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Phonograph Records

The earliest "talking machine" was patented by Thomas A. Edison in 1878 as a vertical cylinder device. In 1887 Emile *Berliner produced a lateral flat disc mechanism, bringing the disc "gramophone" into competition with the cylinder "phonograph." By 1891 recordings were introduced to public entertainment as coin-in-slot machines, and soon included some Jewish monologues, skits, and songs.

One of the most widespread Jewish subjects on recordings was cantorial music. Gershon *Sirota was the first cantor to record liturgicals commercially. He was widely criticized because recordings were played in cabarets and on the Sabbath. Then Zavel *Kwartin recorded and other cantors followed in a "golden cantorial age." In the 1920s such favorites as Mordecai *Hershman, David *Roitman, and Berele *Chagy were presented on discs and cylinders. Cantor Josef (Yossele) *Rosenblatt put 82 different liturgical selections on 10 labels. Since World War II revival of interest in European-style cantorials has resulted in re-pressings and reissues of old liturgical performances, as well as recordings of modern cantors such as Moshe *Koussevitzsky and Leib *Glantz, and the cantorial records of such prominent concert and opera artists as Jan *Peerce and Richard Tucker. In the U.S. congregations have honored their own cantor with a recording issue of his performances. In the 1960s recordings of the devotional music of ḥasidic groups, such as the Lubavitcher, Modzhitzer, and Gerer, on their own labels or Jewish companies, added to the number of Jewish liturgical recordings.


Edison cylinders early captured such voices as the Yiddish artist Madame Regina Prager (1874–1949) and the Jewish entertainer Sophie *Tucker. Among the Jewish performances early in this century on single-side small discs were a folk melody Min ha-Meẓar and a popular ditty Kum Yisrulik, Kum Aheym. Shalom Aleichem read his works for cylinders, and the comic monologuist, Ikey Eisenstein, was a great favorite on discs. Especially in the U.S. dance music recordings sold well, particularly of Jewish wedding freylekhs, shers, kazatskis, and horas. By the end of World War I every recording company had a roster of all types of Jewish performers. With the rise of radio in the 1920s, records dropped in sales. Jewish records especially lost their audiences with the changing tastes of the U.S. Jewish public for "Anglicized" entertainment and with the appearance of Jewish "stars" on the general stage, in radio, and "talking pictures." Some recordings include Yiddish theatrical personalities of the era between the two world wars, such as Joseph Rumshinsky (1881–1956), Aaron Lebedeff (1873–1960), Ludwig Satz (1891–1944), Moishe Oysher (1907–1958), and Menasha Skulnick (1892–1970). The aftermath of the Holocaust in Europe and the establishment of the State of Israel stimulated wider interest for popular performances of Yiddish and Hebrew folk music. Prominent among recorders of this postwar Jewish expression have been the actor-singer Theodore Bikel, the ḥasidic performer Shlomo Carlebach, the Israel entertainer Shoshana Damari, and the Yiddish actress Molly Picon. With the rise of the "youth market" in the 1960s, such phenomena as folk-rock liturgicals and rock-ballads in Hebrew with electronic instrumentation have appeared in the U.S. and Israel.

At the turn of the century, in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Jewish proprietor of Rappaport's "listening shop" encouraged and assisted his supplier of discs to present in 1902 a roster of higher quality selections on a special "red seal" label. The entire industry followed over the next decade with "quality labels" on larger double-side discs, upon which were available the performance of concert artists, many of them Jewish. In the worldwide growth of better quality recordings over the decades to the 1970s, Jewish participation has been outstanding. In 1969 the Service Technique pour l'Education (STE) of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris published a selective listing of all types of Jewish recordings available on the Continent at the time.

Folk Music

Use of cylinder recording for collection of Jewish folk materials was made at the turn of this century by collectors in Russia. Before World War I the Jewish musicologist Abraham Ẓevi *ldelsohn made use of recording apparatus in assembling liturgical materials in Jerusalem for his 10-volume Thesaurus of Hebrew-Oriental Melodies. Such scholars in Israel and America as Edith *Gerson-Kiwi and Johanna *Spector used recording equipment in their work among groups in the field.

Jewish Recording Companies

By 1920 there were about 30 different companies each issuing several labels, all of which had some Jewish materials in addition to rosters of Jewish performers. The decade of the 1920s was an era of consolidation into "big business" concerns in the recording industry, as well as much technological expansion. The oldest continually operating record shop into 1971 has been the Metro Music Shop, which was established in 1918 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the Yiddish theatrical area of Second Avenue by Henry Lefko witch (1892–1959), a composer and publisher of Jewish music. A number of specifically Jewish recording companies have been formed since World War II. In 1939 Moses Asch (d. 1986) formed Asch Record Company to supply Jewish recordings for the all-Jewish radio station WEVD in New York. Expanded to Ethnic-Folkways Records in 1947, its scope of Jewish materials was broadened to include recordings of Sephardim, Beta Israel, Yemenites, and other Oriental Jewish groups, much of it based on field collections by researchers, in addition to folk music in Yiddish and Hebrew Zionist songs. Formed after the war, Banner Records has made a specialty of Jewish variety and theatrical presentations by more recent artists. Ḥasidic music has been issued by smaller companies as well as by the larger Jewish companies. Menorah Records features recordings for children, holiday albums, and other educational releases. Since 1947, Tikva Records has manufactured and distributed a wide variety with an active market catalog of about 130 different issues. It has been especially successful in presenting Jewish folk dance records with instructions for the performances of the dances. In 1962 Greater Recording Company was formed to locate and re-issue on long-playing records rare Jewish performances done originally in the early decades of this century on cylinders and discs. Some recent performances of ḥasidic music and cantorials are included in its roster. Benedict Stambler (1903–1967) formed Collectors Record Guild and began in 1955 to re-press for commercial sale many of the old Jewish recordings from his large personal collection. He also produced new ḥasidic recordings. In 1971 the Stambler collection of recorded Jewish music, comprising 4,000 different selections, was donated to the Rogers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, housed in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. This collection, recorded on approximately 150 labels and starting with materials from 1902, is available for study on the library premises. Among the leading Israel recording companies were Hed Arẓi, for light Israel entertainers and folk ensembles; Ha-Taklit, with folk music presentations; Israeli Music Foundation, for serious compositions as well as folk dances; and CBS-Israel, which produced light popular, classical, musical and drama, educational material, and "small disc specials" for children. All went over to compact disks in the 1990s.


R. Gelatt, Fabulous Phonograph: From Edison to Stereo (19662); S. Rosenblatt, Yossele Rosenblatt (1954); Catalogs of: Folkways, Banner, Tikva, Menorah, Greater Recording, Collectors Record Guild, CBS, Hed Arẓi, Ha-Taklit; Schwann Record and Tape Guide (1971– ); Alliance Israélite Universelle, Service Technique pour l'Education, Catalogs (1961; 1969).

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