Yiddish American Popular Sheet Music
at the Library of Congress
About the Collection
The Library's collection of Yiddish American sheet music is an unusual one for the Library of Congress. It began, not with a donation or purchase of materials which were then cataloged, but with a catalog. Lawrence Marwick, after retiring from his position as head of the Library's Hebraic Section in 1980, set out to compile a list of American Yiddish plays and music which had been submitted to the Library of Congress for copyright, recording information on some 5,000 index cards. Unbeknownst to Marwick, music historian and author Irene Heskes conducted a project to organize a collection of sheet music owned by the Hebrew Publishing Company of New York City. Her work came to the attention of Marwick and the Library of Congress, and the two scholars had planned to discuss their work but Marwick's untimely death the following year intervened. In 1984, Heskes began to revise and expand Marwick's unfinished work, adding composers, arrangers, publishers and other information, and culminating in the publication of American Popular Songs 1895 to 1950; A Catalog Based on the Lawrence Marwick Roster of Copyright Entries in 1992.
The Library's holdings of Yiddish American popular songs include the Irene Heskes Collection of Yiddish American sheet music (drawn from the archives of the Hebrew Publishing Company during her New York project in 1980) as well as copyright deposits already in the custody of the Library and materials drawn from other sources and gleaned from other Library collections, primarily in the Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division and the Music Division. Items are organized according to the serial numbers that Heskes laid out in her catalog.
The majority of the selections found here originated in the Yiddish theater, which thrived in the Bowery area of the Lower East Side of New York City from the 1880s into the mid-twentieth century, and which expanded into a network of theaters in Jewish communities around the country. Also found are popular-style arrangements of folk songs and sacred songs as well as instrumental numbers. Some compositions, most notably those of Abe Schwartz, became standards in the field of klezmer music.
Most of the items are scanned from printed copies of sheet music, published by companies that specialized in Jewish music. But there are also many copyright deposits that were submitted in manuscript form. These unique items are in many ways the jewels of this collection. Some exist also in published form, but many were never published and are appearing publicly for the first time on this site.
The collection presented online stops at 1922. Many works published after that year remain under copyright in the United States. If at some future time the works from 1923 to 1950 are allowed into the Public Domain, we hope to add the remainder of the Yiddish American Popular Song holdings to this online presentation.