The Lost World of African American Cantors 1915-1953

Virtual Special Event from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research 

Held June 15, 2021 

Histories of Black-Jewish cultural interaction often focus on how Jews adopted and adapted Black vernacular music—ragtime, jazz, swing, R&B, blues—as performers, promoters, managers, club owners, and record labels. The phenomenon of African American musicians who performed Yiddish and cantorial music in and for the Jewish community in theaters, on record, on radio, and in concert between the World Wars deserves such scholarly inquiry. This talk will honor the memory of now forgotten Black cantors – Mendele der Shvartser Khazn, Reb Dovid Kalistrita, Abraham Ben Benjamin Franklin, Thomas LaRue Jones, and Goldye di Shvartse Khaznte, the first known Black woman cantor. This talk by award winning producer, author, and ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik will feature dozens of historic graphics, translations of period Yiddish newspaper previews, ads, and reviews, and the playing of the one known 1923 Yiddish and Hebrew recording of Thomas Jones LaRue.

About the Speaker

Henry Sapoznik is an award winning record and radio producer, author, and ethnomusicologist in the fields of Yiddish and American popular and traditional culture. Sapoznik, a native Yiddish speaker and child of Holocaust survivors, helped jump-start the klezmer “revival” with “Kapelye” in 1979, was the founding director of the YIVO Sound Archives 1982-1995, and created “KlezKamp: The Yiddish Folk Arts Program” in 1985. Sapoznik, a five-time Grammy nominated producer, won the 2002 Peabody award for his 13-part NPR series “The Yiddish Radio Project” the collection of which was acquired by the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in 2011.  Sapoznik was also the final on-air host (1990-1995) of the long-running Yiddish radio show “The Forward Hour” on radio station WEVD. Sapoznik’s 2015 reissue of the earliest Yiddish sound recordings, “Attractive Hebrews: The Lambert Yiddish Cylinders 1901-1905,” won the coveted Certificate of Merit from The Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Sapoznik is currently working on a book about African American cantors of the 1920’s.

About the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

YIVO is the world’s premier institution for the study of Eastern European Jewry and of those Jewish communities such as that in the United States that primarily derive from the migration of Eastern European Jews. YIVO’s extensive collection is unique and irreplaceable.

– Daniel Soyer, Professor of History, Fordham University