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Yiddish Melodies in Swing
1 The Rise of Yiddish Swing
2 "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen"
3 Tarras and Brandwein
NPR Documentary
Yiddish Melodies in Swing, the documentary about the birth of a Jewish-American musical fusion. (16:00 min.)

People and places featured in the Yiddish Melodies in Swing documentary  

Introduction to Yiddish Melodies in Swing, Nov. 24, 1940

"Dayenu," from Yiddish Melodies in Swing, c1940

"Chad Gadyo," from Yiddish Melodies in Swing, Jan. 25, 1948

"Oh Mama, I'm So in Love," from Yiddish Melodies in Swing, c1940.

Outro to Yiddish Melodies in Swing, Feb. 18, 1945.


The Rise of Yiddish Swing

Yiddish swing. Jazz and klezmer. It may sound like an odd combination, but in late 1937 this mix of Old World and New took the music scene here and abroad by storm. The fad got its start when the Andrews Sisters, a young three-sibling act fresh from Minnesota, recorded an irresistible swing version of a forgotten Yiddish stage tune. "Bei Mir Bist du Schoen" (You Are Beautiful to Me) became an instantaneous hit, spawning an unending series of covers and, with them, a musical trend.

Within weeks, executives at New York's WHN had created Yiddish Melodies in Swing, a weekly program dedicated to the new musical fusion. The talented pianist/composer Sam Medoff was hired to lead the show's “Swingtet” and to arrange rollicking versions of traditional Jewish folk and klezmer tunes like "Dayenu," "Eli Meylakh," and "Yidl Mitn Fidl."

Front and center on Medoff's bandstand were the Barry Sisters (née Bagelman), whose close-as-air harmonies, spunky energy, and seamless transitions from Yiddish to English packed New York's 600-seat Loews State Theater every Sunday at 1 p.m. But Yiddish Melodies didn't just mainstream Yiddish culture, it reconnected a younger generation of American Jews to an older musical tradition embodied by the Swingtet's legendary clarinetist, Dave Tarras, a European-born klezmer musician with almost no equal.

Yiddish Melodies in Swing lasted nearly two decades, outliving swing, the golden age of radio, and almost Yiddish culture itself. Small wonder that the 26 surviving episodes of the show are as fresh today as they were on the Sunday afternoons when they aired.

Next Page: "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" »


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