“I want to look back and illustrate a few instances of the connection betweens Jews and American music. Let’s start with the year 1799. In that year there was produced in Philadelphia a musical play entitled ‘The Jew and the Doctor,’ by Charles Dibden, an English poet and composer of considerable repute. One of the songs in the play was called ‘The Jew Broker.’ Not having access to the entire libretto, I cannot say whether any of the text casts aspersions on Jews; however, ‘The Jew Broker,’ despite its mock accents and its subject matter, which has to do with the Jew as a money-lender, has a rather tender theme.
“Despite political restrictions in some states, the early Americans had respect for the Jews, in the main, and wrote about them sincerely and with some degree of pity for their plight throughout the Western world. From the 1830s on, a number of songs with Jewish themes were composed by non-Jews. The music is not liturgical but is arranged for use in the home, for a pianist and members of a family or friends who entertained themselves as they played and sang songs published at the time.”
Thus began Lester S. Levy's lecture on "The Jew and American Popular Music" to the audience at Chizuk Amuno on January 30, 1980.
|The touching ballad The Daughter of Israel was sung by a prominent artist named Mrs. Wood. The words and music were written by another non-Jew named Charles Sloman. This piece is dated at approximately 1830.||We Wept When We Remembered Zion, written in 1837, has a Biblical theme. It was composed by S. B. Pond, a Gentile, who set his arrangement to the well-known words of Psalm 137.|
|Several songs were published during the 1830s under the general title of “Sabbath Melodies,” with words taken from the scriptures. In Ruth and Naomi, the words come directly from the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, and the melody was written by R. Topliff. On the cover is a notation from a well-known critic of the time reading: “The most fashionable Song of the day is Ruth and Naomi. It is a beautiful Melody, and very Impressive when sung with feeling.”||During the 1830s and 1840s the most popular song-writer in America was an English immigrant named Henry Russell, a Jew, whose real name was Henry Levy. After settling in America, he set to music words of prominent authors of that period, frequently accompanying himself on the piano. The two best known songs of the fifty he wrote here were The Old Arm Chair and Woodman Spare That Tree. These two songs had such tremendous appeal that they ran 15 to 20 editions before the public tired of them.|
|In the 1840s George J. Webb composed a song,The Sorrowing Jew with words by “a friend of Israel” and dedicated to “the Ladies Jew Society of Newburyport.” The picture on the title page, showing an elderly Jew sitting among the ruins of the temple and wearing Talles and Tfillim, is captioned: “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.”||During the Civil War, Jews showed their loyalty and enlisted in either the Union or Confederate armies. Some wrote patriotic songs, like Jewish composer George Gumpert’s Our Country’s Flag, an 1861 composition.|
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