Sound Recording: Yiddisha Nightingale

One of Irving Berlin's earliest compositions, preserved on a cylinder recording.

Maurice Burkhart

Composed and written by Irving Berlin, "Yiddisha Nightingale" was first recorded by Maurice Burkhardt in 1911. Burkhardt, also the lyricist who wrote "That Carolina Rag", worked primarily between 1911 and 1920. "Nightingale" was his first recording, which featured his vocal solo backed by an orchestra.

Irving Berlin was born in Russia (in modern-day Belarus) in 1888. Berlin grew up with music in the household, as his father was a cantor in their community's synagogue. In 1893, when Berlin was 5 years old, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. in order to escape the pogroms. Berlin went on to write songs that became intertwined with America:" White Christmas", "God Bless America", "Cheek to Cheek" and "Blue Skies". Despite his Jewish heritage, Irving Berlin's songs rarely acknowledged Judaism or Jewish characters beyond his earliest works. His 1911 song, "Yiddisha Nightingale", one of Berlin's few tunes concerning Jewish subjects, tells the story of Abie Cohn, who wants to marry his Yiddisha Nightingale, Minnie Rosenstein. The song, like many of the early Jewish-themed pieces, addresses characters that desire financial and social advancement. In order to underscore the Jewishness of the characters, Berlin wrote all of the verses of his Jewish-themed songs in minor keys, which he said invoked "Yiddish theater, or even the synagogue."

"Yiddisha Nightingale" was recorded on phonograph cylinder, the earliest medium for recording and reproducing sound. In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which used a metal cylinder wrapped in tin foil for the audio engraving, in order to record telephone messages. The cylinders utilized audio recordings engraved on their exterior surfaces (in the 1880s made of wax and by 1906 out of celluloid, a hard plastic) to reproduce the sounds of the recordings. The U.S. Phonograph Company oversaw U.S. Everlasting Records, which produced more than 1,000 titles primarily categorized as popular, foreign language, and grand opera between 1908 and 1912. In the 1910s, the disc-shaped gramophone record system emerged, and by 1929, the phonograph cylinder was already obsolete.

Record #487, U-S Everlasting Records, in original paper container with detachable lid.

Name: Sound Recording: Yiddisha Nightingale
Artist: Maurice Burkhart
Origin: Cleveland, United States, 1912
Dimensions: 4 1/16 in.x 2 3/16 in.
Credit: Spertus Institute Purchase
Catalog Number: 2005.83.1-.3