Tracking Jewish History Through Vinyl Albums In a new book, authors Roger Bennett and Josh Kun detail American Jewish history through vinyl albums. They are trying to answer questions such as, "Who are we?" and "What are we inheriting?" in what Bennett calls the "beginning of a journey."
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Tracking Jewish History Through Vinyl Albums

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Tracking Jewish History Through Vinyl Albums

Tracking Jewish History Through Vinyl Albums

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. We've been having a lot of fun here paging through a book that landed on our desks, it's called "And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl." It's a book of album covers showing the world of the Jewish LP.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: And that's Jewish in very broad strokes. That includes everything from the prolific cantor Sol Zim to the Temptations' Fiddler on the Roof medley.

(Soundbite of Temptations' Fiddler on the Roof Medley): If I were a rich man da du di du da dig dig dig a dig diddle diddle dum.

BLOCK: And let's not forget Yiddish humor here's Leo Fuchs doing the Yiddish twist

(Soundbite of Leo Fuchs Yiddish Twist): We're gonna twist, twist, twist, twist, twist, twist tonight. The twist are here, the twist are here…

BLOCK: And much more. The book is drawn from the collection of Jewish vinyl gathered by kindred spirits Josh Kun and Roger Bennett. They found each other and clues to their own Jewish identities as they pawed through stacks of albums. They pooled their collections, word got around and soon as Roger Bennett explains their garages were overflowing with vinyl.

Mr. ROGER BENNETT (Author, "And You Shall Know Us By The Trail Of Our Vinyl"): Boxes and boxes started to head our way, they were gratefully received. Each one was a crackingly good album. But it was more than that, it was like a footprint through history. When we started we come obsessed than whereas normal men go to Vegas or go golfing or perhaps hunting, at the weekend, the two of us would head to the place where Jewish vinyl goes to die which is of course Boca Raton, and spend hours cruising around thrift stores there and returning back, laden down by vinyl.

BLOCK: The subtitle of your book, the Jewish past as told by the records we have loved and lost. Were you searching for something here or was this something you just stumbled upon, Roger?

Mr. BENNETT: I think for me it was a more stumbling upon by chance. My mother, I grew up in Liverpool which was an incredibly musical city and she gave me or I inherited her record player and with it came her records. And amongst the Mamas and the Papas' greatest hits and the Beatles albums, were two that - even back then I was eight or nine struck me as being fairly remarkable. One was an album by the great New Jersey singer Connie Francis sings Jewish favorites.

(Soundbite of Connie Francis, Jewish Favorites)

Mr. BENNETT: The bestselling Jewish album of all time recorded by a Italian Catholic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BENNETT: And the second was an album which is come to loom large in my life, because it connected me to Josh originally, which is Irving Fields' Bagels and Bongos, which is a Jewish guy who grew up in New York, trying to make music that would please the Latin community.

(Soundbite of Bagels and Bongos)

BLOCK: Josh, what was it in particular about this album Bagels and Bongos that drew you to Roger?

Mr. KUN: Well, as you can probably tell, Roger is an incredible mambo dancer, so that record was a direct…

BLOCK: I could tell that, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUN: …beeline to his heart and legs. For me it was a record that was the key to that opened up this whole world that I never knew existed, which was the Jewish Latin craze of the 1940s and 50s. And Bagels and Bongos was really just the tip of the iceberg. It's just beautiful, beautiful Latin versions of various Yiddish songs and Hebrew songs.

(Soundbite of Bagels and Bongos)

BLOCK: You show the cover of Bagels and Bongos, the cover of the LP in your book and I have to say there are bongos on the cover, there are no bagels.

Mr. KUN: Irving knew that like the Abbey Road album having an album cover that post a lot of questions and made you think, was not about marketing ploy.

BLOCK: Can we talk about the Barry sisters?

Mr. KUN: Absolutely.

BLOCK: The daughters of the downbeat.

Mr. KUN: That's right. What should we talk about?

BLOCK: Well, they are - this is Claire and Myrna but not born Claire and Myrna. They were Clara and Minnie Bagelman from the Bronx.

Mr. KUN: That's right.

BLOCK: And you were kind enough to part with one of your LPs and send it to me. This is at home with the Barry sisters and they're singing Yiddish songs, Hava Nagila the classic repertoire, but you also have uncovered their album, 'Our Way.'

Mr. KUN: Right, 1973, their last record. They're doing Yiddish versions of adult contemporary radio pop songs of the 70s.

BLOCK: OK, we've got to hear 'Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head'. Does either one of you want to attempt it in Yiddish?

Mr. KUN: Roger, go for it.

Mr. BENNETT: They are about to tell it to us so beautifully, I don't want to rain on their parade.

BLOCK: OK, here they come.

(Soundbite of Barry Sisters, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head')

BLOCK: OK, you should know that right now our producer, and editor, and engineer are pretty much on the floor laughing, but it's a great song.

Mr. KUN: And what's so interesting about them is that you mentioned that they were born Bagelman and became Barry and they ended up changing their name because of the Andrew sisters that the Andrew sisters had had a hit in English with the great Yiddish song Bei Mir Bistu Du Shein in English and the Barry sisters thought now these, you know, blond Lutherans from Minnesota can have a hit with the Yiddish song and certainly we got to be able to have a crack at this.

BLOCK: You know, we probably haven't paid proper due here to Jewish humor and humorous songs. I'm particularly partial to one that you send me by Ruth Wallis called "Bring the Boys to the House."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUN: This is a little blue for NPR.

BLOCK: Well, it says there right there on the cover, it says restricted from air play, risqué I'll say.

Mr. KUN: We really believe in the power only playing blue and Ruth Wallis is part of this crew of bawdy, trash-talking, hard-drinking, hard-smoking women comics in the 1960s, who have really for the most part dropped out of history, I mean Ruth Wallace has been remembered, but the women around her, like Belle Barth, and Pearl Williams, and Patsy Abbott, have been forgotten, a lot of their materials is no longer available in any other format than LPs. Are we going to be able to hear a little Ruth Wallis?

BLOCK: Oh, please let's.

(Soundbite of Ruth Wallis song): Mama she told taught us to be smart with the men. How to do what. And what to do then. They have us gugu and gaga and me I was next we had one thing in common we've were all over sex. How do you like my accent darling?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KUN: I think this is a secret attack on Zsa Zsa Gabor, that's my theory.

BLOCK: And this was what year?

Mr. KUN: I'm guessing this has got to be the late 60s.

BLOCK: You know, when you think about what's become of this music, you pose this question in your book, what if the world actually sounded like this? What if Yiddish hadn't become the language of refrigerator magnets and Jewish joke punchlines? Have you come with an answer to that, what if?

Mr. BENNETT: Honestly, we did the book as the beginning of a journey I feel that we're only just taking initial steps to frame the questions that we've been talking through even as we've pounded the streets, the tough streets of Boca Raton together which is really, who are we? What are we inheriting? What does it mean to us? And what are we going to do about it? So that this book really is the beginning of a journey, the journey is not over and we're framing questions. We've got thousands of albums left to collect before we can even think of answering them, Melissa.

BLOCK: Well, Roger Bennett and Josh Kun, it's been great talking with you. Thanks so much.

Mr. BENNETT: Thank you.

Mr. KUN: Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: At our website Roger and Josh talk about some of the performers they met as they research their book "And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of our Vinyl," at npr.or, you can also find album covers and more music from their vast collection.

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