit about Harry through discovery of hidden documentation and much research. The journey to those revelations began in 2004, weeks before my father’s death in the hospital.

Harry Boens/Bennett. Image courtesy of Michael Bennett; all rights reserved.

Originally admitted for a respiratory virus, my father had become infected with multiple strains of hospital-spread bacteria. Months into his illness, through an internet search for Harry Boens, I discovered a piece of Yiddish sheet music entitled Di Shpanishe cholera (The Spanish Influenza) for sale. The cover sheet featured a photograph of the composer Nathan Hollandar and the lyricist Harry Boens. My father’s younger brother Philip had years earlier told me that Harry had changed the family name from Boens to Bennett and shared with me an old, color-dyed photograph of Harry and my father taken in 1933. From that photograph I saw a strong resemblance to the Harry Boens featured on the cover of Di Shpanishe cholera. I purchased the sheet music, printed out a copy of the title page, and brought it to my father in the hospital for verification. “Absolutely,” my father responded when I asked if the picture was that of his father, and then he added, “I never knew about this,” before angrily handing back the picture. Nothing further was discussed about the topic. However, the fact that my father was dying from infectious diseases struck me as tragically ironic in light of the subject of Harry’s song and my discovery of it at that heart-wrenching time.

Image courtesy of Michael Bennett; all rights reserved.

My father’s last request to me before he passed on June 13, 2004, was to write a book about his life. And so began years-long research into my father’s life, which of course included an in-depth look into Harry Boens, including the circumstances of his writing and co-publishing Di Shpanishe cholera. I fulfilled my father’s charge and self-published My Father: an American Story of Courage, Shattered Dreams, and Enduring Love in 2011.

Harry Boens immigrated to America in 1907. In about 1913 he married a Bessarabian émigré named Dora Ladyzhensky, and settled into a 3-room tenement apartment in New York’s Lower East Side. Harry worked as a waiter and accordionist in a subterranean diner on the corner of Rivington and Allen Streets in the same neighborhood. Dora worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop. Their first child, Clara, was born in 1914, their second, Irving (who would become my father) in 1915. Three months after Irving’s birth, Harry left his family. He returned in early 1917 and later that year Dora gave birth to the couple’s third child, Philip. Shortly after Philip’s birth, Harry left his family again. He returned in August 1920, but the reconciliation lasted only six weeks. This time he left his family for good.

The problem of male abandonment was common amongst Russian immigrants at that time—so common that Jewish organizations formed the National Desertion Bureau (NDB). The NDB served as a Jewish FBI whose goal was to locate AWOL husbands and fathers and force them to reconcile with their spouses, or at least support their families. Dora reported Harry to the NDB after his first desertion, and it was at that time that Harry began to pursue a career in music. He partnered with Nathan Hollandar who had a small recording studio where would-be immigrant artists could realize their dreams. The two developed a strong friendship and collaborated on several musical compositions. When the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic emerged, Harry aptly wrote the lyrics to Di Shpanishe Cholera; Nathan composed the music. They filed copyright for the piece in 1919, when Harry was twenty-eight years old.

But Harry’s musical career did not generate income. Instead, he moved to Brooklyn, partnered in a liquor store business and bought an automobile. Dora, meanwhile, languished on the Lower East Side. The children eventually were placed in foster homes and ultimately became inmates of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (HOA) due to Dora’s inability to care for them. My father was not yet six years old at the time and he remained in HOA for the next twelve years. Harry’s liquor store business folded with the passing of the Prohibition amendment. Harry then left New York and settled in Los Angeles (a common destination in those days for wayward husbands and fathers like Harry). His surname now Bennett, Harry married a wealthy California socialite who was decades his senior. He used her money to start a Yiddish newspaper, buy a gas station, and build a small real estate empire. He returned to New York to visit his children and financially supported them in the HOA. When his children reached the age of liberation from orphanage, Harry invited them to join him in California.

Spurred by his wealthy father’s promises of a college education and membership in an exclusive beach club, in 1933 my father eagerly boarded a steam ship headed for the California coast. Harry waited for him in his legendary Stutz automobile. Harry’s promises of a new life for his son never materialized, and he reneged on his commitment to pay for college tuition. Instead, Harry wanted his son to work for him managing his businesses. My father grew increasingly resentful, and eventually sued Harry for past child support and college tuition. Harry disinherited his son. After my father was drafted in to the United States Army and shipped overseas, Harry reinstated him into his will. Harry Boens died in 1943 at the age of fifty-two; his early demise likely brought about by his five-and-half-pack-a-day cigarette habit. My father’s angry reaction to seeing Harry’s picture on the cover of Di Spanishe Cholera in 2004 was certainly understandable in light of all that I later discovered. However, I believe my father reconciled those emotions when he said to me days before his passing, “I don’t hate anybody.” I too reserve judgement of my grandfather in favor of understanding him in the context of his times and circumstances.

In 2010, while completing the book about my father, I had a desire to hear what my grandfather’s song actually sounded like. So I asked longtime family friend Cantor Sam Weiss—an accomplished singer, musician, and specialist in Yiddish music—if he would get Di Spanishe Cholera recorded for me. Cantor Weiss obliged in short order by recording it himself, and sent me the MP3 file that you hear on this page. Fast-forward to 2020: During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, in a strange sort of way, the words and music of Di Spanishe Cholera provide some comfort in knowing that our ancestors—in fact the entire world—went through a similar experience. For that I thank the grandfather whom I never knew.

“Ikh bin geboyrn simkhes pirem” Performed by Martele Friedman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2020 by yiddishsong

Ikh bin geboyrn simkhes pirem/ I Was Born During the Celebration of Purim
Sung by Martele Friedman, recording by Mark David.
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

This week’s song was contributed by Mark David, director of the long running Boston Yiddish radio show Dos yidishe kol. He writes about the singer:

Margaret (Martele) Friedman was born in 1927, in the village Groys-Kinyat (גרויס-קיניאַט), now Великі Ком’яти (Velyki Kom’yaty), Carpathian mountains, Ukraine. She was deported to Auschwitz with her family from the Munkacs (Hungary) ghetto in spring 1944. She learned her repertoire as a child before the Holocaust. Friedman currently lives in Los Angeles.

Martele Friedman - closup - Frame-21-01-2020-11-31-15Martele Friedman (photo: Mark David)

The song Ikh bin geboyrn simkhes pirem was written and composed by her musical family.

An interview with her in Yiddish in which she tells of her life and sings this song and others was broadcast on January 20, 2020 on my Boston Yiddish podcast Yiddish Voice/Dos yidishe kol (click here to listen). The interview with Friedman begins at 10:45 minutes. She sings Ikh bin geboyrn at 28:54. Please note that the first time she sings the refrain she accidentally repeats a line. This is corrected in the next two refrains.

Musician and scholar Hankus Netsky has produced several concerts based on the song repertoire of Moyshe Hollander, Friedman’s cousin.

Thanks for help with this week’s post to Martele Friedman, Mark David, David Braun, Janina Wurbs and Steffen Krogh. – Itzik Gottesman

Some transcription notes:
“ey” = “a” as in made.
“ay” = “i” as in “nine”
“ow” = “o” as in “no”

As usual in this blog, the transcription reflects the singer’s dialect. The lyrics written in Yiddish are in standard “YIVO” Yiddish.

Kh’bin geboryn simkhes-pirem [Tomer her ikh muzik shpiln]

VERSE ONE

Kh’bin geboyrn simkhes-pirem,
freylekh bin ikh derfar.
Ikh es in trink in tants in shpring
in trowerik zayn zogar.

Es ken zayn a shnay.
Ikh tants in shray “hura!”
Tomer her ikh muzik shpiln
miz ikh tantsn glaykh.

REFRAIN

Tomer her ikh muzik shpiln
Kik ikh of kayn zakh.
Kowm hob ikh nor muzik derhert
kik ikh of kayn zakh.

Es geyt mir ariber a growl in mayn kerper.
Mayne nervn vern tseglit.
Akh krig di hits in tants in shvits
in her di muzik shpiln…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

VERSE TWO

Akh kim arayn tsu ayn razirer
oprazirn mikh.
Er zetst mikh anider of deym benkl
un zayft mikh ayn gants gikh.

Der razirer haybt mikh un tsi razirn
her ikh vi di muzik shpilt.
Ikh hayb un tsi tantsn of deym benkl
A shnit hob ikh derfilt.

Der razirer kikt mikh un.
Er vayst nisht vus tsi tun.
Er freygt mikh glaykh “Vus iz mit aykh?”
Zug ikh, dus iz mayn shiguen.

REFRAIN

Tomer her ikh muzik shpiln
Muz ikh tantsn glaykh.
Kowm hob ikh nor muzik derhert
kik ikh of kayn zakh.

Es geyt mir ariber a growl in mayn kerper.
Mayne nervn vern tseglit.
Akh krig di hits in tants in shvits
in her di muzik shpiln…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

VERSE THREE

Mayn shviger, zol lebn, i’ mir geshtorbn.
Nekhtn vert a vokh.
Gegangen bin ikh of der levaye,
a klug of deym brokh.

Balayt hob ikh mayn toyte shviger
biz tsi der royter brik.
Plitsling her ikh dort shpiln
a freylekh, listik shtik.

Herts vus s’iz gesheyn.
Ikh tants in shray hura!
Di levaye in gantsn haybt un tsi tantsn
gib ikh ayn geshray!

REFRAIN

Tomer her ikh muzik shpiln
Muz ikh tantsn glaykh.
Kowm hob ikh nor muzik derhert
kik ikh of kayn zakh.

Es geyt mir ariber a growl in mayn kerper.
Mayne nervn vern tseglit.
Akh krig di hits in tants in shvits
in her di muzik shpiln…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

TRANSLATION

I Was Born During The Celebration of Purim

VERSE ONE

I was born during the celebration of Purim;
therefore I am so happy.
I eat and drink and dance and jump,
and am even sad.

Even if it snowed
I would dance and yell “hurrah!”
If I should hear music playing
I must dance right away.

REFRAIN

If I should hear music playing
I don’t look at anything else.
As soon as I hear the music,
I don’t look at anything else.

A shudder goes through my body.
My nerves become red hot.
I get fever and dance and sweat
and hear the music playing…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

VERSE TWO

I go into a barber
for a shave.
He sits me down on the chair
and lathers me up quite fast.

The barber starts to shave me,
when I hear the music playing.
I start to dance on the chair
and felt a sudden cut.

The barber looks at me.
He knows not what to do,
He asks me “What”s with you?”
I say, this is my craziness.

REFRAIN

If I should hear music playing
I must dance straight away.
As soon as I hear the music
I don’t look at anything else.

A shudder goes through my body.
My nerves become red hot.
I get fever and dance and sweat
and hear the music playing…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

VERSE THREE

My mother-in-law, may she live, has died.
It happened eight days ago.
I went to the funeral.
I lament such a tragedy.

I accompanied my dead mother-in-law
up to the red bridge.
Suddenly I hear there playing
a joyous, merry tune.

Listen to what happened:
I dance and yell “hurrah!”
The entire funeral starts to dance,
so I cry out:

REFRAIN

If I should hear music playing
I must dance straight away.
As soon as I hear the music
I don’t look at anything else.

A shudder goes through my body.
My nerves become red hot.
I get fever and dance and sweat
and hear the music playing…
Ram-ta-ra-ra…la-la

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