Page 167 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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ROSKIES / IDEOLOG IES OF T H E Y IDD ISH FOLKSONG
159
with Yiddish Vaudeville. And Shmulevitsh knew how to peddle
his goods. His 1913 collection of
Lider
came armed with two
testimonials, one from Morris Rosenfeld, the other from Alex­
ander Harkavy, both attesting to the folk character of his
songs.32 On the commercial side, Shmulevitsh provided the
names and addresses of the stores on the Lower East Side where
the sheet music and gramaphone recording of the given song
could be purchased.
These (now old) recordings of his songs — written, composed
and performed by Shmulevitsh himself — reveal his debt to
the recitadf style of the old wedding jesters. But Shmulevitsh
was nothing if not persistent. After composing many “letter”
songs he finally struck gold with
A brivele der mamen
(“A Letter
to Mama”) because, as Mark Slobin points out, it tapped into
the deep oedipal struggle in the lives of so many immigrants.33
Second Avenue, with no ideology save that of the market
place, was cruel to Shmulevitsh. By the end of World War I,
he was washed up as a professional song writer and was forced
to take his show on the road. And here, on the road, he finally
blew his folksy cover. It happened in my home town of Mon­
treal, where a benefit performance was organized by the local
Labor Zionists, eager to honor a true folk poet. Part one of
the program went smoothly enough, but in the second, fifty-
year-old Shmulevitsh came on stage with his skimpily clad
daughter Dorothy and together they performed one-act skits
of questionable propriety. The intellectuals walked out in a huff,
while the unwashed masses could not believe their good for­
tune.34
What the intellectuals wanted was either songs of the Old
World in pure idiomatic Yiddish or
protest- manifest- un agitatsye-
gezangen,
i.e., something from the repertoire of social protest
songs, that affected a highbrow Germanic style. For this was
the language of Yiddish Socialist poetry — of the poet-pioneers
Morris Winchevsky, Morris Rosenfeld, Yoysef Bovshover and
Dovid Edelshtat — who deemed Yiddish alone as too earthy
32. Shloyme Shmulevitsh,
Lider
(New York: Solomon Small, 1913). The fact
that Shmulevitsh was his own publisher and distributor is further proof o f his
entrepreneurial spirit.
33. Slobin, p. 124.
34. This biographical material on Shmulevitsh is from Zalmen Zilbertsvayg,
Leksikon fun yidishn teater
6 (Mexico City, 1969): 5741-52.