Milken archives interviews:
Fraydele Oysher: B3296 (not for publication or sharing w/o prior permission):
LEVIN: All right, we’re on. Fraydele…
LEVIN: We’re sitting here in a place that might have interested you in another way if the generations were reversed. Because you were known as, among many other things, among many other aspects of your career, as Fraydele Chazzante.
OYSHER: Yes. Oh, that’s, that wasn’t right.
OYSHER: No. Because chazzante is someone — to me, a chazzan…
LEVIN: A chazzan.
OYSHER: That’s what it is.
LEVIN: So then they say chazzanut.
OYSHER: Chazzanut. Dega hazikil, whatever. I don’t, didn’t believe in that. But it was good for business.
OYSHER: Not only the chazzanus, but the fact that they said Fraydele, the Chazzante. I said, what, what happened with Oysher? So they said this will also bring business. So they had Fraydele Oysher, the Chazzante. I wasn’t married to a chazzan, so I wasn’t a chazzante.
Like a rebbetzin. When is she a rebbetzin? When she’s married to a rabbi. Once the rabbi checks out, she’s not married to a, she’s not married, she’s not a rebbetzin anymore.
LEVIN: She’s oys rebbetzin?
LEVIN: She’s oys rebbetzin?
OYSHER: Oys rebbetzin, that’s it.
LEVIN: Fraydele, if, if in the old days…
OYSHER: How old?
OYSHER: You’re going back with me a little bit.
LEVIN: Back, back, back a ways. When you started to sing, or be interested to sing chazzanus…
LEVIN: …if you’d had a place like this, where a woman can be a cantor, would you have been interested?
OYSHER: Of course. I was the first one that I walked with my father, my Dad, in Philadelphia, and there was another rabbi near him. And we were walking and I said, “Poppa, there’ll be a day when there’ll be women cantors and women rabbis.”
Women have not done enough, and if women were cantors and rabbis and were able to rule the world a little bit, more than men, there wouldn’t be any wars. ‘Cause they wouldn’t send their husbands. And their brothers. And their sons. And it would be wonderful.
And it came to pass — there are women cantors, there are women rabbis.
LEVIN: Right in this very institution where we’re sitting.
OYSHER: Right in this institution. Where they never would have thought of letting.
LEVIN: But where did you learn your, you started as a child to learn chazzanus…
OYSHER: Yeah, well my Dad didn’t even know I could sing.
LEVIN: Who was your Dad?
OYSHER: My Dad was Zelig Oysher. Cantor Zelig Oysher. He even had a better voice than Moshe. Can you imagine that? Impossible.
LEVIN: Moshe’s your brother, of course.
OYSHER: Moshe Oysher, yeah. My brother, my friend, my everything.
LEVIN: And this was in, in Bessarabia?
OYSHER: No. I was very young when I came here with my Mom and, and with my brother. And I didn’t even know I could sing. I came to Philadelphia — we lived there, we lived in Philadelphia.
My father, he knew Moshe could sing, because when he left Moshe, Moshe was about seven years, so he already had the experience of singing with my father. But I didn’t. And when I came here and Moshe sang with Poppa, I sat on a — what do you call those houses where they have the, the steps, the iron steps? A what?
SEROTA: Fire escape.
OYSHER: Thank you, Barry. A fire escape. I sat on a fire escape — it’s ironic — and I had a little flower that Moshe gave me, a plant. And I was taking care of the plant, and I was listening to my father sing with Moshe. And I did that every time they were singing, listening. My father didn’t teach me that time, I didn’t know. And this is how I learned. The chazzanus, whatever I wanted.
And this was my major thing. To learn it. And he didn’t, he didn’t know I could sing.
SEROTA: When did you first start singing chazzanus? Publicly?
OYSHER: Publicly? I started as soon as Poppa found out that I could sing.
OYSHER: In Philadelphia. And I went to a place called Brishachim… all these…
LEVIN: Who was you, you sang…
LEVIN: …in the shul, in any choirs?
OYSHER: I was going to go into one choir that Michael Gelbart had. Michael Gelbart.
OYSHER: Yeah. And he was a delightful man.
LEVIN: The Yiddishiste.
OYSHER: And, oh! A Yiddishiste! A wunderbar mensch. He was my teacher, and he — I was glad that he liked me, so I went into his, into his choir. I finally was very glad that I went in. And he had a group of children, and they were singing and I was there. And I had the type of voice that was so identifiable. You had to, you have to blend in with an orches-, with an orchestra, you have to blend in with the choir.
So I was singing, and they were all singing the same thing. And suddenly, he stops everybody and he says, “A moment.” And he goes around to hear. Then he makes them start again, and he goes around all over, and he, he listens, and finally, he stops at my place and he says, “Kunte herr? Kunte?” You know, in Yiddish, you say, to a kid, “Adee orbit er? Annas me hatzlech.” Hey, you’re very lucky, because you’re grown-up. Kunta arois vindament. Kunte arois.
So I went out. And he says, “Irken nus zingen dere.” I said, “Oh, my.” I wanted to do it so bad. I wanted to be in the choir, I wanted to be recognized. He said, “Ir vatz zingen solos. Vale irt turt nisht in a…” it was too identifiable.
Like you would put a barber in a choir. He would, wouldn’t be good. Or Judy. They were very identifiable, you couldn’t, they overcame. You had to blend in.
So I went out and I started with him doing folk songs, ‘cause they didn’t do chazzanus then.
SEROTA: The choir was part of what kind of institution?
SEROTA: The choir was associated with a school?
LEVIN: The Gelbart.
OYSHER: The Gelbart?
OYSHER: Yes. The Workman’s Circle…
SEROTA: Workmen’s Circle. The Arbeter Ring.
OYSHER: Arbeter Ring, yeah. So they were there. And he, he taught me all the songs.
The major things Moshe taught me — all the folk songs. And the cantorial, I listened. And then I sang for my father. Oh, my God. “Oy, hava ha gold mine! A gold vi lieber!” To my mother. “A lieber hava gold mine.”
Got me a job during — through a friend of ours, Abe Hirsch, who was a printer in Philadelphia. And he printed the posters for the Arch Street Theatre. And he said, “De za gezayt gitta, zayala dingen.” He got me a job, $1.75, and my father says “Mir leyben doch vi goten verdas.” That was it.
But I didn’t stay in Philadelphia; it wasn’t for me. I got, I was on a couple of radio stations there.
LEVIN: And what, what kind of stuff did you sing there on the radio stations?
OYSHER: Folk songs.
LEVIN: Yiddish folk songs.
OYSHER: No, the chazzanus I only sang in, at concerts. I sang chazzanus, and when I, my father, the first time he heard me and they were all talking, everybody was talking at once. And it was impossible to get. It was an election something for an organization. I said, “Her bayside. Icht bin zingen fereykh.” This is me.
Everybody stopped. “Mach ma tanta. Oy, fer vanen en is me ge kimmenals a grik.
LEVIN: And how about with your father? Did you sing?
OYSHER: I sang, yeah, because my father davened. He had a choir. Of one. Me.
LEVIN: A choir of one.
OYSHER: That’s all.
LEVIN: In Philadelphia?
OYSHER: In Philadelphia.
LEVIN: What shul was he in?
OYSHER: He wasn’t in, once I was there, he wasn’t in a shul. They took a hall, and that’s where I was.
SEROTA: So you sang duets with him on yontif?
OYSHER: I did duets with him, yes. And made, and by the time Yom Kippur came around, <INAUDIBLE> ‘cause usually it happens with cantors, and he hog bal solos.
Sometimes Moshe came in. He was in New York that time. He used to come in and help Poppa.
SEROTA: So you had a trio.
OYSHER: And we had a trio, right. Right.
LEVIN: Moshe was by that time was already a chazzan on his own, no?
OYSHER: Moshe was not a chazzan on his own yet.
OYSHER: No, Moshe was in the theatre. You see, Moshe was, his heart was in the theatre, but his soul was in the synagogue. So he was in the theatre.
He got into singing in the, he started in the — well, truly, there was someone that helped him. And that was Sam. Sam Sternberg. Harold’s my Shama, yeah. “Shamai, macht Moshe vus dof sizich medren durin, medren teatre, asta Golden en Stermer. The kans daveners, de ge daven ze mayn a kint, kim Moshela. La mozeh. Tiona pay, mit a radke, yun a verber gay.” He was the one that started him off.
SEROTA: But before that time, he was playing theatre, right?
OYSHER: Moshe was playing in theatre, he raisin emmets with Florence Weiss. He married very young, he was about twenty. Married young.
LEVIN: Florence Weiss was, Florence Weiss was…
OYSHER: Florence Weiss was his first wife.
LEVIN: First wife. But he started in theatre at what age?
OYSHER: Very young. Very. As a matter of fact, he started even before Florence. He was with the Bernardis. We lived together in Brooklyn. You know, they call it now “Little Odessa.”
OYSHER: Out in Brighton Beach. And the Bernardis used to say, “Mir vendiff shick negets Moshe.” They sent him to Chicago, to play theatres. He was very young, he was about sixteen.
It’s terribly warm here.
SEROTA: That was Berel Bernardi, right? Berel?
OYSHER: Berel Bernardi and Helena Bernardi.
SEROTA: The parents of Herschel Bernardi.
LEVIN: Of Herschel Bernardi.
OYSHER: Of Herschel, yeah. The parents of Herschel Bernardi. Sweet people. Very sweet.
SEROTA: Wasn’t there a man named Shumsky that he appeared with?
OYSHER: Yeah, well, that, he was — yeah, Shumsky was a dear friend, and he adored Moshe. He was, was he a director or an actor? I don’t remember.
LEVIN: A director I think he was.
OYSHER: He was a director.
SEROTA: Wolf Shumsky?
OYSHER: Yeah, Wolf Shumsky. He was very… but he did, you know, he was on tour, wherever you want. All, all over. And…
SEROTA: I know with Florence he went to South America.
OYSHER: With Florence? Yeah, they went to South America, they did a lot of work, especially in, in New York. They were there. At the Hopkinson Theatre, he worked.
He worked with — he had, he had an idol. His idol was Boris Thomashefsky. Moshe. He adored him. So he, Thomashefsky let him do a show which Thomashefsky did. And that was The Yeshiva Bucha.
I think that’s, you must know, it must be based on Hamlet.
LEVIN: It is.
OYSHER: The thought, a little bit, right.
LEVIN: It is.
LEVIN: There is one, isn’t it?
SEROTA: I think so.
LEVIN: It even says so in the…
OYSHER: Does it say? I don’t know whether it says so, but I know, as I grew up, I knew.
LEVIN: I don't know if that’s the one. But I know… in fact, I just saw it yesterday when you looked through the…
OYSHER: Yeah, when I grew up, I realized that this, The Yeshiva Bukher is based a little bit on…
LEVIN: There is, there is.
OYSHER: Yeah. And he, he adored Thomashefsky, he loved him. And Thomashefsky says, “Debbes mein zingen azaz zin, bebish mein…” he adored Moshe.
SEROTA: Didn’t he appear in plays that he himself wrote under a pseudonym?
SEROTA: No, Moshe.
OYSHER: Oh, Moshe, yes.
SEROTA: Ben Zelig.
OYSHER: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right, he did. He did the same thing like Woody Allen did. He made things for himself, you know. He was very creative. He was very versatile.
SEROTA: He wrote plays, he was able to adapt plays.
OYSHER: He wrote plays, he wrote music.
OYSHER: He didn’t write the music; he wrote the lyric.
OYSHER: His last tune that he made, I remember. (Sings) Ver fa dir mein…. Beautiful.
Very — songs that he had, sold songs, Nishuma. Ya di Nishuma. A tremendous solo.
LEVIN: You left Philadelphia as a young…
OYSHER: You want to take me back?
OYSHER: But I’m already ahead.
LEVIN: I want to, how old…
OYSHER: I left Philadelphia. Moshe — I’ll tell you what Moshe did. Moshe took me to New York.
LEVIN: Brother and sister just?
OYSHER: Just, he said to, to my Poppa, to Momma and Poppa, he said, “Lemmech zi namen to New York far a bissel, a loz azayn dev vel bin bidin.” ‘Cause Philadelphia didn’t have any…
LEVIN: To see the world.
OYSHER: Yeah. So I came to New York, and he was at the Hopkinson Theatre with Florence Weiss. And a troupe. And I said, “Moshe, effe kanin zingen du? Machte yo.” And he put me up in the, in the box, on a box, and I stood in the box there, and I did something like the kids do today; they do the leitmotif of the show. And I sang there and that was it. I didn’t want to go home anymore.
And I’m very warm. Can I have part of this? I’ll just fan myself a little bit. No. Selfnisht. Self gunisht. Nature is bigger than that.
LEVIN: At least there’s a nice breeze.
So I did that. And then he said, “Nut davs ta haymgin. Icht stat gibben da mommen mitten poppen forget it.” I says, “I like it here. I'm going to stay up.”
LEVIN: You stayed.
OYSHER: He says, “But icht fut ga ha verk? I’m going away; I’m going on tour. What will you do?” Said, “I’ll manage.”
LEVIN: And how old were you then?
OYSHER: I was about fifteen. Sixteen, fifteen, sixteen.
LEVIN: And that was it; you never went back to Philadelphia.
OYSHER: Never went back to Philadelphia.
LEVIN: To live.
OYSHER: Never went back to Philadelphia.
LEVIN: And from that time on you…
OYSHER: I cont-, I went to the radio stations, I went into the Amphion Theatre.
LEVIN: Where was that?
OYSHER: I was a… Amphion Theatre was in Brooklyn, right over the bridge. And they had a non-union company there. And I said I don't care — union or non-union. If it gives me a buck. They offered me eighteen dollars. I went there, I did all week.
SEROTA: You sang…
OYSHER: Schoengold was there, I think.
LEVIN: All in Yiddish.
OYSHER: Then they came in. Oh, yes. All the singing in Yiddish then.
LEVIN: What kind of, let’s talk about that a second. What kind of things did you sing at that period? In the show?
OYSHER: Where? Here or in Philadelphia?
LEVIN: No, at the Amphion Theatre.
OYSHER: I sang songs. But the major thing I sang was chazzanus.
LEVIN: That’s what I mean, yeah.
OYSHER: The major thing I sang was chazzanus. And that’s what made it. There was no television, there wasn’t, barely radio, you know. It was from word to mouth. “Hey dokken za maidelah zoyns vea zellis here.” They were sold out.
SEROTA: They had one show every day?
OYSHER: They had theatre. They played every day.
SEROTA: Yeah? It was like vaudeville, basically?
OYSHER: No vaudeville. There was a…
SEROTA: A play?
OYSHER: There was a troupe. Yeah, a legitimate troupe.
SEROTA: So you were an actress?
OYSHER: I was not an actress yet. I just went up, I did this ‘cause it was such a terrific thing for them. This was…
SEROTA: So you had like a fifteen-minute segment or twenty-minute segment?
OYSHER: No, they put the… the first act. They put down the curtain, I walked up, I went in, I, and I sang whatever I did. I can’t quite recall what I sang that time.
SEROTA: Did you sing the same songs every night?
OYSHER: A show. You have to do the score. Of course.
SEROTA: So in other words, who, who wrote the score? Who was, who was…
OYSHER: The score that was written for them, I don’t know. Because I was like different. They put down — the major thing they wanted this very special youngster to go up and sing, because they saw there was money in the bank. I went up and I, in fact, I can’t recall what I sang, but it was a chazzanus.
SEROTA: They had an orchestra?
SEROTA: Did you sing the songs with the orchestra?
OYSHER: Small orchestra. No, I did with the piano. I didn’t have money to make an orchestration or anything. All I did, I said, “Put the curtain down. Let me go up.” And I sang, (Sings) Kaday, kaday, letar aynu. That was it.
LEVIN: So where, where did you learn these songs? Did somebody teach them to you, or you just heard them in the…
OYSHER: No, I, I learned a lot of them from my father. And I worked on it.
LEVIN: How about Moshe? Did he coach with you?
OYSHER: And Moshe, Moshe knew. Moshe saw, later on, he saw, he used to stand and watch me, and he was in awe. I did everything Moshe did. I remember one time — and I’m going way ahead now, guys — I had gone into the Second Avenue Theatre.
No — let me get back to Philadelphia. I went to the Arch Street Theatre, and I was looking for a job. And I saw the women, the chorus, the girls, and all that I, it wasn’t me. But I walked over to Hymie Jacobson, and I said to him, “I can sing. You want to hear me sing?” He says, “All right. I’ll give you some time.” And I started to sing (Sings) A mames di best of Rumshinsky’s. (Sings) A mames di best de froyn….
So he heard me, he says, “Oy, momma! But we, we have no spot for you here.” Because there was a prima donna, there was a — there was a whole troupe there, a group that he had. I says, “Can you just put me in somewhere so I can sing a song?” He says, “No. But,” he says, “I am going to meet you somewhere, and you’ll be a terrific star. You have a glorious voice.”
He was very good to me. Very kind, very nice. Some weren’t, you know. They didn’t have any patience.
And he met me, a year later. I was at the Second Avenue Theatre, Rumshinsky was in the pit, Moshe was backstage.
SEROTA: And you were in the union already?
OYSHER: No, I didn’t go to any union; I didn’t need to.
SEROTA: You weren’t in the union and you sang in the Second Avenue Theatre?
OYSHER: I didn’t need them. I didn’t need the unions, I didn’t need anything. I could do what I want. Hey, when they asked, “Why do you give her so much money?” He says, “She brings the people.”
You got me off the track. Where was I?
SEROTA: Second Avenue Theatre with Rumshinsky. Moshe was backstage.
OYSHER: Yeah, that’s right. I decided I was going to do something that Peerce wanted to do, Moshe wanted to do. They all wanted to do that much later. I wanted to do it, too. So I said I was going to do it. So the only one that knew about it was Rumshinsky. “Bos venz zayte?” I said, “I don’t care what they do. I don’t care at all.”
LEVIN: He was famous for that lisp.
OYSHER: Yeah, he had a lisp, you know, yeah. So I, so I walked out, I made rehearsal with him, quiet still. I wanted to do (Sings) Gitter morgen, vera boyna shaloyla mich….
And I did the whole thing. And Peerce and Moshe and all of them are standing there. Moshe couldn’t say anything; I’m his sister. What is he going to say? Hey? So that was it, got out nice.
And that’s what I always gravitated. Something that would show my voice, something that I, something that he would do. Something that you would do. There was no gender on music. There’s nothing.
What are you looking at me for?
SEROTA: I heard a story…
OYSHER: Fascinating, aren’t I?
LEVIN: Yes. Because you’re looking at the music, at the piece, not at what somebody would expect you to do.
OYSHER: No, there’s no gender to music, there’s no gender to a song.
LEVIN: No, that’s true. There’s no…
LEVIN: I have the same… by the way, the same thing, questions, even in classical music, you know. It’s an issue. Certain songs should be sung by a woman only, or…
OYSHER: No. You gotta do what you want to — hi.
SEROTA: It depends if you can sing the song and put it over. That’s the question.
OYSHER: You better believe it. That’s where, I can do it. I did it.
SEROTA: I heard a story that you once sang chazzanus with the Bostoner Rebbe.
OYSHER: Yeah, but you want to hear something? Harold’s going to tell you about that. Because then you’ll say I’m not very humble to talk about it.
LEVIN: You tell it, you tell us.
OYSHER: No, I don’t want to. Let it. Come on, let it go. I didn’t want to go.
LEVIN: I’ll ask him, too. I’ll ask him, too. But a woman, that he even heard a woman sing, the Bostoner…
OYSHER: Never heard, no. The what…
SEROTA: The Bostoner Rebbe. You sang chazzanus with the Bostoner Rebbe?
OYSHER: They heard that this Fraydele, that — so he wanted to hear me, but he didn’t want to see me. There wasn’t much to see to begin with, I don’t know what the heck he didn’t want to see.
So I was in one room — Harold would remember it better than I do — and he was in another room, just to listen to me. Don’t forget, in those days there were no, there weren’t any mikes and all these things. Oh, please, make the mike, I don’t, can’t. I could cross wherever there, I had to cross, you know. I didn’t walk on water, but I could cross.
So he heard me. Harold will tell you the rest of the story.
SEROTA: What did you sing for the Bostoner Rebbe?
OYSHER: I don’t remember. Harold will tell you.
OYSHER: Yes. I sang a chazzanus, of course.
SEROTA: What’d he say?
OYSHER: The first thing he said, he says, “She’s a yinget se a maydel? — Is it a boy or a girl?” They said “She’s a maydel.” “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!”
SEROTA: How old were you?
OYSHER: I think he took a peek. I was already a young woman. I was married already. I don’t think I had a baby, but I was married already.
I sang anywhere. Any, any, any time. Whether it was in the theatre, whether it was theatre or it was — I liked to do, my major love was to do concerts, recitals. ‘Cause I didn’t have any responsibility…
LEVIN: More than plays. Or shows.
OYSHER: Well, plays I loved because I was somebody else. I used to come up in a pair of pants and a hitteleh and something, you know, and make believe I’m, I’m somebody else. You know, theatre is marvelous.
LEVIN: You did both; you did theatre.
OYSHER: I did theatre.
LEVIN: A lot of theatre?
OYSHER: I did a lot of theatre.
LEVIN: And you did films?
OYSHER: The moment they heard me and saw me, whether it was William Siegel or Freiman, all these people. Midash shiv a dam me pirs se fareir. Und a dame ze macht me dag gayt — they saw, there was, there was money there, you know? Something new, something fresh, something solid.
SEROTA: Who was Ostroff?
OYSHER: My darling. He was, he’s responsible for many things that I did. Ostroff — thank you for reminding…
SEROTA: Oscar was his first name.
OYSHER: Oscar, Oscar Ostroff. As a matter of fact, I have some material there. And I think I have him there.
LEVIN: Yeah, we’ll take a look later.
OYSHER: Yeah. Oscar was the one that heard about me, and he called the union, and they said, “Vay. Zibil nisht gayn, zibil nisht sten,” you know, because, ze vil nisht zaden the union — they wanted me to be in the union, pay dues and have the whole thing and be, and be controlled by them. No way. No how.
SEROTA: You’re a member of the union now, aren’t you?
OYSHER: Not really.
SEROTA: Aren’t you?
OYSHER: No. What for?
SEROTA: I don’t know.
OYSHER: There’s no union now altogether.
SEROTA: I know the guy who’s the president.
OYSHER: There’s only one thing there. Seymour Rechtzeit.
OYSHER: Yes. Thank God for that. If not for Seymour, you’d have nothing. ‘Cause we have a big house there, and we come in, it looks like one of those spooky places now, you know? Spooky.
LEVIN: Yeah. We were there. A number of times.
OYSHER: You were there?
LEVIN: A lot.
OYSHER: They should turn that into a museum.
LEVIN: That’s what we talked about.
OYSHER: You’re kidding!
OYSHER: Yeah. Hi, guys.
LEVIN: But that’s a whole other story.
OYSHER: Is he the director? Are you — no, you’re the cameraman. Who’s the director? So why don’t you raise your hand on me? Okay. Great.
SEROTA: You were telling us about Ostroff.
LEVIN: We’re back to Ostroff.
OYSHER: Very brilliant man. Very talented man. Very simple, but very talented.
INTERVIEWER 3: Seltzer?
OYSHER: Could I have a little bit? I’m dry?
LEVIN: Unless there’s some juice there or something.
OYSHER: I’m dry. Thank you very much. He was great. He made lyrics, he made music, he directed, he produced — he did everything. And when he heard there was a Fraydel Oysher, he says, “I’ll take it.”
When I came there the first time…
SEROTA: Where? Where was this?
OYSHER: In Chicago.
LEVIN: Oh! You toured Chicago, too?
OYSHER: Yeah. There was a guy…
SEROTA: What theatre?
LEVIN: What theatre in Chicago?
OYSHER: Douglas Park Theatre. And then I was at the Civic Theatre.
Hey! I had a brilliant thing happen to me. When I came back again a number of years later, the play was bad that they gave me, ‘cause I knew what I could do. I knew my limitations. I knew. And they gave a play to me — I didn’t have any more plays. So I went into the little Civic Theatre.
LEVIN: Near the Opera House?
OYSHER: Near the Opera House, right. And I followed someone magnificent — Laurette Taylor. She did The Glass Menagerie.
Nobody says a word — help me with a word, dummies!
SEROTA: I know Glass Menagerie.
OYSHER: Glass Menagerie, she did, and it was fantastic. She did The Glass Menagerie, and I was thrilled. I went in to see it. I says, “How can I go on there after this woman? She’s brilliant.” God, you know, all of a sudden, I became so humble, it was nauseating. I said, “How could I go on after her?”
LEVIN: Yeah. Airplane.
OYSHER: One of the most brilliant actresses. I can’t follow. All right…
LEVIN: The airplane. Take a drink. Now that, that’s something we didn’t think of. That could start, around, a little later on, that could start to get loud, as they approach La Guardia.
LEVIN: Airplanes. You heard of airplanes?
OYSHER: Yes, of course. I used to battle them. If I did an outside show, I used to battle them. The flies, too.
SEROTA: I was once at a Yiddish theatre performance…
LEVIN: Wait. Just wait.
OYSHER: I don’t want to lose my train of thought. What, what was I talking about?
LEVIN: Laurette Taylor.
OYSHER: Where? This is a very good piece, because our people in the American theatre…
LEVIN: So we’re talking, so this was in the Civic Theatre, and The Glass Menagerie…
OYSHER: The little, the little Civic Theatre had the back door, backstage entrance…
LEVIN: Stage door.
OYSHER: Yeah. Was one. And next door to me was Mary Martin in One Touch of Venus, with John Bowles. Oh, boy. And I was in the little Civic Theatre. Magnificent. And a doll house.
But I said, “God, how can I follow her? She’s brilliant. And what? I can’t…”. And they said, “Ah, Fraydele, you don’t do that. You do something else.” You know, they tried to….
And it was called The Little Queen. Bad show for me, very bad. ‘Cause it wasn’t made for me.
SEROTA: Who else was in the show?
OYSHER: Gertler. Sam Gertler. Rosie Wallerstein. A couple more, I can’t recall.
LEVIN: What year was this? Must be…
OYSHER: That’s a bad question.
LEVIN: About. What are we talking about?
OYSHER: I’d say about ’46…
LEVIN: In the ‘40s.
OYSHER: ’47. Yeah, it was all in the ‘40s, right.
LEVIN: Yeah. Because in those days, because you said you were in Douglas Park Theatre.
OYSHER: I was at Douglas Park, then I went into the, into the Civic, the little Civic Theatre. And I did it… but that was an exquisite theatre. And Mary Martin was next door. It was in 1945, to be exact. ‘Cause that was the year that FDR died.
OYSHER: It was the year my father was sick, and I wanted to go back home. I never walked out on a show in my life. That’s one time I wanted to go home. My Dad was very sick, and I wanted to be there.
And Mary Martin came in, and I’m sorry to say she was drunk as a lord, ‘cause you know… and she came in she says, (imitating drunken speech) “I hear you want to go home. You can’t do it, you can’t go back. You got a show to do. You might go, and he might not be, he might be gone already, and what’ll you do?” I said, “But I gotta be there.” She says, “No, you don’t. You have to do your show.”
As a rule, they don’t tell you in the theatre if anything is wrong, even at the Metropolitan Opera, what have you. They never tell anybody, “Hey. Your father is dying, your mother is this, or this happened.” Not until you’re through with the show.
But somebody knew about it, and foolishly, I — talked about, and I heard, I wasn’t…. She says, “No. You stay here. And you gotta do your show.” And then she waddled into, to her show. I’ll never forget that. And I remained there.
Eventually, I finally left because I had taken Marilyn there. She was two years old. She was very tiny, and I had to go back home.
LEVIN: And in the Douglas Park Theatre you also, that was all Yiddish show?
OYSHER: Yes. They were all Yiddish shows there.
LEVIN: That was the big, the Brooklyn…
OYSHER: In Chicago. Yeah. I was at Douglas Park Theatre, I was in Civic Theatre. I had gone to several synagogues, which I can’t remember.
LEVIN: Rusishe Shul and Romanian Shul.
LEVIN: The Romanishe Shul.
OYSHER: There, in, yeah.
LEVIN: But you didn’t sing there.
OYSHER: I went — yes, of course.
LEVIN: In the shul.
OYSHER: Of course I went there, I sang. And wanted — Heiman, you heard of Heiman.
LEVIN: Yeah. He was a manager there.
OYSHER: He was a manger there. He’s the first one, when he heard me and he saw me, he called Moshe. “Oy, Moshe, za tung gitsin inde shtut — she burned up the city.” And I went to, they asked me to go to a synagogue — it escapes me — and it was Chanukah. And I’m standing, and I didn’t even remember whether you light the candle from this side or from that side. I didn’t remember, so I said to the rabbi, “Rabbi, hach gibbe hun kovit? Ist certelicht luns in a?” ‘Cause I didn’t know whether it’s this side or that side, I didn’t want to make a mistake. Thank you very much. And I sang a few songs, and that was it.
LEVIN: Now, how did you get away with singing in a shul in those days?
OYSHER: I did.
LEVIN: In the choir, you mean, or…
OYSHER: No! I walked up and did my, my, act, as they say.
LEVIN: But not during the service? Not during the davening?
OYSHER: I didn’t do a service. I didn’t do… I did my…
LEVIN: But in the evenings… not during the davening, you didn’t sing?
OYSHER: During the davnning?
OYSHER: No. They davened, they did, they left everything, they left the bimah, I walked up and I did.
I did a concert many, many moons ago, Neil, in the — what does, a synagogue? I forgot.
SEROTA: Here in New York?
OYSHER: Talmud Torah.
LEVIN: Flatbush. Talmud Torah Flatbush.
OYSHER: Yeah, in, yeah. In Flatbush, I did there. I went in there, I remember, and I walked up — I was pregnant. I was in, about in the eighth month. With Marilyn. And I had a baby, my baby. And I walked up to the, this concert, and I was standing right near the Ark, and the rabbi came over and he says to me, “Miss Oysher, you can’t stay here. You’re lucky they let you in.” I said, “Sir, Rabbi, I’ve got a concert to do. Please.” And there was a little mike. You know, in those days, the old mikes. And I says, and it was open. And I didn’t know it was open, I was talking. And I said, “Oh, my God.” And I said, “No, no. I have to, I have to sing. What are you talking about? I have to…”.
Didn’t even have a piano. The piano was in the upstairs. In the back…
<END OF TAPE 1>
OYSHER: …have to go. I said, “No, you have to go, Rabbi. I have a concert.” And I said — that’s not for my flower — and I said to him, “Look. You go.” And he looks at me, he says, “How can you sing?” I says, “This is my business, not yours, Rabbi. Go to the rebbetzin. Don’t stand near me.” So he looked at me, he says, “No, no. I, I insist that you go away. I, I insist.” I said, “Don’t insist. Because I can perform a miracle here. I can perform a miracle.” He says, “What miracle?” I says, “I can sing and then have my baby right here. Do you want me to do it?” He says, “No. No. Go ahead. Do what you want.”
That was it. He walked off, I did the concert. A woman says, “Al zamit mazel a yingele.” So I had a maydele; I had my daughter Marilyn. Didn’t do too bad.
SEROTA: When did you go to South America?
OYSHER: In 1936. Ah, I remember.
LEVIN: For Yiddish you went? For Yiddish shows and plays?
OYSHER: Of course, of course.
SEROTA: What did you play in, in South America?
OYSHER: As a matter of fact — I played my shows!
SEROTA: Yeah. What shows?
OYSHER: I took Harold with me. I played Fraydele’s Chazzanah. I played, when I didn’t have any more, I had to play The Bar Mitzvah, I had to play…
LEVIN: Well, what shows were these? When you say “your shows?”
OYSHER: My shows were A Chazzan, A Chazzan Kimtin Shtut.
LEVIN: So who wrote the show, when you say it’s your show?
OYSHER: It was made for me.
LEVIN: Oh, that’s what I’m getting at. That was a show created for you…
OYSHER: That’s right. It was made, it was made…
LEVIN: …so for example…
OYSHER: …like you, like you make a suit for somebody. Something that I could go on, something that I could wear. A pair of pants, a little hat…
LEVIN: So it was a whole evening?
OYSHER: A hussedel. Of course, it was a legitimate show.
LEVIN: But who else… and you were the star of it.
OYSHER: Of course. Why not? Naturally.
LEVIN: Naturally. Yeah, and who else? But you had supporting people on the stage?
OYSHER: I had a whole cast, my dear. Of course.
LEVIN: It was built around you.
LEVIN: With orchestra?
OYSHER: Of course. Of course. Did you ever go to the theatre? Did you ever see a show?
SEROTA: Who wrote the music for this show?
OYSHER: That’s a good question. You’re alive! I didn’t know.
SEROTA: Yeah? Okay. Who wrote the music?
OYSHER: Sholem Secunda.
OYSHER: Rumshinsky. I’m trying to remember who made my lyric. I had a lyric writer, which was very good for me.
SEROTA: Who wrote the book?
OYSHER: Who wrote the book? Freiman.
SEROTA: Louis Freiman.
OYSHER: Willie Siegel, there was Freiman and Willie Siegel. They made me just what I was good at. Halamer Chazzantel. I had a show called Halamer Chazzantel, where everybody’s foolish, and I was in… I felt great there.
LEVIN: And this was all, and this made for this tour, or then you did them here in America as well?
OYSHER: No, here. I did it here, then I went to South America.
LEVIN: Do you have the… for example, now. If somebody said to you now, “You know, we’re going to produce this, we’re going to do a reconstruction of this show.” Where would you find the music and the lyrics and the whole thing?
OYSHER: I don’t have it. You know why?
LEVIN: Isn’t that a shame?
OYSHER: A gentleman came… no. A gentleman came over to me and he says, “I’m a collector of music.” So I thought maybe he wanted Harold’s music, you know. From the opera, this whole thing. He said, “No, no. I want this little bundle.”
SEROTA: A private individual?
SEROTA: It didn’t go to an institution?
OYSHER: Did it go to an institution? No, it did not. I’m sorry.
LEVIN: So what did you do? You gave it to him.
OYSHER: No, so he says to me, “I want this.” I said, “Can you read it?” You know, the music, the lyric. So he says, “No, but my brother can.” I says, “Okay.” And I gave him A Chazzante Lov Shabbes, Becaym der Chazzante, Fraydele’s Wedding.
LEVIN: You gave him the whole shows?
OYSHER: I gave him the shows. I didn’t give it to him. I sold it to him. Vudden shigge binich? Ma mame biden…
LEVIN: Do you remember who it was?
SEROTA: ‘Cause I would imagine if Secunda wrote a show for her, Secunda would have kept a copy.
LEVIN: Nobody knows where Secunda’s music is, forget it. And you’re wrong, by the way. They don’t keep them. That’s the trouble.
OYSHER: Can we stop now? ‘Cause I’m very warm, and very tired.
LEVIN: Just take five minutes? Take five.
OYSHER: Let’s take five.
OYSHER: Oh, you’re asking the guy that… all right. What? Did you, did you, did you get this? Where is he?
LEVIN: All right. What were we talking about?
SEROTA: We were going down to South America.
LEVIN: Oh, yeah. South America.
LEVIN: So, all right. So were talking about the shows, that they wrote for you, that Secunda wrote.
OYSHER: Sholem Secunda.
LEVIN: The special shows for you.
OYSHER: He did the music.
LEVIN: About how many were there? About?
OYSHER: How many shows?
LEVIN: That were written specially for you.
OYSHER: About eight shows, about eight were written especially for me.
LEVIN: And do you remember how long ago you gave them to this collector?
OYSHER: How many, how long ago I gave the… oh, it must have been about five, six years ago.
LEVIN: That’s all?
OYSHER: That’s all. I’ll try to look it up.
LEVIN: Try to look it up, yeah.
OYSHER: Yeah, all right.
LEVIN: Look on your income tax returns.
OYSHER: You dummy.
SEROTA: When you went to South America, you took Harold with, no?
OYSHER: I took Harold with me. I had been married, oh. I didn’t have a chance to be with him. I was just married one year, so…
LEVIN: So, now, where’d you go? Buenos Aires? Where else?
OYSHER: I went to Buenos Aires, yes. And I was at Mitra Theatre…
OYSHER: …at the Mitra Theatre. As a matter of fact, Max Friedlander was my representative, my manager, whatever.
LEVIN: That was a big Yiddish-speaking… it still is.
OYSHER: Oh, and Samuel Goldenburg was in one theatre. And two other people I can’t quite recall. And I was in Mitra Theatre.
SEROTA: What did Harold do?
OYSHER: Harold sang. And he was in the show. He was…
SEROTA: He was in the…
OYSHER: …he was the leading man.
LEVIN: Oh, so you played together?
OYSHER: Of course. Very little, very…
SEROTA: I didn’t know Harold was an actor.
OYSHER: He wasn’t. That’s not the… he was a singer.
LEVIN: Yeah? Except… but I didn’t know that you were a team at all, in any plays.
OYSHER: No, we weren’t a team.
LEVIN: But that you were in the same show?
OYSHER: The moment we came back, forget it, Charlie. Are you kidding? We were a team.
SEROTA: Did Harold ever appear with Maurice Schwartz?
OYSHER: Yes. He was with Schwartz. He’ll tell you — why don’t you ask him?
SEROTA: I want your opinion about his participation.
OYSHER: No, he, he loved the theatre. He didn’t know anything else. He could have been a cantor, a great cantor.
OYSHER: He had a glorious voice. And he looked well. And he sounded well. He also wanted the theatre. But he loved the, theatre is a…
LEVIN: Where else did you go besides Argentina?
OYSHER: South of… I went to… we were in Cuba.
LEVIN: Oh, you went to Havana? What was the Yiddish-speaking community there…
OYSHER: No. There’s a community there; oy, a pitiful community. Poor. ‘Cause it, before Castro, Cuba was either very rich or very poor. And what were Jewish people? Poor.
And the first time I went to Cuba was with Harold, because the company went to Cuba to do a performance or two. And I decided to find out where the yiden zunen. Und a chub gib viz yorem ze zunen. So we found out and we, I, I said to one man, I said to him, “Ur up a platz, ve ast metins ve a den troy fig a zamelt tetza. Yo mi roma. Mi nomen is Fraydele Oysher. Yit viggen ma concet fra. Macht di mirrom inish kin gelt. Mirromen nish vey machat mem pa platz. Last aroys a kim a feesh par ned naynu ve groyses de gansa.” Und su her clach vim a concert.
LEVIN: A concert, not a show.
OYSHER: Yeah, a concert. Yeah. And singing lieder, chazzanus, and so forth and so on. So he macht el pacan emes sed dubich ya. And that’s what he did.
And Harold was busy with them at the time when he was finished with the opera there, with the concert, then he came with me.
Is this on? Is this…
LEVIN: We can stop a second.
OYSHER: No, no, that’s all right. So I…
LEVIN: Tell us what you want. It’s okay.
OYSHER: You’re putting me on. And I know it.
So I went on, I went, I did a concert for them. And were they grateful! Were they wonderful!
One little sad thing I, I experienced. When I went to a restaurant, I tried to take as many people as I could with me in the restaurant to eat. Far gazayn ze zonen farshmacht. And one woman ordered a sandwich, a humongous sandwich. It seemed like nothing to you. She ordered, and the husband was very, he was writing out everything for the, for the newspaper, that one little newspaper that came out. And he said to her, “Vusses zi ga nana?” In Spanish. And I understood a little Spanish. So, and when I saw her, he wanted her to leave the sandwich. And I looked, I said, “Los, los, los sen. Mid val vatten.” And all the, you know, the people were standing there, “Miss Oysher, come on. You have to go now. Ve metaten gayn zi ichel vaten mi zit tu person.” When she smiled, a bugen zan zocht nisht kinsay der faratsen ni ki cantasen. Farshtayst zu mayn, Neil? Zuch nisht got kin sayn so zus cantassar shnell.
Und sayem ge bol gayn at the time was important, so I said to the waiter, “Geben un ol hazzazzer. No hamazin.”
LEVIN: Give him another one.
OYSHER: Yeah. Gibben un ol hazoynt. Vichit a zayn. Und a bisseleh shmidt naben.” Zoltala shmidt naben und der haymetz zu sassen bit fur otside.
That touched me deeply. I couldn’t forget that. It was very… and they said, “Well, vust, stop, zu ru zarechtim. Kimt um mir gayn, Fraydele.”
LEVIN: How long did you stay in Cuba? How many shows did you do?
OYSHER: Oh, just a few. I did this one show. That’s all.
LEVIN: That was it.
OYSHER: Just, because Harold went there with the opera. It was like a, a vacation for me, but I didn’t want a vacation; I wanted to do something there.
LEVIN: Yeah. So you offered to do a show.
SEROTA: Did you go to Mexico?
OYSHER: No. I never went to Mexico. I had offers in Mexico.
South Africa I didn’t want to go because they said, “You, I know you, Fraydel Oysher. You’re going to sing for the Blacks; you’re not going to sing for the Blacks.” I says, “If I can’t sing for the Blacks, I’m not going.” Except, especially there are Black Jews. “I’m not going to go.” And I didn’t go.
As a matter of fact, I have the contract, that I’ll show it to you, where Ostroff says you can go, you’ll make this. I didn’t want to go. I can’t do that.
LEVIN: And what about Brazil?
OYSHER: I didn’t stop off in Brazil, because I had to come back to New York at a certain time, you know. So I didn’t go to Brazil. I remember that. But I didn’t go to Mexico.
But I did everything in the United States. And Hava-, Cuba. And I, I, I liked doing what I could do best and what I loved. You understand? And I did it, I enjoyed it.
LEVIN: I want to go…
OYSHER: You know, I always said to him — excuse me. I’ll always interrupt you. That’s women’s work. I always used to say, I go and I’m doing something that I love. And I’m getting paid for it. Hey! Super, isn’t it?
LEVIN: What about…
LEVIN: What about films? You were in…
OYSHER: I was supposed to do a film. I have that little piece of material. I told you I was going to show it to you. And you will see it. And on it, it says how, how much each person is going to get. I don’t know when, it was 1930 sometime. It was before I had, my children were born. And I was supposed to do, Moshe Kitz Deem en Chazzan Zingel, and I was supposed to do En Chazzan Stechtetl. And Moshe was writing it; he wanted me to do it.
So what happened is that something happened there and the money — I even had $3,000 that a friend of ours put in, in escrow — is that the word?
LEVIN: In escrow, yeah.
OYSHER: Yeah. So that if they had the rest of the money…. It just didn’t come off for some reason, I don’t know, it was the time of…
SEROTA: So in those years, let’s say in the ‘30s, you were…
OYSHER: That was in the ‘30s.
SEROTA: …very busy singing on radio, weren’t you?
OYSHER: I was on radio. That was the, I had the three, three shows a day. One on LTH.
SEROTA: Where was LTH?
OYSHER: It was on Second Avenue.
OYSHER: I forgot the guy’s name who, who owned it. WLTH. WEVD. And WMCA.
And Moshe did for Goodman’s Matzohs, and I did for Horowitz-Margareten. Pesach, we had matzoh from wall-to-wall. They used to send matzoh.
So I did three, three, as a matter of fact, I had a concert for a rabbi by the name of Rabbi Kronenberg. Hazel zavayt tubeshet zer veit. And Pinky, Jan Peerce, had a program — he goes on before me, and on fifteen minutes, and I do fifteen minutes. He was getting $7.50 a show, and I was getting $5.00.
SEROTA: What name did he use?
OYSHER: He was using, he was using another name.
SEROTA: Yasha Pearl?
OYSHER: Yasha Pearl, right. Hey! He was using Yasha Pearl.
And then we found out that he died, the rabbi. And he owed him $7.50 and me $5.00. So Pinky said, “What are we going to do now?” I says, “Nothing. We’ll go look for another job.” And I got another job.
I got a job with the World Clothing Exchange, and there…
OYSHER: Mogolefsky, Samuel Mogolefsky. Amma muretz. You know, but a nice guy, you know. And vay, “Come into my car, Fraydele.” I says, “You put your foot on my shoulder. Don’t do that again.” He says, “A hand.” Matter of opinion. “Don’t ever do that again. Don’t ever touch me.” “What’s a matter? You’re gold?” “More than that. Stop fooling around.”
Yes, my dear?
SEROTA: Who else was on his programs?
OYSHER: Moshe. I got Moshe on that program. Because he didn’t, I got Moshe. The truth is that I became very famous before Moshe. Because I was a woman and I was doing someone, something that nobody did. And I did it so great. So humble.
LEVIN: So what films? You never made the film?
OYSHER: No. We never made that film. No.
LEVIN: And you weren’t, you never worked in any of the films.
OYSHER: No, I was always too busy. Whenever they made a film… Hymie Jacobson made some films. Whenever he made a film, I was pregnant. I was pregnant with Marilyn…
LEVIN: There were only two films?
OYSHER: They made two films.
LEVIN: You were only pregnant twice.
OYSHER: Yeah, but, I was pregnant other times that I didn’t, it didn’t happen, whatever. You know.
SEROTA: What kind of guy was Hymie Jacobson?
OYSHER: A doll.
OYSHER: He was a doll, he was a great guy. He was brilliant, he was talented. He was a regular armichel guy. That was nice.
SEROTA: And you were known just as “Fraydele.”
OYSHER: At that. At the beginning. But then, for recitals, it didn’t look just as Fraydele. So there’s Fraydele Oysher.
Because in theatre, I used to masquerade as a boy, as a girl, as whatever. But on, in the recitals, that was nice. I had a excellent pianist.
OYSHER: A man by the name of Harold Green, who is now brilliant. He’s a great musician. And that was very good; I didn’t have to handle any, any problems in the theatre and troupes, and you know, and that. So for myself, and I, that, I liked that best.
SEROTA: Didn’t you once have some sort of exchange with Chazzan Hirschmann?
SEROTA: What was that story?
OYSHER: You see, it’s good to have a guy like that. ‘Cause oy, I’m old. What can I do? I can’t remember everything; nobody does.
I came into one of those events that they have when they want to make money for children and all that and so forth…
OYSHER: Benefits, a benefit, yes. So he said to me, “You will not sing Layone Mea Juden tonight.” I says, “To me, nobody does like that, Mr. Hirschmann. Nobody.” He says, “My name is Cantor Hirschmann.” I says, “Eh.” He says, “Because I am doing it tonight.” “I didn’t come over to you and say, ‘I am doing it tonight.’ So you shouldn’t say that to me; it’s not nice.”
He didn’t care, because he… I’m sorry, everybody was wonderful to me. He was not a very nice person.
SEROTA: So what happened?
OYSHER: So I went up and I did Layona Mea Juden, and that’s it.
SEROTA: What did he do?
OYSHER: He was angry.
SEROTA: Do you want to tell us a little bit about when Moshe…
OYSHER: I’ll tell you about… they did a con-, they did a — hi! How are you, Reb?
They did a, also a benefit. And Hendroch, Herman Hendroch, from Forverts — was it Forverts? The Forverts, yes. They’re a doctor from Forverts. Machta, “I want you to wear this wig.”
I am so warm, I wish I could get out of here.
He says, “I want you to wear this, this wig.” It’s a, it’s a blonde wig. “‘Cause you’re playing Yitzhak.” And Yitzhak, you know, was dressed in a… what is that — a caftan?
OYSHER: And a…
LEVIN: Yeah, a gartel.
OYSHER: A gartel. And what do you call it? Sandals.
I’m very warm.
LEVIN: This is the show?
OYSHER: Cut that off; I’m warm, too warm.
So he says, “You’re going to put this on.” I says, “I don’t think Yitzhak had blonde hair. He was a Jewish little boy, he had dark hair.” “No,” he says, “put it on.” So just before I walked onstage, I had it off. I had it in my hand, I dropped it, I went in and I did (Sings) Tinsameer, en tay varein kima rein. Couldn’t do anything.
So he said to Yankel, Yankel Kalich, he said, “Why did she do that?” He says, “You hear her sing, you’ll forget about it.”
Let me get off here. I’m sorry, I’m tired and I’m warm. Oh, take it off.
<END OF TAPE 2>
<END OF INTERVIEW>
Revised Index for Oysher Interview (B3296)
Allen, Woody (actor/director), 11
Amphion Theatre (Brooklyn), 14–16
Arch Street Theatre (Philadelphia), 6–7, 17
Bar Mitzvah, The (play), 32
Bernardi, Berel, 9
Bernardi, Helena, 9
Bernardi, Herschel (entertainer), 9
Bostoner Rebbe, 19–21
Bowles, John (actor), 26
Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, 9
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 36
women, 2–3, 18–19, 29
Chicago, Illinois, 9, 24–29
choirs and choral music, in synagogues, 4–6
Civic Theatre (Chicago), 24–29
Cronenberg (rabbi), 43–44
Cuba, 38–40, 41
Douglas Park Theatre (Chicago), 24, 27–28
films, Yiddish, 21, 42, 44–45
Forverts (newspaper), 47
Fraydele's Chazzanah (play), 32
Freiman, Louis (librettist), 21, 33
Friedlander, Max (manager), 37
Gelbart, Michael (choir conductor), 4–6
Gertler, Sam (actor), 26
Glass Menagerie, The (Williams), 24–26
Goldenberg, Samuel, 37
Green, Harold (pianist), 45–46
Halamer Chazzantel (play), 33
Hanukkah (holiday), 29
Chazzan Kimtin Shtut, A (play), 32
Hendroch, Herman, 47–48
Hershman, Mordechai (cantor), 46–47
Hirsch, Abe (printer), 6
Hopkinson Theatre (New York), 10, 13
Hyman, Joseph (manager), 28–29
Jacobson, Hymie (producer), 17, 45
Little Queen, The (play), 26
Martin, Mary (actress), 26, 27–28
Michaels, Marilyn (entertainer), 28, 30–31, 45
Mitra Theatre (Montevideo), 36–37
Mogolefsky, Samuel, 44
New York, New York
Yiddish theatre in, 10–19
One Touch of Venus (Weill), 26
Ostroff, Oscar (lyricist), 22–24, 41
Oysher, Fraydele (singer)
as cantorial singer, 4, 14–16, 18–21, 29–30
education of, 3–4, 5, 16
film work, 21
theatrical work, 21, 24–29, 31–41
Oysher, Moshe (cantor), 3–4, 16, 18
plays of, 11–12, 42
radio work of, 43, 44
theatrical work, 8–12, 12–13
Oysher, Zelig (cantor), 3–4, 16
Peerce, Jan (tenor), 18, 43–44
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2, 3–8, 12, 17
rabbis, women, 2–3
radio broadcasts, 7, 43
Rechtzeit, Seymour (tenor), 22–24
Romanishe Shul (Chicago), 28
Rumshinsky, Joseph (composer/conductor), 17, 33
Russishe Shul (Chicago), 28
Schwartz, Maurice, 37
Second Avenue Theatre (New York), 16, 17–19
Secunda, Sholem (cantor/composer), 33, 35–36
Shumsky, Wolf (director), 10
Siegel, William, 21, 33
South Africa, 41
South America, 10, 31–42
Sternberg, Harold (bass), 20–21, 32, 36–40
Sternberg, Sam, 8
Talmud Torah (Flatbush), 30–31
Taylor, Laurette (actress), 24–26
Thomashefsky, Boris (actor), 10–11
Tomasefsky, Boris. See Thomasefsky, Boris
unions, 14, 17–18, 22
Wallenstein, Rosie (actress), 26
Weiss, Florence (actress), 9, 10, 13
Workman's Circle, 6
Yeshiva Bukher, The, 10
Yiddish theatre, 10–19, 21, 31–42
fraydele oysher--harold sternberg interview,
LEVIN: You are the son of probably the most illustrious bass singer in…
STERNBERG: In the world.
LEVIN: …in the world, and certainly in Jewish choruses in Europe and what…
LEVIN: …by the name of…
STERNBERG: Yossele Bass.
LEVIN: Yossele Bass. ‘Course what was his, what was his, his real, his name at birth?
STERNBERG: His name? Joseph. Joseph. Yossele.
LEVIN: And the “Bass” came because…
STERNBERG: And the family name is Sternberg. Shternberg. Shternberg. But here, they pronounced it Sternberg.
And he was known as the greatest bass that the Jews ever had in a synagogue, because he sang with Missa Belzer, you know, with all the — Hirschman, and all the superstar cantors sang with that chazzan.
LEVIN: Where was he from?
STERNBERG: He was born in a village in Bessarabia, near the Prut. And he had a soprano, it must have been a glorious soprano. It’s because they stole him, one cantor from the others, you know. They stole him, and for two years, my grandmother, his mother, went around looking for him and she couldn’t find him. And all these cantors that they took him, that they — because he had a glorious soprano.
They, he had a name as a soloist, and at that time, in Europe, you know, to sing in a choir, a vay meshurer, you know. And he was singing, and up to the age of 13, 14. After two years, my grandmother, she found him, brought back home, he was bar mitzvahed.
And between the age of 13, 14 he said, “I am not going to sing anymore soprano; I am going to sing bass.” And this was the most phenomenal bass that you can imagine, that the man who will listen at the Metropolitan Opera have to hear my father at the age of between 75 or 80, where it was hard for him to officiate as, as a cantor. So he sang with a choir, and he sang a solo, and he happened to hear him. So the man who listened, came to the Metropolitan, my brother and I, we were, he brought, and Peerce was there. And he says, “Ezio. Their father” — pointing to me and my brother, my brothers — “has a bass voice that you would sound like a little alto next to him.” It was the most glorious, phenomenal sound.
But why he didn’t make a career is because he was very religious, and he davened in two pairs of tvill — brashes tvill, which all of us tvill, and rabayne tamas tvill. He was so fanatically religious that, and he became a chazzan.
As a chazzan, with such a great voice, it was too big. He tried to diminish it, and he sang with only ten, 15% of his voice, but even when he sang at piano, something it was a glorious sound there was. And he wasn’t a success, because they just liked the tenor, the lyric baritone, the high voice, the appealing voice.
But he was a good chazzan, because he was born from childhood, der kinder su.
SEROTA: Where was he a chazzan?
STERNBERG: He was chazzan in Europe, and actually, he was chazzan in Sva Gayn. He davened in Bucharest, and Fuchsman. And he davened in Bessarabia and during the War, you know, in the Yedemists, but you know, where he came from.
SEROTA: In Lipkan?
STERNBERG: Then… in Lipkan, yeah.
And we, all the children, we sang in a choir. Like I was a soprano, my older brother was an alto, and all of us, we all sang…
LEVIN: Where? You traveled around with him?
STERNBERG: We traveled with him. And…
LEVIN: As a chazzan, of course, he was known as, not at Yossel Bass…
STERNBERG: Yossele, Yossele Bass.
LEVIN: He was called Yossele Bass as a chazzan?
STERNBERG: Yossele Bass. As a chazzan, yes.
LEVIN: And then he, and he became known as a bass singer in, for other chazzanim, like Missa Belzer.
STERNBERG: He played Missa Belzer.
LEVIN: Where? In Odessa? No.
STERNBERG: No, no. Minkofsky and the Broder Synagogue. In the Broder Shul.
LEVIN: He sang in Broder? He sang in Odessa? In Minkoff’s…
STERNBERG: He sang in Odessa, yeah, for that time for Minkofsky.
LEVIN: Minkofsky, yeah. With Navakovsky conducting?
STERNBERG: Navakovsky conducting and he was the bass soloist there. Where the, the officer, the offiseren, the rushe seren, used to come Friday night to hear him sing the solos — Mig Monovos, Od Vashom, or anything.
LEVIN: So he lived in a while for Odessa? In Odessa?
STERNBERG: Yeah. I was born in Odessa.
LEVIN: You were born in Odessa?
STERNBERG: My mother had nine children, eight of us survived. Five brothers, all of us singers. And all of us basses.
LEVIN: Now, he sang in the choir and he made, he didn’t have Parnassoff from singing, from just…
STERNBERG: He sang in Broder Shul. It was a life, like a lifetime job. For the rest of his life, he could have been there. As a matter of fact, as he — he ran away because, from Odessa, and mother remained with five children, and he tried to avoid going into the Army. So in Broder Shul, as soon as the war was over, they got him there so he could daven two holidays, esachen — and they said, “Yossele, the place…”
LEVIN: Stop. Airplane here. We’ll come back.
STERNBERG: Minkofsky and Navakovsky. “The place is for you, it’s open for you anytime.”
LEVIN: Wait, wait, wait. Okay? All right. Back to Minkofsky and Navakovsky.
STERNBERG: Yeah. Minkovsky and Navakovsky. “Come back and like an old,” telegrams, and letters. He made living out of singing, out of being the soloist in the Broder Shul by Navakovsky.
LEVIN: And that was so important that he could make a living just from…
STERNBERG: He made a living just with that. But the family, he ran away and he didn’t want to go to join the Army. He started to daven. And then he let grow a beard, and very religious he was. And that kept him out, out of the Army. And he became a chazzan, and then soon as the war was over, so he received a letter, he received a letter, he went to Steffenash to the Rebbe and asked the Rebbe what he should do. So the Rebbe said, “You are already davening as a chazzan. For the next two years, tell them you <INAUDIBLE> the High Holidays, you know, that remain a chazzan.”
And by listening to the rabbi, remain a chazzan, we didn’t go back to live. We remained in Bessarabia. The Romanians took away Bessarabia, and we saved ourselves from being in the Russian lands. And we all had our upbringing in Romania until he left for America.
The funniest thing — he left for America. He had two aunts in America that didn’t know him, because my grandmother, who was the oldest of the sisters, was from the one marriage, from the first marriage, and the sisters, they were from another marriage. And my grandmother, this she did not recognize her sisters and all that. But my father is, when he was with me, he said, “Belzer, Bedrun, Molder.” He made it his business to know the mother’s family and all that, and the sisters. And they were in America, and they remembered him, and they brought him to America.
SEROTA: What years was your father in Lipkan?
STERNBERG: In Lipkan?
STERNBERG: Right during the war years, at the end of the war. Because my mother had three, three children in Lipkan.
SEROTA: And you were singing in the choir with him?
STERNBERG: I was singing in the choir.
SEROTA: And Moshe Oysher was singing in the choir.
STERNBERG: Moshe was singing and we’d get together…
SEROTA: So that’s when you first met Moshe.
STERNBERG: In the choir. He was an alto. He, he was an alto. He had a very sweet voice. It wasn’t hoarse. Azich richlich. But the way he sang, and they loved him.
And to sing with Poppa in the choir and all that, I was singing soprano, and my brother alto, and Moshe was an alto. And he had a couple of tenors, you know. And all that. There was great, great music, great singing, you know. And they did the whole, all Navakovsky.
LEVIN: That’s what I want to ask you. I’m a little confused. Moshe was in the choir, in the same choir, Moshe Oysher.
SEROTA: In Lipkan, in Lipkan, Bessarabia.
STERNBERG: Yes. Lipkan, Bessarabia.
LEVIN: But now you say you did Navakovsky’s music there? Or in Odessa you did Navakovsky’s music.
STERNBERG: As a chazzan.
STERNBERG: He used a lot of Navakovsky’s music.
LEVIN: Only in Odessa, or in Lipkan?
STERNBERG: In Lipkan. Wherever he davened. Wherever. He was very much influenced by Minkofsky as a chazzan. And he had all of Navakovsky’s music.
LEVIN: Oh, this was after Odessa, or before Odessa? Before he was…
STERNBERG: This was after Odessa, during the war, and right after the war.
LEVIN: Did he bring a lot of this home to America, when he came to America, this music?
STERNBERG: Yes. He brought, he had the music with him.
LEVIN: Do you have any of the Navakovsky music that your father brought?
STERNBERG: Yes. As a matter of fact, all the music that my father had, he had many partaturas because — it was given to the Lincoln Public Library there, to the library there, all the music.
SEROTA: At Lincoln Center?
STERNBERG: Lincoln Center, yeah. As a matter of fact, I brought it there.
SEROTA: So there’s a special collection the, the Sternberg Collection at Lincoln Center that we can, we can…
STERNBERG: That he wrote compositions — partaturas, we called them, the…
LEVIN: How long ago did he give it there?
STERNBERG: We had the music as soon as my Poppa, and my brothers had it, and then they brought the music to me. I had no use for all the music, the partaturas, with all the recitatives, the compositions, all of them. All the Blumenthals, and then and all the…
LEVIN: So when did you give it Lincoln Center?
STERNBERG: I gave it to Lincoln Center about 18, 20 years ago.
LEVIN: Oh, a long time ago.
STERNBERG: Yeah. Va rit mish shil mack music was brought to me. I said, what? I’ll never use it. Music…
LEVIN: You got it from what? Your brothers, or…
STERNBERG: We are five brothers, all chazzanim.
LEVIN: So they have it there, in a special, do you know?
STERNBERG: They, the music is at Lincoln Center. All that my father wrote — he had a penmanship, that music, the way he did, the way he wrote…
LEVIN: Have you ever checked on it there?
SEROTA: No. I’ll have to check after this.
STERNBERG: It’s in Lincoln, in Lincoln Center.
SEROTA: When did your father come to America?
STERNBERG: My father came to America in ’23.
SEROTA: And you came with him?
STERNBERG: No. I came in ’27, with a younger brother and my mother, with the rest of the family. We were eight children. With my older brother and the five smaller ones came in ’29.
SEROTA: When your father came in ’23…
SEROTA: …where did he go?
STERNBERG: He came to New York. And then he was in Boston, and then he got a position in Providence, Rhode Island.
SEROTA: In Providence, he was a chazzan.
STERNBERG: He was a chazzan.
SEROTA: A moyel.
STERNBERG: No, no, no. No moyel, no.
SEROTA: A shofitz (shokhet)?
STERNBERG: No, no, no.
SEROTA: Just a chazzan.
STERNBERG: Just a chazzan.
SEROTA: And you were in Providence also?
STERNBERG: Yeah, sure. I came to Providence…
SEROTA: What were you doing in Providence?
STERNBERG: When I came, I conducted for Poppa the choir. The first year I conducted for Poppa the choir. The second year, I conducted there was professor Einstein, he was Einstein. His father was a chazzan and a shamus. So I conducted a choir the second year for Einstein. Because Poppa wasn’t no more in that synagogue.
And then the third year, my older brother came already, in ’29. In ’29, my older brother, I and my father, the three of us, davened in Bussamer Street Shul, it’s the High Holidays. And after the holidays, I went to New York and got into Sweet Adeline.
LEVIN: Sweet Adeline?
STERNBERG: Sweet Adeline, Alan Morgan on Franklin, Charles Borevit, James Dunn.
LEVIN: So from that time on, you got into singing outside the…
STERNBERG: Then I was on Broadway in Times Square, and then I got into — Gershwin heard me, and he got me….
Funniest thing — Gershwin heard me. And he took me into Let ‘Em Eat Cake, Of Thee I Sing. And after a week’s rehearsals, Gershwin came and we’re singing and we’re singing, and for Shalapin sing. Calling me Shalapin. He made the leitmotif three tones lower to, because they did it for the tenors, the sopranos, for the altos.
LEVIN: To accommodate your voice.
STERNBERG: He made it for me, for Shalapin singer.
SEROTA: I want to ask you about…
STERNBERG: So, so after about a week or ten days, and an assistant to an assistant, a stage assistant came over to me, “Thank you very much. We cannot use you. You’re free.” I felt bad. But look — I knew that that can happen on Broadway.
After about two days, on the third day, there’s a telegram in my house, where I was living. ‘Cause I had no telephone then. A telegram. “Report to the theatre.” Gershwin came and I wasn’t there, he says, “Where is Shalapin?” They apologized for me, they said, “We didn’t know that you’re George’s favorite singer.” Was that, Of Thee I Sing.
SEROTA: What other shows were you in?
STERNBERG: I was in Sweet Adeline, Of Thee I Sing, Let ‘Em Eat Cake, Pardon My English. And then I was in the 34th Street, in the theatre that, Manhattan Opera House. That was the…
LEVIN: The first Opera House?
STERNBERG: Yeah, the, yeah.
LEVIN: The older one.
STERNBERG: Yeah. That was with, that he conducted, the famous conductor that <INAUDIBLE>. It’s on the tip of my tongue.
SEROTA: Weren’t you in Kurt Weill’s…
STERNBERG: Kurt Weill — yeah! Yeah, Kurt Weill.
SEROTA: Yeah, that’s what I want to talk about.
STERNBERG: Yeah. Let ‘Em Eat Cake.
LEVIN: No, but there…
SEROTA: The Eternal Way?
LEVIN: The Eternal Road.
STERNBERG: Eternal Road, Eternal Road, Eternal Road.
LEVIN: Tell me about The Eternal Road.
STERNBERG: The Eternal Road was Kurt Weill’s music. And naturally, he needed that — I recorded the music of The Eternal Road with the conductor a year before it was produced on Broadway on 30th, on 34th Street at the Manhattan Opera. I forgot the name of the conductor. My age, I start forgetting things. I remembered things when I was two, three years old, but things that happened….
I, I sang vocally, you know, when I came up there, it wasn’t to show that I couldn’t make on Broadway, I made and, they made, they recorded the music of Kurt Weill’s…
SEROTA: Eternal Road.
STERNBERG: The Eternal Road. And I was in their recording.
The funniest thing that the group that we did the recording — they had the whole music. They couldn’t use the whole thing with the exception of the big numbers, you know. Set and all that. They needed someone, they actually produced it a year after they made the recording.
SEROTA: But they were playing the recording at the performance, right?
STERNBERG: At the performance, they played the recording. But they couldn’t play the whole thing, ‘cause they couldn’t synchronize the music. So they could only use the big numbers. Which they did. And they had people on stage pantomime. And from all of us that recorded the music, I was the only one that was in the performance onstage. And I had about two, three different parts, you know, roles, in that.
LEVIN: Now, The Eternal Road of course…
STERNBERG: The Eternal Road.
LEVIN: …there’s something special about that, different from other Kurt Weill stage pieces. And that’s…
STERNBERG: That was the music, you know, Kurt Weill’s music.
LEVIN: There was a very special Jewish connection.
STERNBERG: He came, yeah, there was a Jewish trend there.
The first time that I met Klaver, Fausta Klaver, he came backstage to see. Because they did, it didn’t work, what they recorded. And they needed a group, which I was only one of them, and I took in my older brother, you know. And we were in a room.
LEVIN: The Eternal Road, the main, the gist of The Eternal Road is what?
SEROTA: Stories of the Simchas Torah.
LEVIN: Stories, different stories…
STERNBERG: Yeah, yeah.
LEVIN: …but The Road, which was the first time… because you know…
STERNBERG: They had one of the performers, the main, that Ruthie, you know, that was sitting in the…
LEVIN: But I understand that we’ve talked about reconstructing and reviving The Eternal Road, and it so far hasn’t been done, because they think there’s how many people on the whole stage? Maybe 300 people or something like that.
STERNBERG: Oh, it’s tremendous, big.
LEVIN: About 300 people on stage.
STERNBERG: Actually, actually they used the recording of the big numbers, because they couldn’t, the music that went through, throughout The Eternal Road. They had a room where we, we were about 80 singers there, singing all the whole show, doing the whole show from a room. With the exception of the very big numbers.
LEVIN: What was the reason for that?
STERNBERG: Because they couldn’t… what happened, we recorded, they couldn’t synchronize together with the action on stage and the music…
LEVIN: It was too complicated.
STERNBERG: It was too complicated.
SEROTA: How many singers did they have in the big numbers?
STERNBERG: Well, when we recorded, they had about 80 or 90 singers, you know, that we recorded the music. But, but they used the singers for the incidental music all the way through. We were about 80 singers.
SEROTA: So you met Fausta Klaver. And he was responsible for you going into the Met?
STERNBERG: Fausta Klaver, he was at the, he came to see The Eternal Road, and he saw me there. Fausta Klaver heard me sing.
I, I was in Broadway musicals. And whenever a show was about to close, the colix always, they knew, and they used to take each one, you know, friends, to 42nd Street, to different offices, the rumor that there’s going to be a show closing. At one time, while I was in Gershwin’s Let ‘Em Eat Cake, and it was the last big one, and I met with the, the ultimate in 46th Street — Harold Kump. So I knew I was going to 42nd Street to someone. He goes past 42nd Street, I think to myself, where is he going past? I don’t know of any others.
And he goes, he goes back, 40th Street, entrance through the Metropolitan Opera, and I could follow him. And someone comes out and takes him in together with me, and they go through, through the old stage, all the way through the foyer up to the second floor where the chorus is. And there Satie sits.
And they bring me to him, and Satie says, “I heard that you are a basso, you’re a good voice. Did you ever sing operas?” I said no. “Are you musical?” So I said yes. “You can read the music? Well, let me hear you.”
I went over to the piano, and I always carried with me Asleep in the Deep — (sings) Lo, little world, behold how we… and many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, so beware. Be. And I go down to a F. It was, I had tremendous notes. It wasn’t like my father’s, but it was the best note probably on Broadway then.
And Klaver could — no, no, that was Satie. “Come here, young man. Come here. What is your name?” And I tell the manager. “The address, all the numbers. You’ll hear from us.”
I’m in a Broadway show. Forgot about it. And once, you know, the Café Royale of Second Avenue, always used to get the papers at 12:00 — The Daily News. You can pick up a paper. Satie is out of the Metropolitan, and Gotte Casaza’s out and there’s a new regime, and Edward Johnson. And I think, “Oh, my God. I sang for Satie. He liked me.” Eh. I think, well, I guess, it wasn’t, I wasn’t destined for it.
I met my wife, you know, the girl, you know, and she, she was a star already, and we got married. Moshe, my brother-in-law, Moshe, I knew him, you know, because he sang together with us. When Fraydele came out, “Haroldeh, I want you to meet my sister, Fraydele.” I met Fraydele, and that was the beginning.
I think to myself, “Oh, my God. I sang for Satie. And he liked me.”
But I’m married to Fraydele, and we’re, we live across the Williamsburg Bridge in South 5th Street. And of course, the first and second week that we were married you know, we heard on a Friday morning. “Hello? Harold Sternberg? This is the Metropolitan Opera calling. Won’t you please come down here 12:30, 1:00 to meet Fausta Klaver, the conductor.” Didn’t, Satie was out, and Johnson came in there, and, and Fausta Klaver became a….
I come in, you know, go to the Metropolitan. And Fausta Klaver. I said, “I’m Harold Sternberg.” He says, “Harold Sternberg. Are you a member of the Grand Opera Choral Alliance?” So I say no. “Did you ever sing opera?” I say no. So he said, “If you never sang opera, you’re not a member of the Grand Opera Choral Alliance, and you don’t know any operas. How come that your name is on the list to be the regular chorus at the Metropolitan next year?” Because he got the list from Satie, what Satie had.
So I told him, “I sang for Satie last year.” That was before the end of the season. That season after Gotte Casaza left, and Satie — no, that was a very short season, I think it was six or seven weeks. And it started very late.
And so he says, “Well, let me hear you.” And he takes me over to the piano, he says, “Do you know anything?” So I thought to myself, I carried with me Asleep in the Deep. So I said, (Sings) Lo, little….
So he says, “I’m sorry, Mr. Sternberg, I am the new chorus master. And I will recommend you to the union, you know. They’ll give you instructions what operas you are to learn and you are to know to become a member of the union. And when you will be a member of the union, I will have you in mind.”
And that was the beginning, you know. We went, like cold…
LEVIN: And you were there for how many years?
STERNBERG: I was 38, 39 years at the Metropolitan Opera.
SEROTA: What year were you married?
STERNBERG: I was married in ’34.
SEROTA: ’34. And at that time, Moshe Oysher was in theatre?
STERNBERG: Yeah, sure.
SEROTA: Can you tell us how Moshe became a chazzan?
STERNBERG: My, Moshe sang together with me and my brother, and he knew chazzanus, and they used to use, his biggest thing in his shows, he would sing a chazzanishe recitative. And as an, as an actor, he wasn’t a star. He was, when he married, who was it? Florence Weiss. He always played off, not on the Avenue, but…
SEROTA: She didn’t play on Second Avenue; she played on…
STERNBERG: No, she never played on Second Avenue.
SEROTA: She played in smaller houses.
STERNBERG: In smaller houses, you know. And he married her and became a team with her. But he didn’t make a living.
And my brother knew, he heard him — you know, my older brother was a chazzan already and davened for the holidays. He says, “Moshe, why don’t you become a chazzan?” And he actually, all he, he had to do is refresh his memory, because the recitatives and things he knew from Yossele’s, Hirschman’s, others he knew. And my older brother went through with him and he arranged for him a Shabbos in the Romanian synagogue. On Orchard Street.
SEROTA: Rivington Street.
STERNBERG: Rivington Street, yeah. But they needed a chazzan, and he came, and he was destined to become Moshe Oysher. And what made him is the chazzanim and all that started and tour around, all that made him a big name. And that’s why he became a controversial person, and he went up and he did it, and chazzanus and all that, it was in him. And he became Moshe Oysher…
SEROTA: That was 19…
STERNBERG: …and he started to make pictures.
SEROTA: What year was that? What year was that?
STERNBERG: That was about ’35, ’36, it must have been. I was already married.
SEROTA: I understand that when he davened at the Romanishe Shul for the first time, that there were thousands and thousands of people in front of the shul…
STERNBERG: They were outside, Frayde said, whoever was protesting, whatever, many, many people, that they became so, that made him famous.
LEVIN: Protesting what?
STERNBERG: That he also davened in the shul, especially in the Romanishe…
LEVIN: Protesting that an actor, a Yiddish actor…
STERNBERG: An actor, a Yiddish actor…
LEVIN: …should function as a cantor.
STERNBERG: Yes. Functioned as a cantor, in a synagogue, by the Romanishe shul. Oh, but please, for everyone at the Romanishe shul couldn’t exist, and they didn’t do it already, and the minute they started all that publicity with boycotting, boycotting and all that, that the synagogue was sold out. And they started to make so much money as they never dreamed.
LEVIN: Was this an organized protest, or just spontaneous?
STERNBERG: No, no. That was something, what was it? Moshe didn’t…
LEVIN: Tell me —
STERNBERG: The chazzanim made him.
LEVIN: Zaidel Rovner.
STERNBERG: Zaidel Rovner, yeah.
LEVIN: You knew him?
STERNBERG: Yes. I knew him.
LEVIN: You sang with him?
STERNBERG: I sang with him.
LEVIN: I want to hear about that.
STERNBERG: I sang with him because my father sang with Zaidel Rovner and with Missa Belzer.
LEVIN: In Europe.
STERNBERG: In Europe, sure.
LEVIN: In Europe, yeah.
STERNBERG: And when Zaidel Rovner, when they made a picture with the chazzanim, I sang with Secunda. I sang with Machtenberg.
And Zaideleh Rovner’s son came and he heard me and he brought me, and he brings me to Zaidel, to his father. No. Zi vaiser brud, you, know, with his eyes and all that and he says, “Poppa, this is Yossele’s zen, a bas harot a brach furisht shtime.” And he heard me. And that was the day that at night he came to rehearse with the group, because Secunda used that group in there.
And there was in one of his, Zaidel Rovner’s compositions was a bass solo. (Sings) Malahoo ayom kisonus. So he had the bass, basses there, you know, there were five or six basses, baritones. So everyone wanted to sing. So he heard me when the son took me to the, to the house. And he heard me, machta, “Oy, er ginkele vy Yossele.” I, that I sound like Poppa. It was on the… machta, “Dis ist dus vit er zingen.” And he picked me to do it, and I did it in the picture. (Sings) Molochoo a yom kiso vus, ayol… ‘Cause I knew him through Poppa.
LEVIN: Okay, now this is for the Hollow. Now the question I have is you sang only in that film?
STERNBERG: In that film.
LEVIN: That was 1937, right?
STERNBERG: Was that ’31?
SEROTA: ’31. 1931.
SEROTA: That’s when Seiden made the film, ’31.
LEVIN: Oh, I thought it was — it was The Voices of Israel.
SEROTA: The Voice of Israel.
LEVIN: Now, I want to ask you about that film. You sang in the chorus and then the solo part…
LEVIN: But also in the chorus.
STERNBERG: In the chorus, yes.
LEVIN: When Zaidel was the…
STERNBERG: Yeah, sure.
LEVIN: And who was conducting? Machtenberg?
STERNBERG: No, no. Zaidel was conducting.
LEVIN: Zaidel conducted?
STERNBERG: He conducted.
LEVIN: Oh, he conducted himself.
STERNBERG: And he did the solos.
LEVIN: ‘Cause other segments of that film, Machtenberg was conducting, right?
STERNBERG: Machtenberg did, then Secunda also. Each one did a couple of numbers.
LEVIN: I see. There wasn’t one conductor for the whole film.
STERNBERG: No, no, no. No. Only his, these things.
LEVIN: Okay. Farshtay. Now you’re in just the Zaidel Rovner segment.
STERNBERG: And, and also with Secunda.
LEVIN: Who was the chazzan in the Secunda?
STERNBERG: Hirschman. It was Hirschman, yeah.
LEVIN: Okay. Now, of course, as far as we know, we’ve seen that film, and but the Zaidel Rovner segment is missing. It still hasn’t been found, has it?
STERNBERG: Yes. I know that.
STERNBERG: I know that the Zaidel Rovner…
LEVIN: It’s missing from the film…
STERNBERG: …they couldn’t, they couldn’t get…
LEVIN: …it was apparently chopped up at one time, and then it was put back together.
STERNBERG: I don’t know. It was missing. Because I was looking forward to hear it, to see what, because I did the solo there.
LEVIN: Now, there, again, I want to say there is a collector in Paris who is reputed to have every single film that was ever made anywhere in the entire universe.
SEROTA: That doesn’t mean he has the full version of everything.
STERNBERG: He has the full version of it?
LEVIN: I don’t know.
STERNBERG: But it should be, it should be…
LEVIN: I don’t know his name. That’s… through the grapevine…
STERNBERG: As a matter of fact…
LEVIN: We have a feeling it’s here somewhere.
STERNBERG: When I did it, at…
<END OF TAPE 1>
LEVIN: …choir with Zaidel Rovner again after that?
STERNBERG: No. Only that time.
LEVIN: Never again. Only that time.
STERNBERG: Only that time.
LEVIN: ‘Cause they had all these big concerts.
LEVIN: Yes. The Hippodrome, and you weren’t in those.
STERNBERG: No, no, I wasn’t in.
LEVIN: What about Leo Fuchs? Did you know him?
STERNBERG: Sure I knew him.
LEVIN: He just passed away a couple of months ago; several months ago.
STERNBERG: Yes. He passed away, yeah, he passed away.
STERNBERG: ‘Cause I know him…
LEVIN: He was supposed to join us actually, originally, you know.
STERNBERG: He, I know Leo Fuchs, you know, when he came. And when he made his debut in the Second Avenue Theatre. As a matter of fact, Moshe made his debut Second Avenue Theatre as a star, but Leo Fuchs was the top, and Moshe was underneath.
LEVIN: Oh, yeah?
STERNBERG: Because Leo Fuchs one day brought him, you know, he was the — Moshe became after that, you know, it was Moshe and Fuchs.
LEVIN: But Fuchs was a big star.
STERNBERG: Fuchs was the…
LEVIN: But as a singer or an actor?
STERNBERG: An actor, a comedian, you know.
LEVIN: Not a serious voice.
STERNBERG: No, no.
LEVIN: He had a had a singing voice.
STERNBERG: He’s not a singing voice, but he could play, he could sing operetta, whatever he did.
LEVIN: Roitman. Now, you — there was a concert at Shari Tzedek, I think, about 1937, it was something like that?
STERNBERG: I did my first High Holidays I sang in New York with Roitman.
LEVIN: Where? With the Holidays?
STERNBERG: At the 93rd Street shul.
LEVIN: Third Street. Oh, Shari Tzedek.
STERNBERG: Yeah, Shari Tzedek.
SEROTA: Who conducted?
STERNBERG: Berman, a lawyer. A lawyer who is, who was cantor. I didn’t hear from him for the longest time. And Bayonne, he became cantor in the Reform, or Conservative synagogue.
LEVIN: And that was in ’37?
STERNBERG: That was in ’37.
LEVIN: And Roitman, how was it to work with Roitman?
LEVIN: How was Roitman to…
STERNBERG: Roitman was a great chazzan. The voice was, but it was good for his, but he did, he had a style. And he was very musical, and he loved to sing cantor solos with the choir, with the…
LEVIN: He liked to work with the chorus.
STERNBERG: Ah, yeah. Because there were very, very few chazzanim who liked to work with a choir.
LEVIN: But the voice was what?
STERNBERG: It was a very pleasant voice. It wasn’t a great voice.
LEVIN: It wasn’t a great voice.
STERNBERG: It wasn’t an operatic voice, you know. You’re speaking of voices, of like Moshe’s voice or other great voices. Peerce or Tucker, you know, it wasn’t that. But he was a great chazzan.
LEVIN: Is this, is this in 93rd Street?
STERNBERG: 93rd Street.
LEVIN: You sang more than one year, or just…
STERNBERG: One year I sang.
LEVIN: …for the holidays just that time?
STERNBERG: Just one year I sang there.
LEVIN: But you sang a concert there with Zilbertz, Zavel Zilbertz conducting?
STERNBERG: No. No.
SEROTA: I thought you sang once the Hadulla, Zilbertz’ Hadulla.
STERNBERG: I sang Zilbertz’ Hadulla, but I’ll tell you something. I sang Zilbertz’ Hadulla, but I don’t remember. I think it was with Roitman.
LEVIN: Could it have been, it wasn’t at a concert at Shari Tzedek?
STERNBERG: It could have been. Maybe it was there; I don’t…
LEVIN: But with Zilbertz? It was with Zilbertz?
STERNBERG: Yeah, yeah, the Hadulla, Zilbertz’ Hadulla.
LEVIN: Yeah. Did you know Zilbertz at all?
STERNBERG: (Sing) Eh yerrey shul se hadulla…
SEROTA: How was Zilbertz as a conductor?
STERNBERG: Zilbertz as a conductor? All right. He was, he conducted mostly his stuff, his, his things.
LEVIN: You didn’t know him real well.
STERNBERG: No, I didn’t know him well.
LEVIN: Personally, Zilbertz, yeah.
SEROTA: Did you ever hear Roitman in Europe?
STERNBERG: The funniest thing. Roitman came to our town where we lived, Lipkan. And Roitman came and I was looking forward to go, like the whole family, everyone went. I got sick and I was laying in bed and I missed him and I didn’t hear him.
But I came here and I sang with him Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and he heard me and he was, “Oy. Er kinte de Yossele.” Roitman — “Er kinte de Yossele.”
And I, I wasn’t destined to hear Roitman in Lipkan. When the whole city came to hear Roitman. They came from Kasha — “David Roitman, David Roitman.”
SEROTA: You mentioned that there were certain chazzanim that liked to work with a choir. Roitman was among the few…
STERNBERG: Roitman was one of them.
SEROTA: …what other chazzanim liked to sing with…
STERNBERG: Hirschman liked to sing with a choir. Roitman liked to sing with a choir, to sing the cantor’s solos, he liked very much.
STERNBERG: Yossele did. Pinchik, to a certain extent, you know.
LEVIN: Moshe Oysher?
STERNBERG: Moshe loved the choir, it’s like a prayge. He loved the choir. He loved…
LEVIN: Okay. Let’s break now.
OYSHER: …makes a living. I know I don’t a shit toward… I don’t get a dime here. I’m knocking myself out. If you’re doing this, and you’re not getting, you’re nuts.
SEROTA: Yeah, we’ll get onto that right now.
OYSHER: I’m nuts; what’s your excuse?
LEVIN: So when are you inviting me for dinner?
OYSHER: Just the thought of it. I didn’t eat all day long.
SEROTA: A question. While we’re… you know, your, your whole approach to singing, relative to, relative to the way women usually sing…
SEROTA: …is not typical. Would you, would you say anything as to how you sing, relative to all the other women in the world?
OYSHER: Different than anybody else. First of all, emotion is good, but you have to have a soul, a neshuma. You have to know where you’re going. First you have to know where you came from, so you’ll know where you’re going. A lot of people don’t know. And that’s important.
SEROTA: Technically speaking, though, in terms of the way you sing, you have a lot more chest resonance than, than a typical…
OYSHER: Yes. I had very high notes, too.
OYSHER: But when you get older, everything falls down. And I mean everything.
STERNBERG: She was actually, she was a mezzo. But she developed, because of the repertoire that she did, the chazzanus…
STERNBERG: …sing in the chest. The quality…
STERNBERG: …because that lended itself…
OYSHER: It lended itself to the type of work that I was doing.
STERNBERG: So she remained. ‘Cause in school, the teacher wanted her to sing, to go up as like a mezzo in soprano parts. Which she had. But…
OYSHER: I didn’t want to use it, ‘cause I didn’t…
SEROTA: But she had, you have a very chesty quality.
OYSHER: …it didn’t do anything for me.
STERNBERG: Chesty. Only thing chesty quality, because like this, she sounded like a tenor. This is…
OYSHER: Anybody would…
OYSHER: All right? Good.
LEVIN: We were just talking about your, the chest voice…
LEVIN: …which is a different approach to singing.
LEVIN: And I’m curious whether that isn’t related to, to what you did as a child in the synagogue, with the kind of chazzanus. Isn’t there a relationship there with that…
OYSHER: Well, I thought it sounded better. I felt better. It was unique. It was different. You know? And it crossed the footlights. I mean, they were, they were so enamored of this type of singing, and I felt very good doing that. It was right for me. For me, it was right.
LEVIN: It projects. I just heard you now.
OYSHER: And the voice, yeah.
LEVIN: It projects beautifully. But it…
OYSHER: ‘Cause if you say (sings in a high voice) Odon alom, a sher molah… something is lost. Oh, I’m sure sopranos are brilliant, they’re wonderful. But if you sing (sings in her chest voice) Adon olom a sher molah, b’terem kol y’tsin ivra… that’s a different, it has a different ring, a different sound. It’s like an organ. I mean, if you got it. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.
LEVIN: It’s like the boy alto sound, and the boy’s solo…
OYSHER: Yeah, the boy alto, but there are such thing as counter-tenors, too, you know.
OYSHER: A tenor who’s a counter-tenor.
LEVIN: Right. Right.
OYSHER: You know.
STERNBERG: The funniest thing…
OYSHER: So he sounds just like a soprano.
STERNBERG: As a boy, I started to sing, like all my sisters and brothers, you know. My older brother had a glorious alto. I, when I was small, I used to suffer the flu, laryngitis and all that. And I was always hoarse. Until one day, my father told me, “Try to sing in your head, a soprano. A soprano.”
OYSHER: Head tones, head tones.
STERNBERG: Head tones. And I started to sing, and I sang up to a high C like nothing.
STERNBERG: And I started to sing soprano, and I never got hoarse, and I was all right all along.
OYSHER: And Moshe never sang soprano, he never sang bass, he opened up his mouth and he sang. He had a hoarse voice.
STERNBERG: But, but usually when one…
OYSHER: Uh! He’s a natural voice.
STERNBERG: …loses the alto or the soprano, so he cannot sing for a couple of years. One day I got up and I was about 13, I said, “I am going to sing from now bass. I want to sing like Poppa.” ‘Cause my father left for America, and we needed someone to fill out his spot. So I said, “I will do it,” and I started to imitate Poppa’s singing, like a bass.
LEVIN: You did all the bass solos probably…
LEVIN: …from Zaidel Rovner’s music.
OYSHER: He didn’t say, “I’ve got to sing like a bass.” That doesn’t sound right to me.
STERNBERG: No, no. I…
OYSHER: He had the voice, he had the bass, he had the notes.
STERNBERG: I sing like Poppa, I sing like Poppa, I sing.
And the funniest thing — when Poppa left, I was 13, 14, and I still sang soprano. When I came to America, when Poppa came to Ellis Island to take — I and a brother of mine, a younger, came first. And my older brother and the other six sisters and brothers with my mother came two years later. When we got off in Ellis Island, and we — that’s where he took the boat, he was cantor in Providence — and on the boat, I started to sing for him. And my father, who had the most glorious bass, Yossele Bass, who was the famous bass…
OYSHER: Famous bass.
STERNBERG: And he heard me, he said — I was only about 14, 15. “Harold,” he says, “you have such a beautiful bass voice.”
OYSHER: That’s what he said, huh?
STERNBERG: He said. And he came to Providence, and he was chazzan in the synagogue. So I conducted the choir for the High Holidays, and I did all the solos.
SEROTA: I understand that when you were in Providence, there once was a guest chazzan. Chazzan Pinchik.
SEROTA: Do you remember when Pinchik came to Providence?
OYSHER: He was a, he was a character.
STERNBERG: When he came to Providence, yes. I took him around all over, and I helped him. I even had a few mishoren to hold him a tone, because he needed someone support…
OYSHER: What do you mean by “hold him a tone?”
STERNBERG: To offer a tone, open a tone — ahhh! But he was improvising, whatever.
OYSHER: Yeah. Okay.
STERNBERG: Open a tone. That a choir that didn’t sing…
OYSHER: What is he doing?
STERNBERG: But he helped the chazzan…
OYSHER: What are you doing there?
STERNBERG: …alten golden a tone. But golden a tone — the sopranos, the altos and the tenors and the basses. They all, without any music, they would just in harmony, hold a tone for the chazzan when he was improvising, no matter what, what he was singing.
LEVIN: You knew Pinchik as well, Fraydele?
OYSHER: Yes. I worked with him.
LEVIN: You worked with him?
OYSHER: Weird man.
OYSHER: …stingy, difficult.
LEVIN: But you like difficult men.
OYSHER: He was like a diva. His whole bit.
OYSHER: Sometimes I wonder, there was nothing masculine about him. He didn’t even sing masculine. Not that I have anything against it, but…
STERNBERG: He was a great chazzan. I did…
OYSHER: Very good chazzan.
STERNBERG: …Voka Shishuker with him.
LEVIN: But when you say he didn’t sing masculine, in all seriousness, he had a certain a specific sound…
OYSHER: He had a style.
LEVIN: It warbled.
STERNBERG: He was a pure lyric tenor.
OYSHER: He, he had a style. But there was something about him that was not warm. That was not…
LEVIN: He wasn’t your favorite chazzan.
OYSHER: I liked him, I admired him very much, the way he sang. But I, I didn’t go crazy about him. I liked…
STERNBERG: She like the handsome type.
OYSHER: You know who I liked? I liked…
OYSHER: No, I liked Yossele…
OYSHER: …because he was humane. Hirschman I didn’t like.
STERNBERG: But personally you didn’t like him.
OYSHER: I didn’t like him as a person; he wasn’t a nice person.
STERNBERG: As a person he was.
OYSHER: I don’t feel like he was…
STERNBERG: But she did all of his repertoire, Hirschman’s repertoire.
OYSHER: Yes, I did. I did what was good for me.
LEVIN: Did you ever do Pinchik’s repertoire, did you ever do Rose of Shabbos?
OYSHER: No. Rose of the Shabbos, no, I did not.
LEVIN: Or any of those things?
OYSHER: I had to like somebody to do it.
LEVIN: To do their music.
OYSHER: And if I didn’t, I made myself like it, if the number was good. Like Leyore Lom, Leyore Raya Judim. That’s, that’s…
OYSHER: …he, he was a biggie, to do that.
LEVIN: But, but…
OYSHER: It was his.
LEVIN: But Pinchik — where did you work with him?
OYSHER: I did a concert with him.
OYSHER: I did two concerts with him, as a matter of fact.
SEROTA: What did he sing on the program?
OYSHER: He sang what he had to sing, but I did a lot of… when I used to go with these weirdoes, I used to, I used to try to do my songs — (Sings) Oy vic va Juden, ven if fa fuden. In the ministrayn. I would do Vashofsky, I would do Gabirtik, I would do these songs that they didn’t know about, to begin with, I don’t believe.
SEROTA: Didn’t Pinchik sing songs?
OYSHER: He sang songs, but to sing a folk song, you gotta sing the folk song that the folks should understand. You understand? If you do chazzanus das da dray de chazzanus. Ah! But a folk song has to be very, very simple.
SEROTA: You know, you were saying before…
OYSHER: You had to understand. Yes, sir? Am I right?
LEVIN: A hundred percent. We were talking about that yesterday, as a matter of fact. For quite some time. The business about simplicity…
OYSHER: Yeah. The simplicity —
LEVIN: A folk song, because a folk…
OYSHER: That’s why it’s called folk.
OYSHER: That’s why it’s called folk.
STERNBERG: You know, you were speaking about Rosa de Shabbos. There was a Rosa de Shabbos that every chazzan — Pinchik. all of them — (sings) Rosa, Rosa, Rosa de Shabbos. You’ve heard that, you’ve heard that chazzan. This was a… I told Moshe, “You know how you should do Rose of Shabbos?” (sings) Rosa de Shabbos…
OYSHER: That part’s very…
STERNBERG: (Continues singing). And after you’re through, let the whole choir sing (Sings) Rosa de Shabbos…. Then you’ll go up there and you’ll sound…
OYSHER: To work with Moshe was a joy. A complete joy.
SEROTA: Whose composition was that?
OYSHER: That’s Harold’s.
SEROTA: That’s your composition?
OYSHER: Mine and Harold’s.
STERNBERG: I made it for Moshe.
OYSHER: What did you think that…
STERNBERG: What you think what I did? I did (Sings) Rosa, Rosa.
OYSHER: That’s why I didn’t like it. ‘Cause Harold’s had fire. It had a go, it had across the footlights.
STERNBERG: So I said, “Moshe, this is not you.” You’re (Sings) Rosa de Shabbos….
OYSHER: And when Moshe did it, Moshe climbed, he waned. I said, “Moshe, why?”
STERNBERG: It became a…
OYSHER: You know the story why he climbed up the mountain, because it was there?
STERNBERG: Everyone who, Pinchik, Pinchik does Rosa de Shabbos.
OYSHER: That’s the story to it.
STERNBERG: (Sings) Rosa, Rosa. This is Pinchik. Moshe didn’t do it like that.
SEROTA: Did you write a lot of compositions?
OYSHER: Yes. What did you write…
STERNBERG: De Buchsam Conciera, De Cheded…
LEVIN: I was gonna, what did you write, what did you write for Fraydele to sing?
STERNBERG: For Fraydele?
OYSHER: Chazzan Godoysh.
STERNBERG: Something that no chazzan…
OYSHER: Would sing.
STERNBERG: Hasing Balud a Ba Hoya, Hasing Kodesh Broych Va Nilla.
OYSHER: There’s a part there — (Sings) Kaday, Kaday latorah… (Sternberg joins in).
STERNBERG: And I wrote this for her.
OYSHER: (Sings) Ah, ah, ah… (Sternberg joins in). Okay, that we have to hold, no? (Sternberg continues) I didn’t get around to that. (Oysher joins him again)
STERNBERG: I wrote for her many, many things.
OYSHER: He wrote this song.
STERNBERG: I wrote it for her.
LEVIN: This is phenomenal.
STERNBERG: And I wrote it for her, and Moshe sang it first.
LEVIN: Of course, it’s appropriate because…
OYSHER: Ba taynu ka chanik bik de fruzel… (Sings again) Amen. And that’s how you sing it. If you can’t do it like that, don’t do it.
LEVIN: You did this on concerts?
OYSHER: That’s why I did…
OYSHER: But I did it…
STERNBERG: I wrote this, in the play where she closed the first act, the curtain went down, and she got an applause for eight minutes. Even the orchestra stood on the stage with a watch and he said, eight minutes.
OYSHER: Where is everybody?
LEVIN: What play was this?
STERNBERG: One of her shows.
LEVIN: What play? The name of the…
OYSHER: Uh, uh…
STERNBERG: Fraydele’s Hassanne.
OYSHER: No, that was…
STERNBERG: Chazzante Kinte.
OYSHER: No. No, that’s not such a thing. It is one of the plays.
STERNBERG: One of the plays.
LEVIN: You don’t remember which one? And this was one of the ones that was, the whole play was written especially for you?
STERNBERG: This was…
LEVIN: This is, was one of the ones we were talking…
OYSHER: Everything was done so that I could be able to do what I had to do.
STERNBERG: …she had to have, she had to have a concert number at the end of the first act, and the curtain went down…
OYSHER: So they’ll go and buy tickets.
STERNBERG: She used to do La Libyay Juden or…
OYSHER: You know, there was…
LEVIN: Where’s the music to this, for example? Where’s the music to this?
OYSHER: I had, I had the music. I gave it away.
LEVIN: This should be performed.
OYSHER: You know, there’s one part of Ley Oylem that I did — (sings) Moo alach nu mach aynu… — What am I skipping here? (Continues singing) Oh, boy. That was <INAUDIBLE>. Fraydele.
LEVIN: I can’t believe that you never davened. Nowadays, you could get it.
OYSHER: Are you kidding? If I had this when I did…
LEVIN: I can get it for you right now. We’ll have to talk afterwards.
OYSHER: (Sings) Ma koma de boren kiyah… oh, that’s…
LEVIN: I mean, whether I believe in it, it doesn’t make any difference. If the right management fee, we’ll talk. Anyway…
OYSHER: I am not doing this anymore.
SEROTA: What compositions did you write for Moshe? Aside from Rosa…
STERNBERG: For Moshe?
SEROTA: Aside from Rosa de Shabbos.
OYSHER: Many, he did many. All right, let’s go. It’s five after 5.
LEVIN: You wrote Divis Sef Vitsir?
LEVIN: The Debon Sev Vitsir.
LEVIN: But this, and this has choral parts, too. You were singing some of the choral parts, right?
OYSHER: Oh, yes. He did most of the choral parts.
LEVIN: So it’s…
STERNBERG: I conducted for Moshe.
LEVIN: …solo and four-part…
STERNBERG: I conducted for Moshe a number of years.
LEVIN: ‘Cause this would be a tremendous…
SEROTA: Let’s go back a little bit. Let’s go back. Moshe first davened as a chazzan Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 1935 in the Romanishe Shul.
STERNBERG: In the Romanishe Shul.
SEROTA: What happened afterwards?
STERNBERG: After that, he went back to the theatre.
STERNBERG: And we went to South America.
SEROTA: Did he daven Shabbosim anywhere during that period of time?
STERNBERG: Me? I took it down to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and he is, he wanted to play theatre…
STERNBERG: …and he wanted to start…
OYSHER: His heart was in the theatre. He loved it.
STERNBERG: And because he got the name as a chazzan and all that, Moshe, Moshe was a — so they engaged him and they had Ludwig Satz and Yichud Michalesko. All the balabusters sechen dennity ater gezuch name — Moshe Oysher.
OYSHER: Because he was…
SEROTA: Let me ask you a question.
SEROTA: I understand after this, he davened in a shul in Williamsburg.
OYSHER: Oh, yes.
SEROTA: There was an incident that took place…
STERNBERG: We were in South America.
OYSHER: No, no.
STERNBERG: The incident that took place is after the synagogue, that he went back to the stage.
OYSHER: They resented that.
STERNBERG: So they resented it, and they caused a big riot when he went from the stage back to the synagogue, in Orchard, in…
STERNBERG: Rivington, yeah. There was a big, because I, and they were, Moshe was called by the rabbunum, there were 40…
STERNBERG: …and they had to, they told him that he has to make up his mind. Either he remains a chazzan or he’s an actor. He cannot go back and forth.
OYSHER: He cannot go back and forth. So he said.
STERNBERG: And so he said he will play theatre…
OYSHER: No, no.
STERNBERG: …because the Jews that go the synagogue, the same Jews go, come to the theatre. The only thing, he will never play on Friday and on Saturday and on holidays. But during the week, and not for Shabbos, but that in the theatre, gayn, vete zingen in the…
OYSHER: No. He was very, he was very soft and very easy. The rabbis had their… I can understand how they felt.
STERNBERG: Well, there was a big scandal, you know.
OYSHER: And he said…
SEROTA: You were there then?
STERNBERG: No, no, we were in South America.
OYSHER: We were in South America. He said one thing. He says, “The same people who come to the theatre, come to the synagogue. We can’t chase them away. They’ve got, we’ve got to do this. I want to do this. I promise you,” he said, “that I will not sing on Saturday, or not” — whatever it is. The major thing he says, “I gotta do this. This is my life. I won’t…” — you notice that in all his movies that he has, and he has the, the love interest, he never embraces her.
STERNBERG: He never embraces, he never kissed her.
OYSHER: And he never kisses her. If you ever notice the show, none of them.
STERNBERG: And he made all the pictures, after, when he became a chazzan.
SEROTA: So he became a chazzan, and he made…
SEROTA: What was the first movie?
STERNBERG: He didn’t… the first, A Chazzan Zingel.
SEROTA: And if I’m not mistaken…
OYSHER: Yankel the…
SEROTA: …you’re in the movie.
STERNBERG: I’m in the movie, yeah, and I sing (sings) Vunder shol kil hol. And I sing with Moshe the Dat and the Kidushe, and I did…
SEROTA: Whose Kidushe does he sing there?
STERNBERG: The Kidushe that…
SEROTA: Who Elokhenu? Who wrote that? That’s yours?
<OYSHER AND STERNBERG SING A FEW BARS>
OYSHER: A lot of it Moshe made himself. He knew what he wanted.
STERNBERG: (Continues singing) Like something that I did with Moshe.
SEROTA: And the second movie was…
STERNBERG: This was…
OYSHER: Yankel the Shmid.
STERNBERG: This was born in the synagogue, where I’m davening.
SEROTA: The second movie was Yankel?
LEVIN: Yankel the Shmid.
OYSHER: Yankel the Shmid. And the third one was Overture to Glory.
SEROTA: De Bilna Bala Baysa.
OYSHER: De Bilna Bala Baysa.
LEVIN: That’s the most famous one now, isn’t it?
STERNBERG: Yes. Overture to Glory.
LEVIN: Yeah, Overture to Glory.
OYSHER: It’s an incredible film.
STERNBERG: And then he made in Hollywood.
OYSHER: And you know how limited everything was.
LEVIN: That’s the amazing thing.
OYSHER: But then, ‘cause they had a soul.
STERNBERG: With Robert Thaler, you know, in Hollywood.
SEROTA: Well, let’s, after he made the third movie, after he made the third movie, at that point…
OYSHER: That’s when they…
SEROTA: …I understand he came on a road show tour with Bar kokhba.
OYSHER: Bar kokhba, yes.
STERNBERG: Yes, yes.
SEROTA: And he came to…
STERNBERG: Yeah, I was in the show. I played it.
SEROTA: You were in the…
STERNBERG: I played in it.
SEROTA: You were there with him when he was in Chicago?
STERNBERG: Because he… yes.
SEROTA: What happened in the Chicago Civic Opera House?
STERNBERG: They, they, what’s his name — Gotke Zazara.
LEVIN: Gallo. Because…
SEROTA: Fortunae Gallo.
STERNBERG: No, he was the…
SEROTA: Gallo, no?
STERNBERG: Gallo. Fortunae Gallo. Came, came…
STERNBERG: …backstage. And he came to Moshe’s room.
OYSHER: “What are you doing here?”
STERNBERG: And he wanted that he should sing in the opera. In first place, Moshe did three performances at the Civic Opera, and they had standing room only. And when the opera played, there were always half seats, the lady…
OYSHER: Half houses. There weren’t any…
STERNBERG: Half houses. So Gallo came and he said, “I want you too, to come, so that you can sing opera. I heard it, the way you sound, all that.” And Moshe started to learn opera.
SEROTA: Who’d he study with?
STERNBERG: He studied…
OYSHER: Fauste Klaver.
STERNBERG: …studied with Fauste Klaver. And as soon as he started to study, that’s when he got sick.
OYSHER: It wasn’t, he didn’t get sick because he started to study.
STERNBERG: And he didn’t daven the on holidays, he didn’t do the holidays. And Moshe said, “I guess I wasn’t destined to do what, I was destined to remain a chazzan, so I will not…”
SEROTA: What kind of sickness did he have?
OYSHER: He had a coronary. And by the way, he happened to have a, a rheumatic heart since he was very small, because in Europe, I don’t have to tell you, the plagues that we had there. We didn’t have a, a dollar to call a doctor, let alone if there was any doctor in Lipkan there. And my mother lost four sons to that plague, in 18 weeks, which is a horror. That was left was, Moshe was left. There were five.
STERNBERG: He was the oldest, and she was the youngest.
OYSHER: And I’m, I’m the youngest. I was ten weeks old.
STERNBERG: Just, Moshe and she.
OYSHER: My father went to America. And then when I was him, when I came, he was eight years here. I looked at her, “Who’s this man that’s embracing my mother? Hey. What’s going on here?”
SEROTA: So Moshe had a coronary at the age of 33?
OYSHER: Moshe had a coronary at the age of 33.
SEROTA: And then what did he do?
OYSHER: I think he worked.
STERNBERG: Then he didn’t sing for a year.
OYSHER: He just worked.
OYSHER: Sad. An awful sadness.
STERNBERG: He didn’t sing for a year, and he went away to Los Angeles.
SEROTA: And you went with him to Los Angeles?
STERNBERG: I was in Los Angeles with Moshe.
OYSHER: Wait. Excuse me, Daddy. The interesting thing is that when he got sick, he was supposed to daven in…
STERNBERG: Sona in Talmud Torah. No, no, no. In the Bronx.
OYSHER: Or an easy, take it easy, my kitten, take it easy.
STERNBERG: In the Bronx. In a synagogue.
LEVIN: Grand Concourse?
STERNBERG: No, no.
OYSHER: No. There was a synagogue…
SEROTA: Tarus Moshe?
LEVIN: Doesn’t matter.
STERNBERG: Tarus Moshe. Talmud Torahk Tarus Moshe.
OYSHER: All right. So he was supposed to do that. They didn’t believe him. They didn’t believe that he was sick. So he was living with us together at that time, Moshe. He was separated from…
STERNBERG: From Florence.
OYSHER: …from Florence Weiss, right.
STERNBERG: From Florence Weiss, right.
OYSHER: And we lived together, and they had a wonderful relationship, so it was very nice.
STERNBERG: He didn’t <INAUDIBLE>
OYSHER: And they came in one time, and they said, you know, <INAUDIBLE>, I don’t have to tell you. They came and they said, “Vus stitsa du?” You know? “Is he gonna daven or he’s not gonna daven?” “Si vetz a gesen blicht.”
I says, “Don’t say that. He is sick. And if he’s well, he’ll be able to daven. If he’s not” — because the doctor who had examined him, he says he won’t go through the night. He wasn’t supposed to even go through the night. I said, “He will go through the night.”
And I was pregnant. So I thought, oh, my God, I’m carrying a name, a name, no. I, I was, I didn’t even concentrate on that. It’s human interest, you know.
And they were difficult. They wanted to see him, and I knew that if Moshe would see them, it would be a terrible feeling for him; it’d be a terrible shock. “Am I really that sick?”
And then it went out on all the newspapers, which wasn’t good. They kept calling, all these things. Finally, he couldn’t possibly make it, and he didn’t make it that Yontiff.
STERNBERG: He did not. No.
OYSHER: He did not. No. And the…
STERNBERG: Actually, he didn’t sing almost a year.
OYSHER: No. He didn’t sing until he went to Hollywood.
STERNBERG: To Hollywood, he went…
SEROTA: What happened in Hollywood?
OYSHER: He took Harold along.
STERNBERG: I went.
OYSHER: And I was walking around with the pippick, and that’s all. I says, “Okay.”
STERNBERG: And he started to…
OYSHER: No. He did a concert there. He did a concert in California.
STERNBERG: In Los Angeles.
OYSHER: In Los Angeles, yeah. He did a concert there, and then he did the movie.
SEROTA: How did he meet Louis B. Meyer?
STERNBERG: I was, I was there…
OYSHER: They called him. They called him there. They wanted him to do songs…
STERNBERG: They wanted, they wanted to redo The Jazz Singer or other things. They wanted to use Moshe. It was a movie. And so they…
STERNBERG: …the first thing is they gave it, they wanted him to sing that song that he did. Der Roshas a Mai.
OYSHER: Der Roshas a Mai.
OYSHER: Well, that was the major song there.
OYSHER: He had a — what do you call it those Russian…
OYSHER: It looks like a tunic, yeah, but there’s a word, a Russian word for it.
LEVIN: You mean for the shirt, the caftan?
OYSHER: It wasn’t, it was a caftan, yeah, that he was wearing. And he sang And Russia Is Her Name — I don’t know the tune.
STERNBERG: No, I was in Hollywood.
OYSHER: That was the first thing he did.
STERNBERG: In the studio when Moshe did the…
OYSHER: That was the first thing he did, actually. He didn’t daven.
STERNBERG: That was the first thing, which was…
OYSHER: And after that, he did the concert.
STERNBERG: That was after the opera, it was closed already, it was over in the summertime. It was almost a, a year, you know. When he started, when he did that.
OYSHER: You mean when you were in California?
OYSHER: No. You were in California in February. Yeah. Yeah. This camera’s rolling. You were in February…
SEROTA: You were out in California within…
OYSHER: …because when you were in California with Moshe, I gave birth to Marilyn. Whether you wanted to or not, okay? You were in there. Okay, my dear. Now let’s go forward.
SEROTA: So he met Louis B. Meyer after he did a concert?
OYSHER: No good?
STERNBERG: There was a party in Louis B. Meyer’s house for Moshe.
STERNBERG: I was there.
OYSHER: Gregory Peck, all great. Oh, there were all celebrities.
SEROTA: Who else was at the party? Betty Hutton?
OYSHER: No. Gregory Peck.
STERNBERG: There were so many stars there, there were so many movie people, so many movie actors.
OYSHER: All of them, everything that was on Metro, you know.
SEROTA: Did Moshe sing at the party?
STERNBERG: I don’t remember. No, no.
OYSHER: He did.
STERNBERG: Yes, yes, he did. Yes, he did.
OYSHER: Yes, he did.
SEROTA: What’d he sing?
STERNBERG: He did, I can’t remember what.
LEVIN: So how long did you stay out there?
OYSHER: Well, they left…
<END OF TAPE 2>
STERNBERG: …my wife. She…
OYSHER: Who wife?
STERNBERG: …she called me on the telephone…
OYSHER: What’s my name? Fraydele.
STERNBERG: … “Come home, you have to go, you have to pick me up.”
OYSHER: Did you go? Did you go? Were you inducted into the Army?
STERNBERG: No, I didn’t.
OYSHER: Can you tell me why you didn’t go?
STERNBERG: My wife…
OYSHER: “My wife took care of it.”
STERNBERG: She took care of it. She, she coached me.
SEROTA: On what?
LEVIN: Eh, it’s over now. It doesn’t matter.
OYSHER: That what was necessary. However — first of all, I had a baby. Hah, hah, hah, hah. He had to take care of the baby. Ah lech digge tu.
Now, what else, guys? Let’s go. It’s ten to 5.
SEROTA: Of the various musical associations that Moshe had. Composers, conductors. Who was Moshe’s favorite, in terms of the various composers?
OYSHER: Two. Abe Ellstein and…
STERNBERG: Abe, also…
OYSHER: He loved him, ah. ‘Cause he was so creative.
STERNBERG: Yeah. And Abie Ellstein.
OYSHER: He was so creative.
STERNBERG: But he did a lot of work with Rumshinsky, and with Secunda.
OYSHER: Yes. True.
STERNBERG: He worked with all them.
STERNBERG: But his favorite…
OYSHER: And he always worked well with them.
STERNBERG: …was Olshanetsky.
SEROTA: I noticed, for example…
LEVIN: Did you work with either of those? With Ellstein?
OYSHER: Yes. I worked with all of them.
LEVIN: So you know, Ellstein, Olshanetsky.
OYSHER: I worked with… I didn’t work with Olshanetsky.
OYSHER: No. I worked with Rumshinsky…
STERNBERG: Rumshinsky and Secunda.
OYSHER: …I worked — the major, the major guy that worked with me was Secunda. ‘Cause he had a popularistic streak.
LEVIN: That’s right.
OYSHER: That was very important to me.
OYSHER: ‘Cause I didn’t want to sing the real, you know, theatrical things. Or I…
LEVIN: What about, what about, did you ever meet Rumshinsky’s son, Murray?
OYSHER: Oh, sure.
OYSHER: Rumshinsky did the first, I think he did some, he wrote something for Marilyn. He did a…
LEVIN: But he’s got a show he was talking about called Chicks and Boychicks. Is that the one? No.
OYSHER: With Marilyn. And we didn’t sing these things — Chicks and Boychicks and all that. We sang a little different.
LEVIN: Marilyn is…
STERNBERG: You know…
OYSHER: Marilyn is what?
LEVIN: Marilyn has done Yiddish from the beginning, too?
OYSHER: Marilyn started with me.
LEVIN: She started with you? She coached with you?
OYSHER: I took her on stage.
STERNBERG: I have to tell you this thing, because we started to speak about Rumshinsky and Olshanetsky and all that. I worked with all of them. But the only one that I didn’t work was Rumshinsky. As a matter of fact, it came to me that at one time, Rumshinsky — someone talk about me, he said, nah, nah. That my father, he had a great voice and all that, but none of the five brothers, and on and on. And I’ll say.
OYSHER: By the way, Rumshinsky’s sister also…
STERNBERG: So Meyer…
OYSHER: Excuse me.
STERNBERG: Insisted that he spoke to me…
OYSHER: He has three sisters also. And they all sing.
STERNBERG: He spoke to Rumshinsky and he said, “You’re going to audition. You need a bass. Take Fraydele’s husband. Take Harold.” “No, no, no.”
But he couldn’t help himself; he took me. And we came to that audition, and we’re singing with the eight, an octet, eight men, and after I sang one number, they say, “Thank you, Mr. Rumshinsky. Thank you, gentlemen. But we’d like the bass to remain here.”
OYSHER: Do you understand? It’s too big of a lull.
SEROTA: Who was the best conductor of the bunch?
OYSHER: The best what?
LEVIN: Of all these.
STERNBERG: I would say…
OYSHER: I think Olshanetsky was. They all had their own way.
For instance, Olshanetsky had a fire. He had a soul. He did it. He was the kind of man that I’d like to have in a pit.
Rumshinsky was like there was a conductor…
STERNBERG: He was nice.
OYSHER: …an English conductor.
STERNBERG: They’re all good conductors.
OYSHER: It was very easy.
The one that conducted and played and pulled a little bit, but was very important was Sholem Secunda. He, he sort of felt, he felt the pulse of a singer. Sholem could say, could play, and if it’s a little too high in the middle, he’ll transpose it for the, for the performer. And they’ll feel, “Ah, a relief.” You know, like he typed you, opened your belt, that’s too tight.
STERNBERG: After, after that audition that Rumshinsky had there, and when they asked that I should remain, and naturally, Rumshinsky remained.
OYSHER: De nisht em bitz. No.
STERNBERG: No, no, no, no. When he became back, you know, and Rumshinsky at that time conducted the chazzanim, 300 chazzanim, and always, they needed basses. There were very few chazzanim basses. So I always — and my brothers, five of us, you know, we always sang it.
So there was one number that they did in the <INAUDIBLE>, stacht chazzanim did a trio. So when it came to a rehearsal and they started rehearsal, it came to the bass part — the chazzan, it’s selected by the chazzanim who’s going to do it. Rumshinsky says, “No, no, no, no, no.” It was after the time when they said, “Thank you gentlemen, we want the bass to remain here.” This part that they felt Harold…
OYSHER: As much as they didn’t want him when he knew exactly how he sounded, and how he was.
STERNBERG: After that, after that…
OYSHER: You know who was very… excuse me, dear.
You know who was responsible? A major break-through for Moshe, as far as davening and going and being a chazzan, and all that. Is Shamai.
STERNBERG: My brother.
OYSHER: Shamai, yes. Shamai, his brother, his oldest brother…
STERNBERG: He came…
OYSHER: …he saw in Moshe, that’s where it is. He said, “Moshe, you’ll play theatre anyhow.” But he says, “This is where you have to make a living. This is what you have to do.” And he was very correct.
STERNBERG: And as an actor, he was married to Florence Weiss, and they didn’t do well, and it was the beginning of the season, and no engagements.
OYSHER: That’s what I wanted to say about.
STERNBERG: And if they wanted to engage him, so he wouldn’t go without his wife. Because he was, he was…. But when my brother told him,…
OYSHER: I didn’t, it didn’t…
STERNBERG: …he came, he came and he…
OYSHER: …play good, that he was going, Moshe. Because he had to go away a lot.
STERNBERG: …synagogue, the Romanishe Shul, for Moshe to daven in, and he davens a shabbos. And slichas enne gevayns sendosen. And there’s 3,000 that were picketing and 1,000 that came and it was…
OYSHER: Moshe didn’t mind. He didn’t.
SEROTA: What did Florence think of this business of going into chazzanus?
OYSHER: She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it, ‘cause look — she was out. And she was…
STERNBERG: She didn’t like it because as soon as he became a chazzan…
OYSHER: …she was an actress. This was her life.
STERNBERG: …he gave up, no more stage no more movies.
SEROTA: Well, after he became a chazzan, though, he made the movies, and she’s in all…
STERNBERG: The movies, yeah.
SEROTA: …she’s in all the movies.
OYSHER: Yeah, but they were still together.
STERNBERG: Yeah, he made the movies.
OYSHER: They were still together. Absolutely.
STERNBERG: The day he made the movies because he…
OYSHER: As a matter of fact, when…
STERNBERG: The movies he didn’t make on Friday, on Shabbos.
SEROTA: No, no.
OYSHER: Before he got sick, that’s when he was, when he was with us. Before he got — and then, when he got sick, he was with us. They were already had separated. You understand? So that was it.
But she still was very unhappy, she still thought it’ll happen for her, he’ll take her back, or whatever it is. But he had a different lifestyle now.
LEVIN: These conductors were, who conducted for you, Secunda conducted for you on records as well?
OYSHER: No. Ellstein conducted on records.
STERNBERG: Ellstein conducted the records.
LEVIN: You recorded for Banner, of course.
OYSHER: Yes. Yeah.
LEVIN: I suppose, yeah.
OYSHER: I conducted for, I sang for Banner, right.
LEVIN: How many records do you think it was?
LEVIN: Just one?
OYSHER: I came from tour, I remember. I came and…
STERNBERG: She made two.
OYSHER: Two, yeah.
STERNBERG: She made what I made for her, Derra Boyn Sher Come Svirah…
OYSHER: I did Svirah, and I did Aden Voorim, and I did Aba Rachamim.
STERNBERG: And Aden Voorim, and Ava and Kleine Avarachmim.
LEVIN: With orchestra or with piano?
OYSHER: Organ, that’s all.
LEVIN: That’s it?
OYSHER: I came from tour, I was tired, I said, “Lar, put it down a half a key.” Was that that time? I went in — one shot, and I walked out.
SEROTA: Whose composition is the Avo Rachamim?
OYSHER: Avo Rachamim is Rappaport. Hello?
LEVIN: Rappaport. Jacob Rappaport.
OYSHER: Am I correct?
LEVIN: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
SEROTA: And Ada Devorim is Rappaport.
OYSHER: Ada Devorim is Rappaport.
LEVIN: Yeah. And the Hasidim Kadoshe is Harold Sternberg.
OYSHER: That’s right.
OYSHER: And, that’s right.
OYSHER: Harold Sternberg.
STERNBERG: That was the second record. The first record…
OYSHER: And he came to me, he said to me, “You know, I like the way you sing it. You sing it very well. I’m satisfied.” I said, “Good.” Yeah.
LEVIN: When, when was the last time that you sang in public a whole concert?
LEVIN: Yeah, a concert.
OYSHER: I sing every day.
LEVIN: No, no, no. But…
OYSHER: I go over to a public, I said, “Stop. I will sing for you.” I went into, when did I go into… into a post office, and I had something, that you don’t have enough things to show who you are or what you are. So I told him, so I sang, (Sings) When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling…. “Oh, yes, you are Fraydele,” he said. “Fine.”
SEROTA: Who is Joy Rich?
SEROTA: Who is Joy Rich?
OYSHER: Me. I used to be.
OYSHER: Oh, I would say in the ‘40s. In the ‘40s. I didn’t make it. I didn’t make it.
And you know why? Not I’ll say, “Oh, well, that was my destiny.” No. It just wasn’t right there at that time.
STERNBERG: There was a man from…
OYSHER: What happened is there, there was a time when big voices were great. Ethel Merman and that and that, they didn’t have any microphones and it, so they were right. I still had that. So when I went in, and I sang, already was coming Perry Como and Russ Columbo, and Patti Page — (Sings) How much is that doggie — on two little notes. You know, and Peggy Lee. And suddenly, they hear this voice — no. The ear wasn’t trained anymore to the big voice. You understand what I mean, Neil? And it wasn’t trained anymore for that. So what happened, Barry?
So when they heard me, they said, “Can you sing softer?” I said, “No.” My whole life, I wanted to do like this. And scare you or something. And so they said, “Well, can you do this?” I said no.
Now they’re, now, all the Black singers are great, they sing, (sings) Ah, hah, hah, hah, and they turn, they twist. I did that in my chazzanus. But they couldn’t understand why I did it. It had to be very, very, you know, easy. Fine. Low. Low. Little voice.
SEROTA: Did Moshe ever cross over into the general popular music field?
OYSHER: Yes. Moshe did everything. If there was something that Moshe liked in English, he did it in Jewish. He did it. Most of the time he…
LEVIN: Who made the translation? He made the translations?
OYSHER: He made the translations.
STERNBERG: He would translate. He would translate. He even translated for himself, himself. Figaro, Del Largo.
OYSHER: Largo, in Yiddish, shabbos.
STERNBERG: In Yiddish.
OYSHER: (Starts to sing “Figaro.”)
SEROTA: Corlo to Pagliacci?
STERNBERG: He did Pagliacci in Yiddish.
LEVIN: And what happened to all the things that he did, that he translated? Is it written down anywhere?
OYSHER: Yes. I have it.
LEVIN: Oh, you have it all?
OYSHER: Yeah. I have it all.
LEVIN: For example, Moshe was a chazzan in Chicago, and continued there. This is even after…
LEVIN: …he was separated from…
OYSHER: Yeah, he davened all over, yeah.
LEVIN: Do you remember where he davened in Chicago? Do you know what shul?
SEROTA: The Romanishe Shul. The Romanishe Shul.
STERNBERG: He davened Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
LEVIN: Where? In Douglas Park?
LEVIN: Was that on Independence Boulevard?
SEROTA: On Douglas Boulevard.
LEVIN: On Douglas Boulevard. And what was he? He was there for the holidays?
LEVIN: Yeah. And how long was he…
STERNBERG: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
LEVIN: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. How many years did he do that?
SEROTA: I don’t know, but he was there long enough to get engaged once.
LEVIN: Yeah? He got engaged in Chicago?
OYSHER: Yeah. Yeah.
OYSHER: That’s right.
LEVIN: After he got, did he remarry?
OYSHER: He did, he was at Stone — let’s get out of Chicago. All right? Unless he takes me there.
LEVIN: You can come any time you want.
OYSHER: All right. The interesting thing, he did a, whether he was davening or something, at Stone Avenue Talmud Torah. And naturally, after the Yon Toiten, you know, they get up, some of, the rabbi gets up and he makes a plea for money. As a matter of fact, up in The Jewish Week, in the ‘80s, somebody wrote about it, and I had, I must have a piece on it. And he saw that the rabbi, etze gemichit, and they didn’t want to give a dime.
And as a matter of fact, when he davened there, at the Stone Avenue Talmud Torah, he was quite a ways away from the, from the synagogue. So Momma went with him. That was when after he was sick. You know? So Momma went all over with, my mom went all over with him. And he didn’t want to go to anybody’s house, ‘cause that was also far. And he wanted to be near. So he slept in the Stone Avenue Talmud Torah.
And if you never slept in a synagogue at night, how eerie it is, you don’t know what it means. There weren’t any pillows, there weren’t any blankets. There wasn’t anything. So Momma made him, she took a por sedurin, put it together, put it down on the ground, nearby somewheres, like a platform, you know, like you walk up. She put it there, she says, “My kind, divash shtayndu, divash zayndu. Du. Metta zayn git, mein kind. Mezanan in America. Biz kenarnie be kimmen a gresses ach. Iz zayn, mein kind. De smircha zen davenen.”
She made this platform for him, she took off her shawl that she would use in the synagogue when she’s sitting, and she put it on the sidur. And she says, “Tizuch misht toyz. Gayn dayn vid der gayz, mein kind, zolder a zayn kol.” And he was sleeping there.
Momma was sleeping on a chair. Which, you know, on the chairs, there are nowheres to put your feet. She was sleeping on the chair. That Yontiff he was there.
Then, when he came to the synagogue, and they made the appeal for, they made the appeal for money, and the rabbi was talking. He couldn’t get it. Finally, he says, “Laibe. Gir bayta. Los mirchreden.”
And he got up and he says, “I don’t anyone to give me fifty dollars or a hundred dollars or five. Just each one of you” — it was sold out. “I want you to give me a dollar, each one of you, please.” And they sold out. It was very touching.
I was, I’m glad I remembered this. It was very important.
SEROTA: I know Moshe had, was quite a Yiddishist…
SEROTA: …aside from writing his own lyrics for arias.
OYSHER: As a matter of fact, I did a dumb thing. I gave a lot of them away to YIVO. All his books that were autographed to him in gold.
SEROTA: But one of the most famous Yiddish poets in the last thirty, forty years…
SEROTA: Was Yitzhak Manger.
SEROTA: What was the nature of the relationship Moshe had with Yitzhak Manger?
OYSHER: It was a good relationship. Until Moshe decided that his name is not Yitzhak. So when he had to sing the song, (Sings) Oy vim vag shtayt a boyn, shtayt a ran…. So he said, so…
STERNBERG: Yitzhak Manger.
OYSHER: So Manger said, “Ken shtushen stein.” He says, “Ach keniz za Moshe. I am singing it; this is mine. I put my own art, identification on it.”
So he went and he did it. He recorded it. But he gave RCA Victor so much, so many problems — it was sold out immediately. He gave them so many problems that they said, “Please, Mr. Oysher, take something else and do it on the other side. We don’t want to, you know, band, shelve the record. It’s terrific.” So he, he couldn’t do it, because, for this one word. Dugga mama.
STERNBERG: Manger, ze dugde mama. Moshe cried. “Azoyt ne shugge…”
OYSHER: Nemen gots ze villa.
STERNBERG: “Zug de mommen Yitzhak…”
OYSHER: He couldn’t. This is not the frage, choma vin zin delm mom del mimmen.
So this, this is what it was, that’s why they, so they took it off. And he didn’t do any Manger anymore. Because Moshe wanted to do a whole slew of Manger songs. And they weren’t touched anymore.
Are you all right, babe?
STERNBERG: Yeah, yeah.
LEVIN: More or less.
OYSHER: More or less, okay.
LEVIN: There was an incident, one night, I heard a story that there was a woman, a female jazz band conductor…
LEVIN: …whom he, whom he later married.
STERNBERG: He married.
LEVIN: But how did that story, how did that begin? I mean, there was a…
OYSHER: I don’t know about that story. I don’t remember it, and if I did, I wouldn’t care.
LEVIN: You’d like to forget it.
LEVIN: But it’s a funny…
STERNBERG: She was a band leader, you know. And he was there.
LEVIN: A jazz band, jazz band.
OYSHER: She was up in the Concord. No. She was at the Concord…
STERNBERG: The Concord. She was a pianist.
OYSHER: …she was in an orchestra, and that’s it. Is there anything else you want to ask me?
STERNBERG: And they met, and they fell in love, and that was it. They got married.
LEVIN: But he pulled an interesting stunt to get her to go out with him in the first place.
OYSHER: What was the stunt?
LEVIN: I don’t want to tell it.
OYSHER: If you need a stunt, it shouldn’t have been together, altogether. That’s beside the story.
LEVIN: Didn’t he tell her something that he only had a certain amount of time to live, or something like that?
OYSHER: No, no, now that wasn’t so.
STERNBERG: No. No.
OYSHER: Have you got something else to ask me? ‘Cause my time is very…
LEVIN: Where did he daven after the Concord?
LEVIN: He was at the Concord? Was that the last place he davened, or did he have other…
STERNBERG: No. He davened at the…
OYSHER: He davened all over, he was all over.
STERNBERG: …he davened in the Stone Avenue Talmud Torah.
LEVIN: That was after…
OYSHER: No, no, no. You mean in the, you mean in the mountains.
STERNBERG: The mountains.
OYSHER: He was at the Pines.
STERNBERG: At the Pines. And I conducted for him.
OYSHER: And he was at…
LEVIN: You conducted for him?
STERNBERG: I conducted all the years there.
OYSHER: …the Paramount. He was at the Pines, and he was at the Paramount, and he was…
STERNBERG: And at Stone Avenue, I conducted.
OYSHER: And he was at the Concord.
SEROTA: But the last years, he was at the Pines Hotel.
SEROTA: The last years, until he died, he was at the Pines Hotel.
STERNBERG: Every year. A number of years.
LEVIN: So who conducted for him there? At the Pines?
STERNBERG: I conducted.
LEVIN: You conducted. What about Nadel?
OYSHER: Nadel? That was his choir.
STERNBERG: It was Nadel’s choir.
LEVIN: Oh, it was a Nadel choir, and you conducted.
STERNBERG: Nadel the choir, and I conducted.
The only time I didn’t conduct for him there is Pesach, or any other, because I was with the opera.
LEVIN: You knew Nadel?
OYSHER: He was busy.
LEVIN: You knew Nadel?
OYSHER: Very well, yeah. He was a sweet guy. A nice, a very nice gentleman. Nice.
SEROTA: Now I understand, that in addition to conducting for Moshe, you also sang in many choirs through the ‘40s and the ‘50s. And you were a fixture in Temple Bay Sayl in Borough Park.
STERNBERG: In Temple, in Temple Bay Sayl, Friedman — you know, at that time, the best singer, was $200, $250, $300 was…
SEROTA: Great for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? You’re talking about Rosh Hashanah?
STERNBERG: Friedman paid me $1,000 to sing with him.
SEROTA: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
STERNBERG: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
OYSHER: That was a lot of money.
STERNBERG: Because Bay Sayl wanted me.
OYSHER: That was a lot of money.
SEROTA: Now, wasn’t there a time that you conducted there?
SEROTA: What happened?
STERNBERG: I conducted. When Friedman took sick, I conducted.
OYSHER: But the…
STERNBERG: And then…
OYSHER: But you know what the trouble was?
STERNBERG: …and then when Friedman died, and they wanted I should take the…
OYSHER: When he got sick. He got well. That was bad.
STERNBERG: …job. I came down and I told them as long as I’m at the opera, I cannot…
LEVIN: What’d you say? I missed it.
STERNBERG: So they said…
OYSHER: You missed it, uh, forget it. These two, they can go on forever.
STERNBERG: So they said, “But you’re conducting in,” I conducted just the holidays. So I say there, I just conduct the holidays, until someone…
OYSHER: What are you looking for?
STERNBERG: …Abie, Abie’s choir, and I conducted and that is all. But to have the job on a whole year-round basis, I couldn’t…
OYSHER: I could never have, I could never have Friedman in my house.
LEVIN: You know what counterpoint means?
LEVIN: You know what a fugue is?
LEVIN: Okay. Now tell me again, ‘cause I didn’t — what were you, about the conductor, you said he got… he was sick? That’s how he came there.
OYSHER: Yeah, but then he got well.
LEVIN: He got well, and it was…
OYSHER: You want a little humor, because it’s right; that’s how it should be.
LEVIN: Who, it’s true though. Who are we talking about?
STERNBERG: No, no, no.
LEVIN: Ben Friedman.
SEROTA: Ben Friedman.
STERNBERG: No, no.
OYSHER: Oh, Ben Friedman. I couldn’t have him in my house.
STERNBERG: There was a holiday.
OYSHER: Oh, I don’t want to quarrel with you. Forget it.
STERNBERG: There was a holiday. How I became a conductor.
On Kol Nidre night, there was a conductor, there for Rosh Hashanah. That I sang that holiday. And Yom Kippur, the day, he took sick.
OYSHER: He took what?
STERNBERG: He became sick.
STERNBERG: And the choir is there, the chazzan, and so someone had to conduct. So they said, “Harold…”
OYSHER: No, they didn’t. They called up. He says, “Freya, I think the man died.” I said, “Okay. What are you gonna do? Let’s go.”
STERNBERG: So I…
OYSHER: So he says, so he says, “What’s gonna be? There’s a choir?” I says, “Do you know your thing?” He says, “Yeah.” I says, “Do you know everybody else’s?” “Yeah.” I says, “Conduct.” He says, “But I never did.” I says, “There’s always a first time.”
STERNBERG: Ah, come on. I never did that.
OYSHER: Did you conduct?
STERNBERG: Yes, I conducted.
OYSHER: All right. So what could I do?
STERNBERG: It, fell on me that I had to conduct…
OYSHER: I love it.
STERNBERG: And when I conducted, I spoke to the choir, and I said, “Look. You all know your parts. I only want you to watch me and pay attention to what I ask you. I don't want loud singing. I want piano singing, but nice, together, under my, the tempos the way I will.”
And the same choir that was Rosh Hashanah and Kol Nidre night, and when I conducted them, the day of Yom Kippur, it was a different choir. That the singers themselves and the chazzan that was there, I forget his name.
STERNBERG: No, no, not Kossivitsky. One of the star chazzanim. It was in the mountains, in Atlantic City. It was in Atlantic City, one of the hotels.
OYSHER: The Breakers.
OYSHER: Was it The Breakers?
STERNBERG: No, no, no.
Anyway, the success that I made, they, Abe found out, he said, “Harold, from now on, you will have to conduct. Because the only way I can have that job again is if you will conduct there.” I made such a success.
So what happened? Moshe needed a choir at the Pines, and he took Abe Ellstein. Abe had three or four synagogues, four choirs. So he said, “Well, I’ll give you your brother-in-law. Because they want them there, you know, but I’ll give him to you.”
STERNBERG: Moshe was thrilled, having me there. And the singing of the choir, with Moshe, this was something that the people…
OYSHER: He was thrilled. He was, he felt very secure with him. Wish I could say that.
STERNBERG: You know, one thing about, about…
OYSHER: Did you pick that up?
STERNBERG: …I admired Julius Adler.
STERNBERG: Julius Adler I admired.
STERNBERG: He was one of the conductors of the Yiddish Theatre.
OYSHER: Not Julius Adler, Harold.
OYSHER: Uh, Harold, it’s the wrong name.
OYSHER: You got the wrong name.
LEVIN: Who is he talking about?
OYSHER: Oscar Julius.
STERNBERG: Oscar Julius.
LEVIN: Oscar Julius. Yeah, tell me about Oscar Julius. You know Oscar Julius, too?
STERNBERG: Oscar Julius. I sang with Julius a couple of years, and I admired him. And the things that he used to do, I admired to such extent that I thought if I ever conduct, I’ll do like Julius. Oscar Julius.
And I started to, with the people, they followed me to do all the things that Julius…
OYSHER: How did I get into this? How did I get into this? Okay. You want to ask more questions?
LEVIN: Tell me about Julius. I want to ask you about, I want to talk about Julius.
OYSHER: You got a few more minutes.
STERNBERG: Julius was one of the best conductors in the synagogue.
OYSHER: And a good guy, too. He was good. Nice man.
STERNBERG: He was the best.
LEVIN: The best.
STERNBERG: The best.
LEVIN: Probably the most, and did you sing with him?
OYSHER: With Oscar Julius?
LEVIN: Did you ever sing with Julius?
OYSHER: I didn’t do any chorus things.
LEVIN: Listen, but you did, the Caval-, what was it? Cavalcade of Stars, or something like that?
OYSHER: Yeah, I did it.
SEROTA: Carvan of Stars.
LEVIN: Caravan of Stars.
OYSHER: Caravan of Stars.
LEVIN: What was that all about?
OYSHER: You’re getting together with him?
LEVIN: I’m talking to you now.
OYSHER: Cavalcade of Stars?
LEVIN: All right, so listen.
OYSHER: All right.
LEVIN: I’m getting old, too.
OYSHER: So what’s happening with you? Caravan of… yes, I did. What did I do? I sang there. I sang. Wherever there was a place, I sang.
LEVIN: You’d sing anywhere, anytime.
OYSHER: Anywheres, anytime.
LEVIN: That’s what Jan Peerce used to say. He used to say, he says, “When I get off a plane,” he says, “I go right to rehearsal. I don’t need to warm up, because I can sing…”
OYSHER: That’s all.
LEVIN: “…any place, any time.”
OYSHER: Every time I used to hear, so — there was a man, by the name — can I say something?
OYSHER: Meyer Steinwurtzel. He was a terrific singer. Kat gavayt tenor, yo?
SEROTA: He sang in Bay Sayl as a tenor in the choir.
OYSHER: Yeah, yeah. He was terrific. Wonderful.
And we had a program on WEVD, for Bond Bread. He and he — both together, it was only fifteen minutes, but both together, I did a song, he did a tune, I did two, he did one. Apropos of something, I’m telling you this, and I don’t remember why. But he used to have a habit — ahem. Ahem. To, you know, there was a nervousness. I says, “Swallow. Swallow.” No. He had a cough. He could cough up. And you know, it’s contagious, everybody starts coughing, like a person starts yawning, you know. And everybody yawns.
So I said, “Don’t do that. Don’t do that, Meyer.” He was right in back of me. Apropos of what I’m, why am I telling it to you? For a reason. He said something. You don’t remember?
STERNBERG: I don’t know.
LEVIN: I had asked you about the Caravan of Stars.
OYSHER: Yeah. That, well, that’s besides the point.
SEROTA: And Jan Peerce said he could sing any place.
LEVIN: Oh, Jan Peerce. Yeah, that technique that you could sing anytime, anyplace.
OYSHER: That’s right. So he says, that’s right. The technique. See what I mean. And to have help.
So he was standing in the back going “Ahem, ahem.” And I gotta go on. I said, “Don’t do that.” He says, “I have something in my throat.” I says, “No. You have something in your head. Don’t do that.” He says, “I didn’t warm up.” I says, “I didn’t warm up either.” I says, “So I’m going on right now. I said — “Ahem” — he kept on — this is the story, to warm up and to do it, you know.
Sopranos have to warm up. All the singers — Moshe never warmed up.
STERNBERG: The concerts Moshe…
LEVIN: Wait, wait, wait. Moshe never did a…
OYSHER: No. He said, “Hah, hah, hah.” All the — aven zin zuch de — whatever I have, I’ll do it on the stage.
STERNBERG: You know, Robert, Robert Merrill and Tucker where one of the concerts where many stars were. And she walks in, Robert Merrill, to talk, and, “Let’s go first. She’s here. After her, we won’t be able to do anything.”
OYSHER: Yeah, that’s…
SEROTA: Who did you study voice with?
SEROTA: You. Who did you study voice with?
STERNBERG: With no one. With my father.
SEROTA: I was just gonna say…
OYSHER: And he’s a natural voice.
SEROTA: And who did Moshe study voice with?
OYSHER: What’s his name? With…
STERNBERG: With no one. With no one. He studied with Klaver.
STERNBERG: Repertoire. Arias.
OYSHER: Repertoire. Bless you.
STERNBERG: But a voice? You know what Klaver said? Klaver said, “Moshe, you’re puzzle to me. I thought that you’re a baritone. No, you’re a tenor.”
OYSHER: And you know who was a tenor-baritone? Enrico Caruso. He had baritone, he was a baritone. And, and qualities, and really, a tenor and baritone.
STERNBERG: And Klaver said, “Moshe…”
OYSHER: These are natural voices. These are not manufactured.
STERNBERG: “…if you will learn one or two operas, anything, you will revolutionize the opera.”
SEROTA: Do you think Moshe was a tenor or a baritone?
OYSHER: It depends on what he wanted to do.
STERNBERG: Moshe, he could do either tenor or baritone, whichever he chose.
OYSHER: A phenomenal voice.
STERNBERG: Yeah. But the thing is, when Moshe started to study — and that’s when he got sick. So Moshe stopped and he said, “I guess I wasn’t destined to do it.”
OYSHER: Yeah. You…
SEROTA: Did Moshe think of himself as being a tenor?
STERNBERG: He did all the tenor solos. But there are many tenors that came to A, B-flat, what they, Moshe — high C, ba mumitz, nothing.
SEROTA: Did he think of him…
STERNBERG: Moshe sang a high C like that.
SEROTA: Did he think he was a tenor?
OYSHER: Yeah. He had tenor, definitely. He was a tenor.
SEROTA: Or a baritone with a high C?
STERNBERG: It was a baritone with a high C, but he sustained it, ‘cause he…
OYSHER: Listen, you want a, the rarities. You know what they’re called? The rarities of life. This is — like everybody plays piano, but there’s someone that plays piano or fiddle, and he’s a prodigy.
STERNBERG: He mentioned that Klaver, who said, “Moshe, you’re a puzzle to me.” And Klaver…
OYSHER: It’s not a puzzlement.
STERNBERG: …at the Metropolitan. “Because [if] you can sing any baritone aria, and you can sing any tenor aria.”
OYSHER: This is a great gift. A great gift. Look. Guys, I’m gonna have to leave. It’s a quarter to six.
LEVIN: Let’s break.
OYSHER: Please. Thank you very much, my darling.
<END OF TAPE 3>
OYSHER: Come on, that’s so — that’s not very cool, you know. Come on. All right, let’s go.
CAMERAMAN: Look here, look here. Okay. One more time.
OYSHER: That’s it.
CAMERAMAN: No, I didn’t get it yet.
OYSHER: Come on.
CAMERAMAN: Oh, come on.
OYSHER: Knock it off.
OYSHER: You got it? That’s all. Now, what did you want? Let me see that.
SEROTA: This will show where you, you’re sitting with Moshe.
OYSHER: Oh, that’s the review in Matah. Yeah, you can take one like this.
STERNBERG: No, that’s very small.
SEROTA: No, no. We’re gonna go over it one by, while the camera’s going.
OYSHER: Oh! You mean, the camera’ll be on?
SEROTA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OYSHER: When are you leaving, Brad?
STERNBERG: But this is not, no one can see anything on that.
OYSHER: Okay, so…
BRAD: I’m here with the whole crew.
OYSHER:. Oh. Okay. Take the crew and go home. Huh?
BRAD: Josh? You’ve just been excused.
OYSHER: You still, oh! You still have damn things on there.
OYSHER: Oh, gosh. Now, what are you doing Barry?
SEROTA: This, we’ll show these one at a time.
OYSHER: All right, give me that a minute.
SEROTA: You want to use this?
OYSHER: It’s cute. It’s nice.
SEROTA: Okay, fine. So I think the rest of the things in here, we’ll show one at a time, each one of these. These are…
OYSHER: All right, fine.
SEROTA: So let me just, we’ll just put it over here on my lap.
SEROTA: And we’ll sort of go through this…
OYSHER: Yeah, but, but don’t dwell on everything.
SEROTA: No, no. What is this picture? What is this picture?
OYSHER: Just give me, I was, I was on vacation.
OYSHER: Because I had come from a tour, and I was supposed to start another tour.
SEROTA: Is there anything, so it’s not…
OYSHER: No, don’t bother. If it’s gonna make a problem, don’t bother.
SEROTA: No, it doesn’t make a problem. But it doesn’t, it doesn’t show anything.
OYSHER: Okay. Fine.
SEROTA: Other than the fact that you once took a vacation.
OYSHER: And believe me, that was the last time. I never took one after that.
Okay? Are we ready? Okay, my child, okay, sweet children. Let’s go.
SEROTA: We mentioned before…
SEROTA: How it was that you had been planning to make a film. And we have here — are we ready? We have here — what is this?
OYSHER: Oh, this is the, this is the list of The Cantor’s Daughter that was supposed to be made, and do you remember the date? You looked at the…
SEROTA: Well, we mentioned Moshe’s movie, The Cantor’s…
OYSHER: The Cantor’s Son.
SEROTA: The Vilna Val Baysel came out in February of 1940. This was going to be about three or four months later. May of 1940 was the date of the legal letter that you got.
OYSHER: Yeah. Uh-huh.
SEROTA: And Mr. Lande, you made The Vilna Balla Baysa was…
OYSHER: Yeah. Mildred Lande made Vilna Balla Baysa and he wanted, which was The Chazzan’s Zee…
SEROTA: Overture to Glory.
OYSHER: No. No. The first, the first…
SEROTA: Was The Cantor’s Son.
OYSHER: Was The Cantor’s Son.
OYSHER: And then they wanted to make The Cantor’s Daughter. With me. So they had everything made, they had ten days put down, straight, you know. The total, what it has to cost. Big deal. It’s not even a tip today.
SEROTA: What’s the budget there?
OYSHER: The budget there was $16,000, $17,990. I don’t know — it says here something. A percentage. And they had here the crew and the camera and the sound and studio equipment, sets, props, costumes, director, make-up, an assistant tailor, assistant and so forth and so on and so on. Cast and recording, electric, miscellaneous, which was what?
SEROTA: I don’t know.
OYSHER: Miscellaneous. And this was, and three assistants, $110. Then it had the cast. Fraydele…
SEROTA: But in any event…
OYSHER: Michal Rosenberg, Hannah Appel, a boy, nine actors, extra. And how much was the whole thing, would the whole thing be? $3,000.
SEROTA: For the actors.
OYSHER: What three actors? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine — stars. Including quote-quote me. And I’m down here for a snappy couple of hundred dollars, maybe a hundred or two hundred dollars. The rest, I get $60, $300.
SEROTA: But in any event, the war had broken out.
OYSHER: The war had broken out, right.
SEROTA: And then no more Yiddish films were being made.
OYSHER: No more Yiddish, right.
SEROTA: Now, what is this?
OYSHER: I was going, in ’36, I went to South America. I was married only a year, so I figured, eh! We’ll celebrate our marriage and whatever, and go to work there.
OYSHER: I was, at the Mitra, Mitra Theatre.
SEROTA: And this?
OYSHER: This is from, yeah, Teatra Mitra. Harold and I. My husband and I. He played the leading man.
SEROTA: Here we, I see another ad from the same theatre.
OYSHER: Yiddishe Meden, Teatra Mitra, just — yeah.
SEROTA: And also Halama Chazzan.
OYSHER: Halama, yeah, Halama Chazzanut. That, that was a fun thing.
SEROTA: Okay, and here’s another, another ad for the same theatre.
OYSHER: Yes. Fraydele. Barkov-, wrote The Bar Mitzvah.
STERNBERG: The Bar Mitzvah.
OYSHER: After I had played all the, all my own, you know, my own shows that were written for me, I needed material, so I had to do The Bar Mitzvah, I had to do Halama the Chazzantel. I had to do things that I had never played before.
STERNBERG: Business was so great there, that they brought all these plays. We didn’t even have them.
SEROTA: Whose show is Bar Mitzvah? Who wrote that show?
STERNBERG: Bar Mitzvah? By Thomashefsky.
OYSHER: Thomashefsky’s show.
STERNBERG: Okay. And this?
OYSHER: But wait. I did the, I did A Bar Mitzvah with Thomashefsky. I, I worked with Thomashefsky on that.
And this is the National Theatre. And here you have Hymie Jacobson, you have Fraydel Oysher, you have Chaim Toyber, you have Florence Weiss, and you have Michele Yosig. Well, I like to mention them.
OYSHER: That’s a good idea.
Here, I did — this, this was interesting. I heard everybody was going to Montreal, to clubs. You know? To cafes, to clubs to do. So I decided to go also. I went there in Montreal, as a diz eshte mul. Fraydel Oysher. I came there with Hymie Jacobson, he was my accompanist — a brilliant accompanist, a terrific, talented man. And he, and they didn’t, the audience, they didn’t come. They didn’t want to see me in a, in a café, in a cabaret. Everybody was there. Every, all the other actors. But I didn’t, they didn’t come.
That was in, I’m trying to see the date. I can’t see the date. It must have been some, some times in January, February, you know. You don’t go to Montreal at that time…
OYSHER: The snow is that deep. And they didn’t, but when I came there for Pesach, everybody turned out. I says, “What happened? Why didn’t you come to me when I was at Sofrin’s?” They said, “We didn’t want to see you there. We’d rather see you in a theatre.”
So I think I came to Her Majesty’s Theatre, where I had a concert there, I did a recital.
SEROTA: But in addition to your appearing in theatre…
SEROTA: …you also appeared in concert.
OYSHER: Oh, that was a major thing. The recitals were my love.
SEROTA: Here is a…
OYSHER: They were the love of my life. I have a tremendous, a, here. That’s a beautiful thing. And I have a tremendous repertoire, which I adored. And I didn’t have the responsibility of, of having the cast on my head, you know? And having the cues and everything. I was my own person on a, at a recital.
SEROTA: When you sing you’re in the recital.
OYSHER: And here I have overture here, which Harold Green has played. A brilliant pianist. You didn’t need an orchestra with this man. And he was very thoughtful and caring, and, and sensitive, and that was good.
And then I sang Farvus. This is a song that Moshe wrote. He sang, (Sings) Moshelah’s a yingele vitz mays…
SEROTA: I noticed, I noticed, though, as to the credits…
SEROTA: It doesn’t say M. Oysher.
OYSHER: Yeah, because it wasn’t right, yeah.
SEROTA: He uses another pseudonym here. What does it say?
OYSHER: No. Moshe Reich.
SEROTA: Moshe Reich.
OYSHER: You know, Reich, Reich, it’s Oysher. You understand?
STERNBERG: Oysher is Reich.
OYSHER: So M. Reich. He didn’t want, because he used to, he used to make songs, he used to sing songs, and he used to do all these things, he says, “It’s too much. I,” like he didn’t want to do everything. He…
SEROTA: Like Schwartz used to use a pseudonym, Charney.
OYSHER: Yeah, Charney, right. That’s right. You knew about it. For a young person, you know an awful lot about this yidishkeit. Very admirable.
And then I did Ayla Devorim, which was Mr. Rappaport’s. Amhoo was not Secunda’s. Amhoo was a folk song. But hey! Not a bad name, Secunda.
And then he did, Harold Green did his Dance of the Rebbetzin, and he, he did things that were very nice, and didn’t interfere with anything I did. Then I did The Yiddish Enigma, Joseph Rumshinsky. I did Met Ha Hatoyne, Yossele Rosenblatt. I, and then, he, Harold Green did a potpourri of Hasidic music. Then I did Essem Ma David, by Rosenblatt.
I was very partial to Rosenblatt. Not only his singing and his work, but the person. He was a very sweet man. A dear man.
And Ya Hosho Nisht Ke Koy, which is a folk song. And…
SEROTA: And who comes after you? Who was the next, next artist in this series?
OYSHER: And this, I went up there and I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. You were wonderful.” And wonderful people. At that time, they still wanted to go to the theatre. They wanted to hear a folk song. And I said, “My brother is coming. Please enjoy. Our next celebrity is my brother, Moshe. Moshe Oysher.”
And when he used to go before me, he used to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t forget to come next month. My sister Fraydele is gonna be. You’ll enjoy it.”
SEROTA: Okay. Here is an ad for a theatre…
OYSHER: Here is the Anderson Yiddish Theatre. Right here. You have the entire cast here, you have Fraydel Oysher and Sholem Secunda, which was very dear to me, because he was very helpful to me. You have a tremendous, a slew of terrific actors. Julius Adler, Henrietta Jacobson, Jacob Zanger, Leo Liebgold. Terrific. Terrific actors. Brilliant actors. All of them. Moshe Steinberg. Marte Yassen. A glorious group of people. And Sholem Secunda was the conductor. And I did A Chazzanate Lov Shabbos.
SEROTA: Okay. Now we have a couple of ads from Chicago.
OYSHER: From your home town.
SEROTA: My home town.
OYSHER: Your home town. This is, I was at the… where was that?
SEROTA: Douglas Park Theatre?
OYSHER: At the Douglas, is that the Douglas Park?
SEROTA: I think so.
OYSHER: Douglas Park Theatre, yeah. And he was supposed to follow me.
And here you have, I’m right there, Fraydele, and here is the very, very delightful and charming and funny Menasha Skulnik — I have to look down to see who it was.
STERNBERG: He followed you.
OYSHER: Yeah, he followed me. Into the theatre. Which is how performers usually do. You play four, five, six weeks. And then somebody else comes in. Hopefully, if the theatre stays open.
STERNBERG: One time you was there, Maury Schwartz followed you.
OYSHER: Yeah. After — Maury Schwartz followed me in, too, at the Douglas Park Theatre at one time.
SEROTA: Here also is a play that you did in Chicago, at the Douglas Park Theatre.
OYSHER: Fraydele Chazzante, right. And there, the very first time. So they put Moshe there. Did you see?
OYSHER: “Der Shvesta of Moshe” — ahhhh! That was wonderful. And Moshe used to day, “Der breder fum Fraydele Oysher.” And that was a lovely thing.
SEROTA: We spoke before about your being at the Civic Theatre in Chicago?
OYSHER: Civic Theatre, yeah. I did The Little Queen there. At that time, already, I had a, I had a little child, and I took her with me. And every alamdid fe gedon sick — she got sick, finally, I couldn’t wait till I got back.
But it was a lovely theatre, Civic. Right next door to us was, right next door to this theatre was Mary Martin. In One Touch of Venus, with John Bold. I think I told you that before.
OYSHER: Well, I tell it to you again.
SEROTA: That’s good.
OYSHER: You know the story.
SEROTA: It was good the first time; it’s good the second time.
OYSHER: “I got a pain.” “Did you ever have it before?” “Yes.” “Well, you have it again.”
OYSHER: Okay? Good.
This is Hadama Chazzante. That was a cutie. That was a cutie. That’s also one.
SEROTA: I don’t know where it was.
OYSHER: John Hancock. Oh, yes, yes. I think this was in Boston. This was in Boston. I did this show in Boston. Reizele, Max Bozyk. Very brilliant, very terrific, very talented people. Very talented. I always took them with me, because they were very important.
SEROTA: Here is from Montreal.
OYSHER: From Montreal, yes.
SEROTA: Chazzante Shabbos.
OYSHER: Yes, yes, yes. So again, music by Sholem Secunda. And you have terrific — and what, Jacob Jacobs. Terrific guy, who did the lyrics. He was the best lyricist in the business. Jacob Jacobs.
SEROTA: For many, many years he was in theatre, right?
OYSHER: Oh, God. He had his own theatre, the Parkway Theatre in Brooklyn. And a nice man. A very frum man.
STERNBERG: Yeah, he had The National Theatre for many, many years.
OYSHER: He had the National…
SEROTA: I remember he was still performing into his 90s. Right?
OYSHER: Well, I, the last time I was in, I was in Montreal, he didn’t remember anything. He didn’t remember what to say or what to do. So he kept the entire book, he kept the book onstage, and he was looking for it and reading. The audience was, they were bewildered. How could he do that? And somebody said, “Why do you let him?” I says, “Let him. Let him. I don’t want to take it out of his hands.”
OYSHER: It’s not such a big deal.
SEROTA: Here we have Oscar…
OYSHER: Ohhh, this man was very important in my life. He’s a man who happened to — he, Oscar Ostroff wrote lyrics, he wrote music, he was sensitive, he understood. And he was the one that said, “I am gonna bring Fraydele Oysher here, because I know,” he says, “all what I, whatever I” — he had a, his wife had a lot of diamonds or whatever she had, jewelry. And they put it into what do you call it? The…
OYSHER: Hock, yeah, they hocked it, that’s a word? They got a, and finally, when I was there, he says, “I took the money out because of Fraydele, terrific.”
And this is Eretz Yisroel Est Meins. Oscar Ostroff. Yeah. Very talented man. And he did a great deal — as a matter of fact, last time he wrote me a letter, he wrote me a letter. And he writes, he wrote, “Fraydele,” he didn’t have my address. He wrote, “Fraydel Oysher, New York City.”
SEROTA: And it got there?
OYSHER: I got it. I still have the letter. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it.
SEROTA: He probably could have just sent it “Fraydele” and it would have gotten there.
OYSHER: He was a terrific, wonderful. He knew music, he knew how to write a, a nice song. And he, he knew lyrics, he was sensitive. He came from Lipkan, didn’t he?
OYSHER: Oscar. Ostroff.
STERNBERG: You know that he got a letter to Fraydele. Her name was always in the lights and on the marquee.
OYSHER: Yeah. I think maybe that’s why they knew.
STERNBERG: Fraydel Oysher, Fraydel Oysher.
OYSHER: And this is Fraydele the Chazzante. Okay. I never cared when I had the chazzante. I wanted either Fraydele or Fraydel Oysher, my whole name.
SEROTA: Did we mention why they didn’t use your last name sometimes?
OYSHER: It isn’t necessary.
OYSHER: It isn’t necessary. It’s gone and forgotten. You’ve got to be forgiving; if you’re not forgiving, there would be no world. No world, my friend.
SEROTA: This is for posterity.
OYSHER: Posterity, is that posterity, dochen.
That when this is, the Anderson Theatre in 1971. Which almost was a major mistake for me, because I was there in 1968, and I was just across the house where my mother lived. It was, it was hard. They said, “Do it, do it, you’ll do it well.”
And here you have Mina Bern, you have Reyzel Bozyk, you have Bernard Sauer, you have David Carey, a friend of mine, a dear, dear young man.
And right, and on, it was a movie here. There was, there was a show, a revue. And a movie. And the movie was with Maury Schwartz in Tevye der Milkheker. And you know what that is?
SEROTA: One of the great movies.
SEROTA: One of the great Yiddish films, Tevye.
OYSHER: One of the great, yeah. And they made what? Fiddler on the Roof.
SEROTA: Fiddler on the Roof.
OYSHER: Right. This he, he did it, and it was terrific. Very…
SEROTA: Here, I see them Chazzans Techlerol…
OYSHER: Temple. Yeah.
SEROTA: …and I see, Borget. She’s your…
OYSHER: I always took them all, they were brilliant. They were very good people.
STERNBERG: They were very good.
SEROTA: The star of Crossing Delancey Street, right?
OYSHER: She was the star in Crossing Delancey Street. It’s interesting. She made it bigger than anybody by, by getting the, the part.
OYSHER: Interesting enough. And I was sorry about her, you know.
And I had Florence Weiss with me here. Yes, I had Florence Weiss. And I had Maxele and Reyzel Bozyk. He was very helpful to me when I went on tour and I was, it was difficult. So I, I would ask him to do the show for me.
OYSHER: You know, to direct the show for me.
And this is night, this is Rozanka, Vera Rozanka. And Israel Rosenberg. He was an author, he wrote.
SEROTA: Who was Vera Rozanka?
OYSHER: She was his wife.
STERNBERG: She was one of the stars of the Yiddish theatre.
OYSHER: And he wanted me very much in the Clinton Theatre. And they said, “Go, go,” and so I did. Ben Bonus was there. Pinchas Lavenda.
SEROTA: How was he, Pinchas Lavenda?
OYSHER: Pinchas Lavenda was funny. He and Seymour were in a play. Der Ver Chazzans Toch.
OYSHER: And they had to do something very, very quick and very, and both of them were very lax and laid-back. Pinchas and Seymour. So he says, comes over to Seymour and he says to him, “Seymour,” I said, “Seymour, come on, up.” ‘Cause he played the wolf. You know, the… so Pinchas says — and he also was laid-back, you know, easy. So he comes over to him and he says to him, “Seymour, you know why? She wants you to have a little more pep.” Have a little more pep — that was priceless.
SEROTA: How was Lavenda as a singer?
OYSHER: Very good. Not — he had a very big hit. He had a (Sings) Nat tal shal, shvartz zin a tal shal. Yeah, he was very, he was a liebhober. And he sang, he had a good voice.
SEROTA: Is that song by Olshanetsky, that song?
OYSHER: I don’t know who wrote it.
STERNBERG: No, no.
OYSHER: I didn’t sing it.
STERNBERG: Not Olshanetsky.
OYSHER: This is from Havana. This is from Havana. Cuba. Before Castro. When I went there, Harold went there with the Metropolitan Opera, they were doing some work. And I went to find out where the Yiddish people were. It was very important to me.
Vessen de Yeden? You know, vus stinzay? Habbach gavist? Ader coster zangen kimmen gabayn alder zay rach hader zay umem vis manney vises la umem. You know?
SEROTA: Your luck.
OYSHER: Yeah, with them. So I went there, I found out, I says, “Erotov a platz a teater vachananay mamena flat. Me momen mitig zug.” All right. Il villa gi mach con conser.
So I gave the concert and they said, “A ve azoi zing Fraydele.” And they were very nice; they were appreciative, and this was very, very lovely and I was very glad I did it. And also, they said, “Zaige ventz Fraydele,” and they wrote letters. They were beautiful people.
SEROTA: Looks like a picture from the Forverts.
OYSHER: This is magnificent. I don’t know whether this will go. This is from 1941. 1941. August 21st. They were making these big benefit performances for children to go to camps and what-not. So right in the front, here, I don’t know. Can you get a close-up of — is that on? It is. Oh. They can get a close-up of this, it would be wonderful.
You have over here Molly, you have Molly Picon. You have Misha, Lucy German, you have Seymour here, you have a lot of people. Hannah Appel. I, I do want to mention all these names, and I can’t get that here. Over here you have again, Fraydel Oysher, Molly Picon — the front ones are actually superstars. Yankel Kalich. You have a lot of them here.
It’s way back, that’s in 1941. Before my kids. Before my children.
And what’s on this side? This is nice. I did a concert in Montreal. So it was Seymour, Michal Rosenberg and Fraydel. We did a — a true thing about Michal. You know Michal used to drink. And that, that was his downfall. ‘Cause he was brilliant actor.
SEROTA: He drove a big Packard, didn’t he?
OYSHER: I don’t know. I never was in his Packard; I don’t think he was able to drive at any time.
SEROTA: Yeah, he drove it.
OYSHER: Yeah. And I remember at, during wartime, you were able to take two bottles of liquor from Canada. And everybody — “Oh, when you go there, please get” — what was the name of it? Do you remember the name of it?
SEROTA: Canadian Club.
STERNBERG: The Canadian drink.
OYSHER: No, Royal something-something.
STERNBERG: Liquor. Royal Crown.
OYSHER: Royal Crown. So I said, “All right. I’ll bring two home, and I’ll give one here, one there, one to my father, one we’ll keep.” And he took two bottles of something, I don’t know. And Seymour two bottles.
Then, when we had to go home, we were on the train. And you have to declare what you have. You’re entitled to two bottles. So I said, “Seymour, tell them, because we don’t want to stay long; we want to get going.” So Seymour says, “I have these two bottles,” and I had two bottles, and I also had a little piece of Limoges that they brought me to, you know, like a little cup or something, and a saucer — a gift. And I said, “I have this.”
And I said, “Michal, tell them what you have.” He says, “I don’t have any.” I says, “Michal, don’t let’s stop here for any amount of time. I want to get back. I have work.” So he said, “But I don’t have any.” I says, “What do you mean you don’t?” So he’s, the other, you know, the what do you call it? The…
SEROTA: The border guard?
OYSHER: The inspector, yeah. He said, “Did you buy anything?” He says, “Yes.” I said, “So why don’t you tell him?” He says, “I haven’t got it. I got it all in here.” He drank it out.
OYSHER: He drank two bottles of liquor out. We were amazed.
SEROTA: That’s why he was so funny.
SEROTA: Anyway, here. You and Moshe are cornering the matzoh market.
OYSHER: Cornering the matzoh, that’s terrific. Moshe was on EVD, I was on MCA.
OYSHER: And EVD.
SEROTA: And EVD.
OYSHER: And LTH.
OYSHER: And WBNX.
SEROTA: Who was your sponsor?
OYSHER: And… my sponsor here is Horowitz-Margareten.
SEROTA: And Moshe’s sponsor?
OYSHER: And Moshe’s is WEVD. No. What is that?
OYSHER: Goodman’s Matzos. And we had matzos for Pesach from wall-to-wall.
STERNBERG: They used to send all these, they used to send us matzos.
OYSHER: Yes. From wall-to-wall we had, and we used to give it away to people who needed, you understand. Yeah.
SEROTA: They had a program on EVD, Shul Nigunim. And Maxwell House was a sponsor. So did they send Moshe coffee when he sang on the, on the Maxwell House program?
OYSHER: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right.
OYSHER: That’s right. He had a lot of coffee, you know.
And on this side, you have, on this side, you have WBFW. I was on there, too. I went all the way out in Brooklyn.
This is Rumshinsky. Thank you. Rumshinsky, Fraydele, and here you have Jacobs and his wife.
You have Der Zinger — there’s a man here that missed the boat. His name is William Schwartz. He had the most glorious voice you ever heard. And besides, besides having a wonderful voice, he was so good-natured. He was so kind. He was so gentle. And usually, people like that fall by the wayside. They’re, they’re too good.
And Max, Max Wilner, he was my favorite comedian. I loved him. Besides Budgick. And Michal Rosenberg was a doll. And who else do you have? Abe Sincoff. He gave me my first break in New York. Abe Sinkoff. And Ellie Katz also was very, very helpful to me, in every which way. And who else can I say? And Fraydele Oysher. WSVC.
SEROTA: That’s in Chicago.
OYSHER: That’s in Chicago, yes.
OYSHER: You know.
OYSHER: And this is Frayde Oysher. In Philadelphia, when I first started. And my father first realized that I could sing. He didn’t know; he thought only Moshe could sing, ‘cause he heard Moshe in Europe yet, when he was seven years old and Poppa left.
‘Cause when Poppa left, I was ten weeks old. He was so delighted that he saw me and he knew me, that he went away and I didn’t see him for eight years. I didn’t even know who he was until I saw him. I says, “Where is that man? He’s kissing my mother. Why?”
And this goes back so long, I, I, it’s — what are you laughing? At the Yellow Ticket, with Lionel Barrymore, that’s when he used to walk. You know Lionel Barrymore used to be legit. “And Frayde Oysher, on our stage, two nights only.”
SEROTA: Why was your father away eight years?
OYSHER: Because he went to seek his fortune here, in America. The Golden Invidina.
SEROTA: Did he find it?
OYSHER: Zero! Zero! Everybody that came here, zero!
STERNBERG: He left before the war broke out.
SEROTA: What was he doing here for eight years?
OYSHER: I wouldn’t ask him, because he’s liable to tell me.
However, this is — I was on WCAU, W- what is it?
OYSHER: WFAN. WREX. WELK. In Philadelphia. I, look — there was no TV that time.
OYSHER: I’d a done that too if I could.
And what is on this side? This is interesting. The Romanian-Hebrew Beneficial Association. That was my first job.
SEROTA: That’s ‘cause you’re Romanian.
OYSHER: Not necessarily. I don’t know what I am — Romanian or Russian. I am a person. I belong to all people in the world, and people belong to me.
So there’s a concert and installation, and I must mention her name — Sylvia Elleg — Elkin. She was the one that accompanied me. And I didn’t have a, I didn’t have a picture to put in here. But I was graduating, so I took the graduation picture and I gave it to them. You see? I have a blue skirt and a white blouse and a red tie.
SEROTA: What are we doing now? We’re going? Okay.
OYSHER: Is it? Okay. Now here, you have the Academy of Music. Would you believe that I don’t know. It says Wednesday, December 31st, New Year’s Eve. But I don’t know the year.
SEROTA: What city?
OYSHER: That’s where I started. Philadelphia. And here you have Leo Fuchs. Avram Lebedeff. You have Uncle David, from the Goldberg, The Rise of the Goldbergs. Yeah. He was there. And Fraydel Oysher. And that was a terrific concert, terrific. Gazong.
And then I have something here with Fraydel Oysher and Avram Lebedeff. And I said, “How can you put me top billing?” And Lebedeff, ‘cause you know, he was a…
SEROTA: One of the giants.
OYSHER: One of the giants, a superstar. And a nice guy, too. Stingy, but nice.
And here you have Leo Fuchs and Fraydel Oysher. And Fuchs, Fuchs and Fraydele.
SEROTA: Let me ask one question.
OYSHER: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I have here Irving Jacobson and Mae Schoenfeld. And I’m trying to get this — and Molly Picon —Oh, Mameleh! On the screen, because you know, when we were at the National Theatre, we did a show…
SEROTA: Stage show and a movie.
OYSHER: …we did, yeah, we did two, three, four shows. It depends on how much people came. We had to roll things over. Yes.
Here, you have something with, you have something with Boris Thomashefsky. And at the Lyric Theatre, the Halama Chazzante. So who do I have here? I have Muriel Gruber, Leo Harris, Ringler, Julius Adler, Fraydele — this is my show. And the operetta. And oh, that’s the Halama Chazzan — this is Menager, Harold. Mager, I forgot.
OYSHER: Staged by Elgrid, Elgard. And Lillian, Isidore Lillian did the…
OYSHER: Yeah. And produced by Harold Sternberg.
SEROTA: There you are, there’s the producer.
OYSHER: I don’t know what he had, but he did it.
SEROTA: Let me ask you one question.
SEROTA: We were once talking years ago about Bei Mir Bist du Schoen. And the question is, who really wrote the melody for the famous song Bei Mir Bist du Schoen? Now I was told…
SEROTA: That originally…
OYSHER: It was…
SEROTA: …for the same lyrics…
SEROTA: …Olshanetsky wrote a melody, but it wasn’t used. And then later, Olshanetsky left a show, Secunda came in with the same lyrics, and Secunda wrote a melody.
OYSHER: No. No. It’s not. Secunda wrote…
STERNBERG: It was Secunda.
OYSHER: Secunda wrote the…
STERNBERG: He wrote, (Sings) Bei mir bist do schoen — it’s Secunda’s.
OYSHER: And the lyrics is Jacob Jacobs.
OYSHER: And they sold it for a pittance.
SEROTA: Twenty-five dollars.
STERNBERG: Yes. Yes.
OYSHER: That’s all, because they were so… and…
SEROTA: Lebedeff didn’t write the melody?
OYSHER: And the rest is history.
OYSHER: You know that. This is Palestine is Mine, which is Israel now, long may it wave. And pardon? And lyrics by Oscar Ostrov — that’s the guy I was telling you about.
OYSHER: “And as sung by the famous Fraydel Oysher.” All right, I guess it was…
SEROTA: Douglas Park Theatre in Chicago.
OYSHER: Douglas, again Douglas Park.
SEROTA: They liked you in Chicago.
OYSHER: Yes. I loved Chicago. I did very well in Chicago.
SEROTA: Why do we have a picture of Yossele?
OYSHER: I, because Yossele — this gentlemen wrote this for me. (Sing) Zig gi kimmen leit, tiz a nay — that’s one you sing at a bar mitzvah. And I did a lot of bar mitzvahs.
As a matter of fact, recently, I met a man who was standing in my building, and he was saying, “Aren’t you Fraydel Oysher?” I says, “Yes. I used to be. What is it?” He said to me, “You sang at my bar mitzvah.” I says, “How old are you? Sixty?” He says, “No. And this is my child.”
So this is the Naya Ye, this is Lebe Feingold, who wrote this for me. (Sings)Ze ke kimmen nein tis yam…. So then, Yossele Rosenblatt heard it, and he liked it, and he took it. So he’s here, Yossele Rosenblatt, and here I am, and here is Lebe Feingold who…
SEROTA: The composer.
OYSHER: The composer. Fine composer.
SEROTA: Here you are performing in California.
OYSHER: Here, I’m performing in California. And business is garaven nisht gavayn zoket.
OYSHER: But it was lovely. What, who I have here. I had a, I had a gentleman, a young man, like one of these children that we have here. He says, “Please, Miss Oysher, let me be the radio announcer.” So somebody said, “Yeah, but he’s not in the union. And he’s not Jewish.” I says, “Let him be the radio announcer. I want him to.” And he was. His name is Kurt Ivey. Kurt Ivey, you could imagine — hey! He’s not exactly Israel, whatever.
OYSHER: Yeah. Abe Livschultz, right. And Yettie Zwerling was in the cast, Fraydel Oysher. Alex Kleiner, a lovely gentleman, a young man who played. I was a little too old for him, but he, it was okay. And Abe Lochs. Difficult man. Rebecca Reben — a doll. A lovely doll.
And a nice lady, Roma Leder Koch, which I insisted that she come in and do the play, because I heard that she had had a little downfall here and there, and I thought that would give her a pick-up and it was important.
SEROTA: Here’s another song by Lebe Feingold.
OYSHER: Lebe Feingold — Yiddishe Namen.
<END OF TAPE 4>
OYSHER: …worked for him. It worked for him.
And when they came in from the, the troupe came in and they said, “Hey, the cast. Why don’t you put us?” He says, “If you’ll bring me money, I’ll put you up, too.” This is it.
This is one way, and this is another way, and then the center. Boy, oh boy, am I humble? Okay.
OYSHER: I’m doing what you want.
SEROTA: This is another song?
OYSHER: This is the first song that I ever sang in my life. A Moma’s der Beste Frende. This is from, this, Secunda. A Momma’s der Beste Frende — (Sings) A momma’s der beste frende, zeis dis zlich en shayn…
Hey. You can’t get any, you need four handkerchiefs, four-star handkerchiefs to this here. In fact, Marilyn was just…
OYSHER: Momeleh. That’s it, I did it. But I didn’t do it very long; as soon as I…
SEROTA: Okay, we have some photographs here.
OYSHER: My son always says to me, Michael always says to me, “Well, sing me a little Momeleh here.”
OYSHER: I wish my son were here today…
SEROTA: What’s this?
OYSHER: …he wouldn’t let me stay so long. This is a brilliant pianist…
SEROTA: I’ll call him up; he’ll come over.
OYSHER: No. And they’re sitting and I’m standing here. And singing. Always singing, in a little dark dress, playing. Enjoying the lovely — for a group of people, and I enjoyed it very much, and I did it.
SEROTA: Okay. Here is a still from a film.
OYSHER: This is a still from Yankel the Schmid. Moshe. Oy, Moshe, Moshe. Singing Blacksmith. 1938. Starring Moshe. Oy, Moshe, Moshe, Moshe. Mi moyshad Moshe.
SEROTA: Okay, this is a contemplative picture.
OYSHER: Yes, yes, mon hauts. This is Moshe. There’ll never be another Moshe.
SEROTA: Here’s a picture of Moshe from a magazine.
OYSHER: And Moshe, yes. Moshe from a magazine, and “The legendary Moshe Oysher.”
SEROTA: I think it’s in South Africa.
STERNBERG: He was in South Africa.
OYSHER: Yeah, from South Africa. Which I was supposed to go with Oscar Ostrov. I told you about that.
OYSHER: And this is Moshe.
OYSHER: Johannesburg, yes.
SEROTA: Here are some photos of you from…
OYSHER: Yes, these photos of me, only this isn’t theatre, where I played. That gave me the opportunity to do all the chazzanus that I wanted. And then I’d take off this, and I’d put on….
Also, this is cute. This is also A Chazzante. I did Chazzante Loves Shabbos. Walked in, did, did my bit, did a trick there and there, by saying something — I’m a boy, I’m a man. You understand? This is theatre; you could do anything you want in theatre, it’s magic.
This was a little classier than when I did the recitals, this is the pictures that I wanted very much. This is my first long gown, which I had to sing, but it didn’t have any sleeves. And I couldn’t, I was gonna sing in a synagogue. So they had to put sleeves in there.
Here, I am laughing and I have plenty to laugh about. Because it was wonderful. I did something I loved, and still do, and I got paid for it.
SEROTA: And that is?
OYSHER: And that is singing, working, being. Seeing the audience, telling them how much I lovd them, and seeing how much they did love me, hopefully. And that was very wonderful.
SEROTA: Well, here we are before a microphone.
OYSHER: Here we are before a microphone. I was in a lot of microphones.
SEROTA: And it looks like, on your left, it looks like the sponsor.
OYSHER: He’s not the sponsor. He’s, he was an announcer.
SEROTA: This isn’t the sponsor?
OYSHER: Oh, he’s the sponsor, yes on my left.
SEROTA: The sponsor.
OYSHER: That’s on my right, over here. That’s on my right. This is the sponsor, Samuel…
SEROTA: P. Mogolefsky.
OYSHER: P. Don’t forget the P.
SEROTA: Samuel P. Mogolefsky.
OYSHER: Samuel P., yeah.
OYSHER: Oh, God, that was something.
SEROTA: What street?
OYSHER: Seventh Street.
OYSHER: Broadway and Seventh Street.
SEROTA: World Clothing.
OYSHER: The World Clothing Exchange, right.
STERNBERG: The World Clothing Exchange.
OYSHER: I like this picture of me. He looks so, you know… yeah, very nice.
SEROTA: Okay. Here we have some more recent things.
OYSHER: Yeah. This is a more recent thing, where I have looked different, huh? This is Marilyn and I, we did a concert at the Jewish Museum. Marilyn and I did a concert at the Jewish Museum right here. Together, we did, you know, a little wit, a little fun, a little, a few songs, or whatever. My son was on this, too. Michael was here, also, at the — good.
SEROTA: And here we have…
OYSHER: Oh, let me see. By the way, I see somebody right here. This, this lady is a very famous lady now. Carol Leifer, yeah. She, it should be mentioned, she is write, she writes now for Jerry Seinfeld. Do you ever see the Seinfeld show?
OYSHER: She writes for Jerry Seinfeld now. I had to remember that.
SEROTA: Okay. Here we have…
OYSHER: This is Marilyn and I — oh, I’m sorry. This is Marilyn. And me, where are we, babe?
SEROTA: Some synagogue? Looks like on the Island?
OYSHER: Sarasota. Opera House. No. At the Sarasota Opera House.
As a matter of fact, the rabbi of that synagogue, I think, is in New York here somewheres. His name is Roth.
SEROTA: Max Roth.
OYSHER: Max Roth.
SEROTA: Max Roth.
OYSHER: Oh, good. I love him.
SEROTA: Konigsberg’s brother-in-law.
SEROTA: You know Chazzan Konigsberg?
SEROTA: His brother-in-law.
OYSHER: Yeah. He’s a lovely gentleman.
OYSHER: A sweet gentleman. I’m so glad he’s here. He’s not out of that, he’s out of that synagogue.
So this was a lovely concert, Marilyn and I. It was lovely.
SEROTA: That’s it.
OYSHER: Can we go home now?
SEROTA: …and to conclude…
SEROTA: …I am very happy and pleased that we had the opportunity…
OYSHER: Oh, bless your heart. Thank you very much, Barry.
SEROTA: …and I know you and Harold for many years, and I hope…
OYSHER: Well, you’re one of our children. What are you talking?
SEROTA: …and I hope that we’ll…
OYSHER: …we’ll meet again next year.
SEROTA: …be able to visit for many years in the future. Ah may ova esrim, as the Jewish people say.
SEROTA: Thank you.
OYSHER: All right, thank you. Put this back for me, my child.
OYSHER: Thank you, gentlemen. You’re very sweet, and bless you all. That’s a wrap.
All right, my darling. Take this off. Thank you, and God bless every one of you. Are they always like that?
SEROTA: These? I don’t know, I don’t know.
OYSHER: You don’t know. Okay, thank you. That’s good. Is, is Kate driving you? Could she take me home, do you think, Barry?
SEROTA: They’ll take care of it. They’ll either get you a cab or bring a limousine, or something.
OYSHER: Whatever. Please. Thank you. You take care of it, would you, Barry?
SEROTA: Let me put this away right now.
OYSHER: All right, my darling. Let me put it away. You go get me something.
OYSHER: Thank you my prince. I can do this.
SEROTA: And I have to take off my microphone here.
<END OF TAPE 5>
<END OF INTERVIEW>
Index for Fraydele Oysher–Harold Sternberg Interview (B3298)
Academy of Music (Philadelphia), 110
Aden Voorim (or Ada Devorim), 64
Adler, Julius (actor), 96, 111
Amhoo (folk song), 95
And Russian Is Her Name (song), 53
Anderson Yiddish Theatre, 96, 101
Appel, Anna (actress), 90, 105
Atlantic City, New Jersey, 78–79
Av Horachamim (Rappaport), 64
Ayla Devorim (Rappaport), 95
Banner Records, 63
Bar Kokhba (Goldfaden play), 47–48
bar mitzvah, 113–14
Bar Mitzvah, The (play), 91–92
Barrymore, Lionel (actor), 109
Bass, Yossele (bass), 1–10, 29, 33–34, 36
bar mitzvah of, 2
early years of, 1–2
in America, 6–10, 50
Bayonne, New Jersey, 26
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Secunda), 112–13
Belzer, Missa (cantor), 1, 3, 20
Berman (lawyer), 26
Bern, Minna (actress), 101
Bessarabia, 1–2, 3, 5–7
Bolis, Ben (actor), 103
Borough Park, Brooklyn, 75–78
Boston, Massachusetts, 98
Bowles, John (actor), 97–98
Bozyk, Max (actor), 98, 102
Bozyk, Reizl (actress), 98, 101, 102
Broadway musicals, 10–13, 15
Brodsky Synagogue (Odessa), 4–5
Bronx, New York, 50–51
Bucharest, Romania, 3
Bussamer Street Shul (Providence), 10
Butterworth, Charles (actor), 10
Café Royale (New York), 16
cantors and cantorial music, 1, 2–5, 7–10, 18–20, 22–23, 26–29, 34–36,
female, 30–32, 36–39
Cantor's Daughter, The (film project), 89
Cantor's Son, The (A Chazzan Zingel) (Yiddish film), 46, 89–90
Carey, David (actor), 101
Caruso, Enrico (tenor), 84
Catskill Mountains, 72–74
Chicago, Illinois, 68, 96–98, 108
Chicago Civic Opera House, 48–49
Chicks and Boychicks (musical), 58
choirs and cantorial music, in synagogues, 1–2, 29
Civic Theatre (Chicago), 97
Cleva, Fausto (conductor), 13, 14–15, 16, 49, 84, 86
Clinton Theatre (New York), 103
Columbo, Russ (popular singer), 66
Como, Perry (popular singer), 66
Concord Hotel (Catskills), 72–73
Crossing Delancey (film), 102
Cuba, Jews in, 104
Dance of the Rebbetzin (Green), 95
De Buchsam Conciera (Sternberg), 39
De Cheded (Sternberg), 39
Debon Sev Vitsir, 42–43
Der Ver Chazzans Toch (play), 103
Derra Boyn Sher come Svirah, 64
Douglas Park Theatre (Chicago), 96, 113
Dunn, James (actor), 10
Einstein (professor), 10
Elkin, Sylvia, 110
Ellis Island (New York), 33–34
Ellstein, Abraham (composer/conductor/arranger), 56–57, 63–65, 79
Eretz Yisroel Est Meins (Ostroff), 100
Essem Ma David (Rosenblatt), 95
Eternal Road, The (Weill), 12–15
Far Boost (Oysher), 94
Feingold, Lebe (composer), 114, 115
Fiddler on the Roof (musical), 102
Forverts (newspaper), 104
Franklin, Irene (actress), 10
Fraydele's Chazzanah (play), 41, 101
Friedman, Ben (conductor), 75–77
Fuchs, Leo (entertainer), 25–26, 110, 111
Gallo, Fortune (impresario), 48–49
Gatti‑Casazza, Giulio (Met manager), 16, 17
Gebirtig, Mordechai (poet), 37
German, Micha Lucy (actress), 105
Gershwin, George (composer), 10–11, 15
Goldfaden, Abraham (writer), 47–48
Green, Harold (pianist), 94, 95
Gruber, Mirele (actress), 111
Hadama Chazzante (play), 98, 111
Harras, Leo (actor), 111
Hasidic music, 95
Hasidin Kadoshe (Sternberg), 64–65
Havana, Cuba, 104
Havdalah (Zilberts), 27–28
Chazzante Loves Shabbos (play), 98, 118
Hershman, Mordechai (cantor), 1, 22, 29, 36–37
Hippodrome (New York), 25
Ivey, Kurt (radio announcer), 114
Jacobs, Jacob (lyricist), 98–99, 108, 112
Jacobson, Henrietta (actress), 96
Jacobson, Hymie (actor), 92
Jacobson, Irving (actor), 111
Jazz Singer, The (film project), 53
Jewish Caravan, The (radio show), 81
Jewish folk music, 37–38
Jewish Museum (New York), 119–20
Johnson, Edward (Met manager), 16
Julius, Oscar (conductor), 80–81
Kalich, Jacob (actor), 105
Katz, Ellie, 108
Kleiner, Alex (actor), 114
Koch, Roma Leder, 115
Konigsberg, ?Jacob (cantor), 120–21
Kump, Harold, 15
"Largo al factotum" from The Barber of Seville (Rossini), 67
Lebedeff, Aaron (actor/musician), 110–11, 112
Lee, Peggy (popular singer), 66
Leifer, Carol (writer), 120
Let 'Em Eat Cake (Gershwin musical), 10–11, 15
Levanda, Pinchas (actor), 103
Ley Oylem, 42
Liebgold, Leon (actor), 96
Lillian, Isidore (lyricist), 111
Lipkany, Moldova, 3, 6, 7, 28–29, 49–50, 100
Little Queen, The (play), 97–98
Livschultz, Abe, 114
Lochs, Abe (actor), 114
Los Angeles, California, 52–55
Lyric Theatre (Brooklyn), 111
Machtenberg, Meyer (composer/conductor), 20, 22
Mameleh (Yiddish film), 111
Manger, Itsik (playwright), 70–71
Martin, Mary (actress), 97–98
Mayer, Louis B. (film producer), 52–54
Meet Ha Hatoyne (Rosenblatt), 95
Merman, Ethel (popular singer), 66
Merrill, Robert (baritone), 83
Metropolitan Opera (New York), 2, 11–18, 104
Michaels, Marilyn (entertainer), 58, 116, 119–20, 121
Mikhalesko, Yichud (actor), 44
Minkovsky, Pinchas (cantor), 4, 5, 7
Mogolefsky, Samuel P. (businessman), 119
Momma's der Beste Frende, A (song), 116
Montreal, Canada, 92–93, 98–99, 105–6
Morgan, Helen (actress), 10
Nadel, Abraham (conductor), 74
National Theatre (New York), 99, 111
New York Public Library at Lincoln Center
Sternberg Collection, 8–9
Nowakowsky, David (conductor), 4, 5, 7–9
Odessa, Ukraine, 4–5
Of Thee I Sing (Gershwin musical), 10–11
Olshanetsky, Alexander (composer), 57, 58–60, 103–4, 112
One Touch of Venus (musical), 97–98
opera, 2, 11–15, 15–18, 48–49, 67, 83–86, 104
Ostroff, Oscar (lyricist), 99–100, 113, 117
Overture to Glory. See Vilner Shtot Khazn, Der
Oysher, Fraydele (singer), 1
as actress/entertainer, 41–42, 89–120
as female cantor, 30–32, 36–38, 113–14
marriage to Sternberg, 16, 18
on radio, 107–9
as popular singer, 65–66
songs performed by, 39–42
stage name Joy Rich, 65–66
voice quality of, 31–32
Oysher, Moshe (cantor/actor), 16, 38–39
as actor, 19, 25–26, 43–46, 52–53, 61–63
as cantor, 18–20, 29, 43, 44–46, 62, 67–70
compositions of, 94
concerts of, 52–54
early years of, 6–7
heart attack of, 50–52, 63
in Los Angeles, 50–55
marriage of, 18, 61–63
musical associations of, 56–58
on radio, 107–9
as opera singer, 48–49
as popular singer, 66–67
separation from wife, 51
voice of, 33, 83–86
Oysher, Zelig (cantor), 108–9
Page, Patti (popular singer), 66
Pagliacci, I (Leoncavallo), 67
Palestine Is Mine (song), 113
Paramount Hotel (Catskills), 73
Pardon My English (Gershwin musical), 11
Parkway Theatre (Brooklyn), 98
Peck, Gregory (actor), 54
Peerce, Jan (tenor), 2, 27, 82
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 108–9
Picon, Molly (actress), 105, 111
Pinchik, Pierre (cantor), 29, 34–39
Pines Hotel (Catskills), 73, 79
Providence, Rhode Island, 9–10, 34–35
radio, 81, 82, 107–9
Rappaport, Jacob (cantor), 64, 95
RCA Victor, 71
Reben, Rebecca (actress), 114
Rechtzeit (or Rexite), Seymour (actor), 103, 105–6
Ringler (actor), 111
Rise of the Goldbergs, The (radio show), 110
Roitman, David (cantor), 26–27, 28–29
Romanishe Shul (Chicago), 68
Rosenberg, Israel (writer), 102
Rosenberg, Mikel (actor), 90, 105–6, 108
Rosenblatt, Yossele (cantor), 95, 113, 114
Rosh Hashanah, 75, 78–79
Roshas a Mai, Der (song), 53
Roth, Max (rabbi), 120
Roumanian‑American Synagogue (New York), 18–20, 43, 44–45, 62
Roumanian‑Hebrew Beneficial Association, 110
Rowner, Zeidel (cantor), 20–23, 25, 33
Rozanka, Vera (actress), 102–3
Rozo D'Shabbos (Pinchik), 37–39
Rumshinsky, Joseph (composer/conductor), 57, 58–61, 95, 108
Rumshinsky, Murray (composer/pianist), 58
Sarasota Opera House (Florida), 120
??Satie, 15–16, 17
Satz, Ludwig (actor), 44
Sauer, Bernard (actor), 101
Schonfeld, Mae (actress), 111
Schwartz, Maurice (director), 97, 101–2
Schwartz, William (singer), 108
Second Avenue Theatre (New York), 25–26
Secunda, Sholem (cantor/composer), 20–21, 22, 57–58, 60, 63, 96, 98,
Seiden, Joseph (director), 21–23
Seinfeld (TV show), 120
Shaare Zedek Congregation (New York), 26–27
Shul Nigunim (radio program), 107
Simcha Torah, 13
Sinkoff, Abe, 108
Skulnik, Menashe (actor), 96
South Africa, 117
South America, 43, 45, 91–92
Steinberg, Moshe (actor), 96
Steinwurtzel, Meyer (or poss. Mayer Steinwassel; singer), 82
Sternberg, Harold (choral director/cantor)
as actor, 91–92
auditions for Metropolitan Opera, 15–18
as boy singer, 32–33
as cantor, 26–29
comes to America, 9, 33–34
compositions of, 38–43, 64–65
as conductor, 34–36, 43, 75–78
family lost to plague, 49–50
in Borough Park choir, 75–78
in Broadway shows, 10–13
in films, 46
in Los Angeles, 52–55
marriage to Oysher, 16, 18
as producer, 112
Rumshinsky and, 60–61
Sternberg, Michael (son), 116–17, 120
Sternberg, Shamai (brother), 61
Stone Avenue Talmud Torah (Brooklyn), 69–71, 73
Sweet Adeline (Broadway show), 10
Talmud Torah Tarus Moshe (Bronx synagogue), 50–51
Tauber, Chaim (actor), 92
Teatra Mitra (Montevideo), 91–92
Temple Beth‑El (Borough Park), 75–78, 82
Tevye (Yiddish film), 101–2
Tevye der Milkhiker (play), 101–2
Thaler, Robert (actor), 47
Thomashevsky, Boris (actor), 92, 111
Tucker, Richard (tenor), 27, 83
Vilner Shtot Khazn, Der (Vilna Balebesl) (Yiddish film), 47, 89–90
Voice of Israel, The (film), 21–23
Warshawsky, Mark (poet), 37
Weill, Kurt (composer), 11–15
Weiss, Florence (actress), 18, 51, 61–63, 92, 102
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 44
Wilner, Max (comedian), 108
World Clothing Exchange, 119
Ya Hosho Nisht Ke Koy (folk song), 95
Yankel der Schmid (film), 117
Yankl der Shmid (Yiddish film), 47
Yassen, Marte (actress), 96
Yiddish Enigma, The (Rumshinsky), 95
Yiddish films, 19, 21–23, 45–47, 52–55, 62–63, 89–91, 101–2, 117
Yiddish language, 67
Yiddish poetry, 70–71
Yiddish theatre, 18–19, 25–26, 56–60, 79–81, 96–105, 110–12
Yiddishe Namen (Feingold), 115
Yiddishist movement, 70–71
YIVO Institute for Music Research (New York), 70
Yom Kippur, 75, 78–79
Yosig, Michele (actress), 92
Zanger, Jacob (actor), 96
Zilberts, Zavel (cantor/conductor), 27–28
Zwerling, Yetla (actress), 114