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Re: Papirossen

Following up on Asya Vaisman's quotation from the Mloteks' _Pearls of
Yiddish Song_:
    In their _Forverts_ column of May 31, 1985, the Mloteks quote a
reader who recalled hearing _chastushki_ (Russian folk ditties) sung to
the melody of "Papirosn" in Minsk in 1915.  Herman Yablokoff writes in
his _Arum der velt mit dem yidishn teater_ that he wrote the song in
Kovno in 1922, but did not perform it until some ten years later in New
York, when his radio broadcasts helpd make the song an international
hit.  Although both the words and music of "Papirosn" are always
attributed to Yablokoff, he does not in fact say specifically in his
memoirs that he wrote the music, and there is some further evidence to
support the reader's memory of having heard the tune before its supposed
composition by Yablokoff in 1922.
    In his book _Bulgarski gradski pesni_ (Bulgarian Urban Songs, Sofia,
1968), the noted Bulgarian folklorist Professor Nikolai Kaufman includes
a song called "Az sum Gosho khubavetsa" (I am Gosho the Handsome One).
The melody of the Bulgarian song is nearly identical to that of
"Papirosn."  Although Professor Kaufman recorded the song from an
informant in 1965, he indicates that it goes back to about 1918.  In the
introduction to his book he cites the song as an example of songs sung
to Romanian urban melodies and popularized in Bulgaria by the circus
performer Dzhib, whose real name was Iakob Goldshtain.
    In a letter to me Professor Kaufman writes that his informants
mention 1922 or 1925 as the time when Dzhib popularized "Az sum Gosho
khubavetsa."  By 1932, when Yablokoff started singing "Papirosn" on the
radio in New York, the song had been displaced in Bulgaria by newer
songs.  (Professor Kaufman adds that the melody is still used as a
folkdance tune in northern Bulgaria, where it is considered to be a
Bulgarian folksong.).
    According to Professor Kaufman, Dzhib came to Bulgaria from Romania,
his birthplace, around 1919, and sang all his songs to Romanian, or
rather Romanian-Jewish melodies of the sort sung in Romania at the end
of the 19th century by Jewish _kupletistn_ (writers/performers of
topical satirical songs) in cabarets, restaurants, circuses, etc.

                Bob Rothstein

---------------------- jewish-music (at) shamash(dot)org ---------------------+

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