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Isa Kremer

KREMER, ISA (1887–1956), international balladist, possibly the first woman to bring Yiddish song to the concert stage. Born in Beltz, Bessarabia, Kremer started her career at 15 by writing revolutionary poetry which was published in an Odessa newspaper. After meeting Isa, the newspaper's editor, Israel Heifetz, helped send her to Milan to study singing with Polonia Ronzi. She had her operatic debut in 1902 in La Bohème. When she returned to Odessa, Kremer and Heifetz married. Their daughter, Toussia, was born in 1917.

Kremer joined a group of intellectuals that included Mark *Warshawski, *Sholom Aleichem, and Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim), who introduced her to the Hebrew poet Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik. She credited Bialik with challenging her to give voice to her own people and to sing in Yiddish. Kremer continued touring with opera companies, performing in Madam Butterfly, Eugene Onegin, and Manon to great acclaim. She also began collecting Yiddish folk songs with the hope of performing them as art songs on the concert stage. During the Russian Revolution, her husband was jailed while she was on tour in Constantinople. In 1919, she managed to get her child and finally her husband out of Russia and they settled in Paris. In 1922, on tour in Poland, Kremer, who was scheduled to sing Jewish songs in Warsaw, was the object of an antisemitic riot. This led the family to relocate to America, where her reputation preceded her. Represented by Sol *Hurok, Kremer made her American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1922. Kremer brought glamour and charisma to the stage, singing artistically arranged folk songs in Yiddish, Russian, Italian, Polish, French, German, and English. She began singing on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit in 1927 with tremendous success, reaching a weekly audience of 35,000.

Touring Argentina in the late 1930s, Kremer met Gregorio Bermann, a psychiatrist. They were together for years, although they never married. During WWII, Kremer's husband was arrested and died in a concentration camp. In 1943, Bermann was arrested in Argentina, where the couple was living. Kremer was blacklisted and went into bankruptcy. In 1946, Kremer visited Palestine, and sang there in Yiddish, although many were opposed to her use of the language. She told the crowd, "I sang in Yiddish in Nazi Germany, I'll sing in Yiddish in Israel." Even as late as 1951, Isa still concertized for loyal fans in European cities, but by 1956 she was ill with stomach cancer; she died in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1956. Her papers were donated to the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, where they survived the terrorist attack of 1994.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.