Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

The Hebrew Publishing Company Collection: An Introductory Report

IRENE HESKES

In 1902, Hutchins Hapgood in his book The Spirit of the Ghetto: Studies of the Jewish Quarter of New York wrote, "They love the songs that are heard on the stage, and for these the demand is so great that a certain bookshop on the East Side makes a specialty of publishing and selling them."1 That same year, the catalog of the Hebrew Publishing Company listed over 1,300 items, including an eighty-one-page section devoted to Jewish music. The company's founder, Joseph L. Werbelowsky, had pledged to the public that the newest music of the popular stage operettas would be printed for sale as soon as it was performed by the stars of the Jewish theatre. That promise was faithfully kept until early in the 1920s, when the company--a family enterprise having passed into the control of the next generations--turned exclusively to the publication and distribution of Jewish literature, prayer books, and religious materials. As long as its retail bookstore remained in operation on the Lower East Side, until 1978, however, some sheet music-- generally that of other music publishers--was stocked and sold.

For almost sixty years the Hebrew Publishing Company's inventory of American Yiddish theatre sheet music from the era 1885 to 1920 remained in cold storage at a warehouse in New Jersey. The existence of this stock came to my attention, and in 19791 did a sample examination of sixteen boxes, out of which I identified more than 100 titles of show songs. I thereupon entered into a formalized arrangement with the present head of the company, enabling me to have access to the entire repository for the purposes of research and development.

Organizing the American Yiddish Theater Music project, I devised-- much in the nature of an archeological "dig"--an unpacking process undertaken during the summer of 1980. For this specific purpose, I secured a grant from a major industrial corporation and matched it with funding from private foundations. My work force consisted of twenty deaf youngsters aged fifteen to seventeen, who were paid by the Mayor's Office of Summer Jobs for Handicapped Youth, and who had been selected with the

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