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Gershon Kinsley, Irving Fields, Sol Zim & El Avram Perform At Joe's Pub Dec 11th
Legendary Performers From The 50's & 60s Take The Stage One More Time
For Exclusive Joe's Pub Performance
"And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl" Book Release Party
Featuring : In Sound From Way Out Moog Pioneer, Gershon Kingsley,
Mambo Fusion Bandleader, Bagels and Bongos' Irving Fields
The Legendary Thumping Cantorial Pyrotechnics of Sol Zim And West
Village Club Pioneer, El Avram
Along with, The New York Times Jon Caramanica, Jessi Klein, The
Fader's Julianne Shepherd & Jackie Hoffman
The Idelsohn Society Of Musical Conservation (Formerly Reboot
Stereophonic) Founders, Roger Bennett and Josh Kun, Release
AND YOU SHALL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL: The Jewish Past as
Told By the Records We Have Loved and Lost
Featuring The Barry Sisters Discography & History/ The Barry Sisters
Classic Reissue Out November 18th
Click Here For More Info On The Book (
Roger Bennett & Josh Kun have spent the large part of the past eight
years collecting Jewish Vinyl records and chasing down the performers
who once created them most of whom are now in their 80s and 90s (For
more see www.trailofourvinyl.com ). They have re-released as much as
we can via the volunteer driven The Idelsohn Society Of Conservation
(Formerly Reboot Stereophonic Record Label), but are now about to take
the project to the next level with the release of AND YOU WILL KNOW
US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL: THE JEWISH PAST AS TOLD BY RECORDS WE
HAVE LOVED AND LOST.
To celebrate the release of the book, they are presenting a one
night only celebration at JOE'S PUB on DECEMBER 11 at which a slew of
the performers we have found while researching the book will take the
stage again, some for the first time in decades, alongside some of our
friends including Jessi Klein, Jon Caramanica, and Jackie Hoffman.
The night is going to be a real tribute to some performers whose
legacies deserve to be celebrated...
Roger Bennett exclaims, "this is the most important project i have
been involved in and would mean the world to see you there" :
AND SPREAD THE WORD as far as you are able...
AND YOU SHALL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL: The Jewish Past as
Told By the Records We Have Loved and Lost :
For some, inspiration comes from a trip to Paris, but for Roger
Bennett and Josh Kun, the lodestone points towards Boca Raton (and
eBay). AND YOU SHALL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL: The Jewish
Past as Told By the Records We Have Loved and Lost
(Crown/$24.95/November 18, 2008) is about two men in search of their
past and how they found an unexpected narrative through the faded
liner notes and technologically passé medium of vinyl records. It
took them eight years, but in the end through countless garage sales,
late night bids on eBay and friendships with a host of generous
seniors, Bennett and Kun amassed an impressive archive and wove it
together into a truly original history of Jewish culture in America.
Welcome to a world where Johnny Mathis sings Kol Nidre, Charlton
Heston reads from The Old Testament, and Fiddler on the Roof goes
The relationship between vinyl and American Jewish households begins
with sacred songs and finishes as the folk movement in the early 70's
begins to wane. Along the way there are the superstars who crossed
over into mainstream pop culture—Barbara Streisand, Neil Sedaka, and
Barry Manilow—and the ones who were stars in other ways from cantors
singing not only Jewish songs but Christmas tunes, girl bands, and
Yiddish language records. There were the artists who see an eager
audience and cross from the pop world into this specialized
market—Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole and Eydie Gormé, born Edith
Gormezano to Sephardic Spanish parents in the Bronx.
With love and a great deal of sly wit the authors introduce not only
some of the near-forgotten stars of the vinyl age like the elegant
Barry Sisters, bawdy comediennes Pearl Williams and Belle Barth, the
Brothers Zim, Chaim Topol, Theodore Bikel and others, they mine the
impact these artists had on their listeners. The new comfortable
suburban living rooms become staging grounds for a new era of leisure
and relationship to the temple. There is the mambo craze that brought
Jewish and Latino artists together in new ways from Cuba to the
Catskills. The entwined relationship between Jewish and Black
performers reflected shared experiences and emotions as well as
exposed fault lines of differences. And there was a complicated
campaign waged in audio format for the hearts and minds of American
Jewish families for the new country of Israel—from the sultry
songstresses and joyous dancing kibbutz workers to David Ben Gurion's
"What is a Jew?"
AND YOU SHALL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF OUR VINYL is a rich record of
artists and an often-hilarious examination of how packaging and
messaging strove to launch careers, sell records—and shape a new
notion of Jewish life and its place in the American dream.
The Barry Sisters
Since 2005, the non-profit record label Reboot Stereophonic has
dedicated itself to rescuing lost treasures of Jewish-American music.
They did it with Irving Fields' Bagels and Bongos. They did it with
Fred Katz's Folk Songs for Far Out Folk. They did it with the way-out
Moog experiments of Beastie Boys hero Gershon Kingsley and they did
it, most notoriously, with the outrageous vaudeville cylinders of
Now it's time for the incomparable Barry Sisters, the original
swinging queens of Jewish pop crossover.
While some of The Barry Sisters' music has been re-issued on
greatest hits packages, their final full-length recording from 1973,
Our Way, has remained a lost classic. Loaded with killer Yiddish
versions of 70s radio hits, Our Way is begging to be re-discovered by
a new generation of listeners.
It's all part of the Reboot Stereophonic mission. Founded by a
quartet of academics and music industry veterans, the label's goal is
to incite a new conversation about the present by listening anew to
the past. They do it by unearthing lost classics from the archive,
sounds that are languishing in thrift-store crates across the nation.
The stories that accompany them have yet to be told: hybrid
identities, eclectic communities, racial dialogue, and pioneering
musical style. This is music that forces listeners to ask themselves
who am I, what have I inherited, and what am I going to do about it?
Enter The Barry Sisters.
1973 might not have seemed like the ideal year for a revival of
Discotheques were starting to fill up with sweaty swingers, Iggy and
the Stooges were harnessing grinding proto-punk rage into Raw Power,
Marvin Gaye was singing about the Vietnam War and getting it on, and
Pink Floyd were becoming dorm room hall-of-famers with Dark Side of
the Moon. But for Claire and Merna Barry, the Bronx-raised sisters
whose crystalline voices, bi-lingual pop fluency, stunning looks, and
bull's eye harmonies had become synonymous with what the old-timers
liked to call "Jewish Jazz," the timing was just right.
They would take Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Raindrops Keep My
Falling On My Head," sing it in their trademark perky Yiddish and with
their signature bandstand pluck, and the youth of America would heed
the wake-up call.
Yiddish would be back with a vengeance.
"We decided we would sing only the most popular songs of the day,"
says Claire Barry, now in her unlisted 80s and living between
Manhattan and Miami (Merna passed away in 1976). "We wanted to make
sure young people would listen to our music at that time. They had to
find the music familiar. So we did songs they might know but sang in
Yiddish! The hope was that maybe they would pick it up."
The result was Our Way, a project so improbable in Nixon-era America
that the sisters subtitled it "Tahka, Tahka," Yiddish for "Really,
Really." Where else could you find Second Avenue Yiddish theater
alongside Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Fiddler on the Roof next
to upper West Side mink coats and Las Vegas lounges?
By 1973, it was hard to find Yiddish on new records. The
once-dominant diaspora tongue that ruled the Jewish stage and the
Jewish page hit a severe post-war decline. In the 1920s, there were so
many Yiddish speakers in New York City that the Yiddish daily
newspaper The Forward outsold The New York Times, but the combination
of the Holocaust's decimation of an entire Yiddish-speaking world, the
rise of Israel as a Hebrew speaking nation, and the upwardly mobile
attraction of fifties suburban safety (goodbye tenement, hello Nassau
County), helped ensure that Yiddish became optional, not essential, to
Jewish-American identity. To make it the lingua franca of a seventies
pop album was not simply an exercise in cultural nostalgia—it was a
re-branding of a vanishing tradition for a new generation of potential
Originally released on Mainstream Records (a one time home to Janis
Joplin, Sarah Vaughn, and Ted Nugent), the album connected with "young
people" that might not have been as young as the sisters had hoped
for. They took on the 20s pop chestnut "Tea For Two," used Yiddish to
return the vanilla Perry Como smash "It's Impossible" to its Mexican
bolero roots, raided Hollywood for "Love Story" (imagine Ryan O'Neal
crooning in Yiddish at the bedside of a dying Kelly McGraw), raided
Broadway for "Cabaret" and "Alice Blue Gown," and turned out what just
might be-- second only to the one Cuban audio priestess La Lupe did
just three years earlier-- the most liberating version ever of the
Sinatra staple, "My Way." So they didn't sing "What's Goin' On" or "I
Wanna Be Your Dog" (which, for what it's worth, would have been called
"Ikh vil zein dein hoont"). The effect was still the same: seventies
America woke up as a Technicolor Yiddish dream.
For the translations, the sisters enlisted the help of Herman
Yablokoff, the Yiddish theater legend responsible for one of Jewish
music's only hit songs about cigarettes ("Papirossen") and for "Shvayg
Mayn Harts," better known as the song that bearded and barefoot West
Coast mystic Eden Ahbez turned into "Nature Boy." The vocal
arrangements went to TV and film composer Jerry Graff, a veteran of
the Nat King Cole television show who was so chummy with Claire and
Merna that he was billed on the album as "Our Friend Jerry Graff."
"I am still so proud of this album,' says Barry. "It brings back so
many beautiful memories."
Our Way was the eleventh, and last, Barry Sisters' full-length
studio recording. Throughout their career, they consistently drew from
the wells of Yiddish and English popular song, everything from
"Without a Song" and "Cry Me a River" to "Hava Nagila" and "Chiribim
Chiribom," with stops at the Miami-to-Cuba soap opera of "Channa From
Havana" and the hi-de-ho Arizona campfire yodels of "Ragtime Cowboy
Joe" along the way. Even though the duo were also known to dabble in
Italian and Spanish (their 1966 album Something Spanish teamed them up
with Cuban jazz legend Chico O'Farrill), the "world of the Barry
Sisters," as one of their hits collections was titled, was really
always two: the Jewish songbook and the American songbook. The former
was mostly traditional folk melodies and Yiddish theater tunes and the
latter was mostly jazz, pop, and Broadway standards. The hallmark of
the Barry Sisters was that they never chose between the two, but
hopscotched between them with a savvy and sophisticated bi-cultural
"We wanted to be Jewish and American at the same time," says Barry.
"That was what our music was always meant to speak to."
Claire and Merna grew up in a Yiddish speaking immigrant home in the
Bronx, the daughters of a Russian father and a Viennese mother. When
the sisters decided they wanted to sing in the Yiddish of their
parents and not the English of their friends, their father put his
authenticity foot down.
"We spoke English," says Barry, "So my father told us when we
started, 'you must sing in Yiddish the way we do, with no American
accents.' And that's what we did, we took a chance on Yiddish, with no
accents, and it was marvelous. We spoke the new English but we also
spoke Yiddish that people would recognize as haimish."
Back in the thirties, Claire and Merna Barry hadn't been born yet.
They were still Clara and Minnie and when they started singing on the
Feter Nahum, or Uncle Norman, Jewish children's radio show on WLTH in
New York, they were billed as The Bagelman Sisters. After recording a
version of "Kol Nidre" for a young Moe Asch (the soon to be head of
Folkways Records), the Bagelmans quickly moved to the front of the
Jewish-American music world by associating themselves with the biggest
names on the Second Avenue scene. They made their first 78rpm
recordings in the late 30s for RCA Victor, harmonizing over a stellar
quintet that featured the Miles Davis and John Coltrane of pre-WWII
Jewish music: klezmer clarinet king Dave Tarras and composer/arranger
Abe Ellstein. They followed it up with a collaboration with tenor
great Seymour Rechtzeit, the ubiquitous and celebrated king of Yiddish
radio (at one point, he was performing on 18 live radio shows during a
"People told us that we had perfect harmony," says Barry. "But to be
honest, we didn't know what harmony meant! We had no training, no
schooling in this type of thing. There is a Yiddish word beshert,
which means meant to be. I always say, it was beshert that we would
sing like that."
While the Bagelmans had become well-known in Yiddish-speaking
circles and Jewish immigrant communities, their reality as first
generation Americans extended far beyond the rich folk and theater
worlds of Eastern European tradition. They knew all about jazz and
swing music and had already watched, with the rest of the Jewish
community, as a little-known Yiddish theater tune became a certified
American pop hit.
In one of the greatest, and most oft told, tales of Jewish-American
musical crossover, Sholom Secunda's "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" fell into
the repertoire of the African-American vaudeville duo and Catskills
regulars Johnnie and George, who sang it in Yiddish at the Apollo
Theater. In the audience was Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriter
Sammy Cahn, who changed the lyrics to English and handed the song to
the blonde Lutheran trio The Andrews Sisters who went to have a #1 hit
with it in 1938. A month later, Benny Goodman followed suit with his
own version, featuring the equally blonde Los Angeles singer Martha
Tilton. Just like that, the old Yiddish tune that had all of America
singing and dancing grew into an international pop staple, one of the
most recorded songs of all time.
The seeming ease with which Jewish music became chart-topping
American swing helped inspire pianist Sam Medoff to cook up the
15-minute radio segment Yiddish Melodies in Swing for radio station
WHN. The concept was simple: take popular klezmer numbers and Yiddish
tunes and play them in the swinging idiom of hot jazz. Tarras led the
band and after the Pincus Sisters declined his offer, the Bagelmans
joined the show, but only after a quick linguistic makeover. Inspired
by the mainstream success of the Andrews Sisters, Clara and Minnie
became Claire and Merna (the names of two of their classmates) and
Bagelman became Barry (Berger was their first choice but nobody liked
the way it sounded).
"We were not embarrassed by our name," says Barry. "Never
embarrassed. It was just better for show business. We knew so many
entertainers who did it back then that we thought it was just a good
business decision. It wasn't about culture at all, just business."
During the show's Manischewitz-sponsored "American Jewish Hour," Sam
Medoff led the Swingtet band with The Barry Sisters, "the daughters of
the downbeat," on the microphones, and they merged Yiddish songs with
what the show dubbed "merry modern rhythms." The show's theme song was
even a klezemerized take on "When The Saints Go Marching In." Songs
that were "sweet and low" like "Reb Duvidel" and "Eli Melech" were, as
Claire and Merna liked to say, "rocked solid" and "made gold" by
infusions of downbeats and Harlem swing and the sisters crooned,
belted, and harmonized atop it all like hip supper-club stars. The
show ran until 1955 and The Barry Sisters became the official voices
of the Yiddish Swing craze (the same one that turned the Romanian
oldie "Der Shtiler Bulgar" into Ziggy Elman's "Frailach in Swing," and
eventually Benny Goodman's "And the Angels Sing.")
"It just seemed so natural to combine Jewish music and swing," says
Barry. "If the Jewish songs had a good beat, why couldn't we do swing
in Yiddish? We heard the beat everywhere. Why not this song? Why not
that one? We did it to anything we could find."
For the next two decades, that same strategy served the Barry
Sisters well across a slew of singles and full-length LPs that
garnered them recognition beyond the confines of the Jewish musical
community where they nurtured their skills. Their album We Belong
Together teamed the sisters up with composer Jerry Fielding-- best
known for his theme music to You Bet Your Life and later for his score
to The Wild Bunch—and they stuck to a purely English-language songbook
that included "In Other Words," "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves
You," and "My One and Only Love." They made it onto the Jack Paar Show
and the Ed Sullivan Show and soon after joined Sullivan on his
All-Star Caravan to the U.S.S.R., performing for 20,000 people in
Moscow's Gorky Park at a time when Western visits were still rare.
The liner notes to the album that followed, Side by Side, which
they dedicated to Sullivan, described the experience this way:
"[Sullivan] had an Iron Curtain smash in the Barrys, who literally
tore down The Kremlin with a rip-roaring Western medleywhich only goes
to prove that all you need are ears to hear with, and eyes to see
with, and makes no difference—Yank, Britisher, Ruski, or Hottentot,
the Barry Sisters have made it."
Yet for all of their globe-trotting internationalism—which also
included a celebrated performance for Israeli troops during the Yom
Kippur War that became The Barry Sisters In Israel—the Barry Sisters
were always at their best using their musical bilingualism to work out
the complexities of identity back home, doing the Yiddish makeovers
they perfected on their 30s RCA Victor sides and on the songs that
bubbled up on Yiddish Melodies in Swing.
If adapting Jewish music to the rhythms and contours of the American
pop landscape can be considered one of the dominant aesthetics of
early twentieth century popular music, then the Barry Sisters ought to
be considered crucial bi-cultural pioneers, part of the same treasured
artistic genealogy that usually starts and stops with the Tin Pan
Alley likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Harold Arlen. They
didn't turn America Jewish, they made Jewish sound more American.
Which is partly why we the re-issue Our Way is so important—it's the
only Barry Sisters album that seems to reverse this tactic. This is an
album of (mostly) giddy Jewish hijacks of American culture: B.J.
Thomas speaking in Yiddish tongues, the Rat Pack gambling on Kol
Nidre, Tea for Two served with a side of pickled herring. Mickey Katz
and other musical comedians made this move in the 50s and 60s, but
their chosen forms were parody and satire, wholesome vulgarity and
schmaltzy wit. On Our Way, The Barry Sisters choose the elegant
tradition of popular song itself.
Promoting their music as radically ethnic or anti-assimilationist
wasn't the Barry Sisters style, but in its greatest moments—the finale
of "My Way," the earnestness of "Raindrops"—Our Way has the feel of a
utopian dream, a visionary cultural proposal: what if the world
actually sounded like this? What if Yiddish hadn't become the language
of refrigerator magnets and Jewish joke punch lines? What if the
language of Eastern Europe was still the language of now America, all
that memory, all that tradition now part of America's polyglot urban
future, as hip and swinging as a new Kanye single, as urgent as a new
Mexican immigrant border ballad from Los Tigres del Norte?
"When I look back on this music," says Barry. "All I want to say is
Dear God, thank you for giving us the opportunity. What a wonderful
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