Part Three: The Folksinger
We know about the Yiddish folksong because individuals allowed their creativity to be written down, recorded, or listened to by others who memorized and transmitted versions they heard or read, alone or in groups. Unlike other eastern European traditions, where tens of thousands of folksong recordings and transcriptions were collected and then housed in fireproof cabinets, what we know of the Yiddish heritage comes from a much smaller group of singers. So many people and so much documentation was destroyed, suppressed, or just forgotten in the twentieth century, along with the entire communities that nurtured the folksong.
But we still have enough to work with, especially today with more collections being digitized and placed online. The Yiddish singer is no different than any other, being located in a moment of time at the intersection of the traditional and the personal. The moment you first learn a song, the memories you associate with it, and your particular position in a locale, generation, class, gender and so on are major shaping influences in the song’s survival and the character of the particular performances we rely on.
We start with the lives and repertoires of influential singers who have helped to shape the storehouse of older Yiddish song available today. A handful of singers have cast an outsized shadow on the unfolding scene. Lifshe Schaechter-Widman and Bronya Sakina were two of the finest folk singers to be interviewed and recorded. We are grateful for and cherish their heritage. They were very different in their backgrounds, song repertoire, and aesthetic approach to performance.