Excerpted with permission from Discovering Jewish Music (Jewish Publication Society).
Among the most exciting “new” developments in modern Jewish music has been the late 20th-century rediscovery of klezmer, folk music of the itinerant European Jewish musicians that traveled with them on their journey to the New World. Aswith Yiddish theater and other aspects of Ashkenazic culture dependent upon links to the “old country,” klezmer’s popularity faded with the cessation of massive immigration from Eastern Europe and the increasing socialization–and assimilation–of America’s Jews.
By the late 1960s, klezmer had become a distant memory, a relic of another era, stored on 78 RPM recordings in attics and basements of Jewish homes but replaced at weddings and other communal functions by the music of Israel and popular American repertoire. The children of the aging klezmorim [klezmer musicians] turned to American dance bands, classical music or, ironically, the folk repertory of America’s other ethnic communities. Young Jews flocked to Irish music, jazz, and American folk song.
Simple Question Leads to Klezmer Revival
But in 1973, while exploring the string band music of Appalachia, Henry Sapoznik was asked whether Jews had their own music. With this simple question, this son of a European-born cantor, a deliberate refugee from the Jewish music of his Lubavitch yeshivah [school] and the Catskill hotels where his family spent Passover vacations, now turned back to his own traditions. Beginning with a cache of old records at New York’s YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Sapoznik unearthed the vestiges of European klezmer music, already reinterpreted and transformed by American recording technology.