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Alexander Olshanetsky

Young Alexander with his Parents,
perhaps taken in Odessa, c. 1905.



date unknown

Seated, left to right: Alexander Olshanetsky, Joseph Rumshinsky and Sholom Secunda.

Standing, left to right: Abe Ellstein, Joseph Brody, lawyer Joseph Steinberg, Harry Lubin, and the lawyer A.E. Moskowitz.


Here is a translation of Olshanetsky's (early) biography, as found in Zalmen Zylbercweig's "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," Vol. 1 (biography covers his life until approximately 1930):

Born on 23 October 1892 in Odessa, Ukraine. His father was a merchant. He learned in a cheder, Yiddish school and in a gymnasium. As a six-year-old child, he manifested an ability to play the violin, and his father enrolled him in the Odessa imperial musical school, where he remained for nine years, and he learned to play various instruments.

Due to his desire to wander, he left his home against the wishes of his parents, and in 1917 went away with the orchestra of the Odessa Opera as a violinist. Thus he wandered across Southern Russia and Siberia, where he entered into a Russian operetta troupe as a choral director. Meanwhile, during wartime, he was taken in as a soldier and he became the bandmaster of his regiment. With his regiment he turned up in Kharbin, where he encountered a Yiddish troupe under the direction of Fiszon, and when Sandler suddenly left the troupe and went away to America, Olshanetsky ,with the permission of the regimental commander, became the conductor of the Yiddish troupe.

Here he began to write music for Yiddish operettas. His first composition was for Isidore Kaplan's operetta "Going Back Home to Zion," then for Fogelnest's "Aronchik and Solomonchik."

The conditions in Kharbin, however, became difficult for Yiddish theatre, and Olshanetsky joined a Russian operetta troupe, with whom he toured for several years across Japan, China and India.

In 1921 he returned to Kharbin; however, he no longer encountered Yiddish troupes, and [so] he went off to America, where in 1922 he arrived at his uncle's, the actor Hyman Meisel.

Here he felt for the first time the true sense of a "greenhorn" until Schwartz got him the opportunity to write music for Andreyev's "Anathema," Sackler's "Yizkor" and Zhulavsky's drama "Shabtai tsvi"; however, this didn't change his situation much. He thence went to Cuba as the conductor of an itinerant opera troupe, and when he first returned he wrote music for Isidore Lash's operetta "The Jolly Pauper," which was performed at the Lenox Theatre, and he became engaged as the conductor and composer for that theatre. There he composed music for "Gypsy Prince" by William Siegel and for "Palestine Love" by Isidore Lillian. A season later, he was engaged by Rolland for the Liberty Theatre, where he composed music for the successful operettas "Sweet Love," "Student Love," and "The Golden Soldier" by Louis Freiman.


Since 1927 he was engaged at the National Theatre, where he composed music for many operettas and melodramas, from which he had a special success: "In the Garden of Love" by Harry Kalmanowitz and William Siegel; "A Paradise for Two" by Siegel, and "Itsikl the Rake" and "The Litwack Yankee" by Isidore Lash.

For the season 1929-30, Olshanetsky wrote music for the operetta "The Only Night" by Abraham Blum and "Lucky in Love" by Meyer Schwartz (both staged at the National Theatre.)

On 24 February 1929, Olshanetsky staged for the first time on the radio in New York his adapted orchestration of Goldfaden's "Bar kokhba."


Here is a partial list (eighty-eight plays) in which Olshanetsky is listed as being the sole or co-composer:
(Note than the translation of the titles into English are approximate when ending with a question mark)

3 farlibte (3 in Love)
A dorfishe khasene (A Country Wedding?)
A gan eydn far tsvey (A Paradise for Two)
A khasene in kuba (A Wedding in Cuba)
A leson in libe (A Lesson in Love)
A nakht in kalifornye (A Night in California) 
A nakht in pariz (A Night in Paris)
A tumel in shtetl (A Riot in Town)
A yom-tov in shtetl (A Holiday in Town) 
Ale viln khasene hobn (They All Want to Get Married) 
Aleksanders tokhter (Nekome) (Alexander's Daughter?)
Amerikaner grinhorns (American Greenhorns) 
Bronks meridzh byuro (Bronx Marriage Bureau) 
Der amerikaner litvak (The American Litvak?)
Der ershte kizh (The First Kiss) (as "His First Kiss")
Der goldener soldat (The Golden Soldier) 
Der katerinshtshik (The Organ Grinder) 
Der kavkazer gelibter (The Caucasian Lover?)
Der klezmer (The Musician)
Der letster tants (The Last Dance) 
Der letster yid (The Last Jew) 
Der litvisher yenki (The Yankee Litvack) 
Der mazl'diger bokher (Lucky Boy) 
Der narisher khosn (The Foolish Bridegroom?)
Der nayer mentsh (The New Man) 
Der poylisher rebe (The Polish Rabbi) 
Der sud fun libe (The Secret of Love?)
Der tsigayner prints (The Gypsy Prince) 
Der vaser-treger (The Water Carrier) 
Der yidisher general (The Jewish General) 
Di eyntsike nakht (The Only Night)
Di farshemte kale (The Embarassed Bride?)
Di freylekhe kaptosnim (The Jolly Pauper?)
Di froy batsolt (The Frau Besault) 
Di goldene medina (The Golden Land) 
Di neshome fun a froy (The Soul of a Woman) 
Di ungarishe khasene (The Hungarian Wedding)
Dos goldene land (The Golden Land)
Dos yidl fun der saut (The Jew From the South)
Dos lid fun der geto (The Song of the Ghetto)
Dos ungarishe meydl (The Hungarian Girl)
Farlangt a man (Husband Wanted?)
Flamen fun libe (Flames of Love)
Frelikhe yugend (Happy Youth?)
Freylekhe kaptsonim (Jolly Paupers) 
Freylekhe teg (Happy Days) 
Gedemejter man (The Damaged Man) 
Gefalene malokhim (Fallen Angels)
Girl Wanted
Goldene teg (Golden Days) 
Grine yenkis (Green Yankees) 
Hayntike meydlekh (Girls of Today) 
Helou mame (Hello Mama) 
Hepi deys (Happy Days)
In gortn fun libe (Garden of Love)
Itche Mayer from Kentucky 
Itskil sholtik
Khosn kale mazl tov 
Kleyner mazik (Little Devil)
Kluge khasanim (Wise Bridegrooms?)
Kol ya'akov (Voice of Jacob)
Lebn zol amerika (Long Live America)
Lebn zol moskva (Long Live Moscow)
Leybele der griner
Libe is shtarker fun gezets (Love is Stronger than Law)
Mayn harts iz dayn (My Heart is Yours)
Mayn meydls khasene (My Baby's Wedding) 
Mayn shtetele belz  (My Little Town Belz)
Mazl un libe (Lucky in Love)
Mini fun sigel strit (Minnie From Siegel Street)
Mirele fun belz (Mirele From Belz)
Mit oyfene oygn (With Open Eyes)
Motke fun slobotke (Motke from Slobotke) 
Motkes khasene (Motke's Wedding)
Oyf der 7ter evenyu (On Seventh Avenue) 
Palestiner libe (Palestine Love)
Sabatai Zvi 
Sadie vu krikhtstu? 
Shlekhte khaverim (Evil Companions)
Studentn libe (Student Love) 
Tsurik aheym keyn tsion (Coming Back to Zion?)
Vos meydlekh tuen (What Girls Do)
Yankele litwack  (as "Yankel litwack")
Yosel der bolshevik (Yosel the Bolshevik)
Yosel der klezmer (Yosel the Musician) 
Zayn groyse libe (His Great Love) 
Zayn kales tokhter (His Bride's Daughter) 
Zise libe (Sweet Love) 


Here is the obituary that appeared in the Yiddish Forward (Forverts) newspaper on June 5, 1946,
two days after his passing in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, hospital after a short illness:
(apologies for the lack of clarity of the article--hopefully you can still translate it if you'd like)



Alexander Olshanetsky, the famous Yiddish theatre musician, died the day before yesterday after a short illness in the Atlantic City hospital.

Initially, a few days before, Olshanetsky was in the New York Cafe Royal (a theatre hangout)--and he had brought many of his friends from the theatre world, and he manifested [good] health and was cheerful. The entire Yiddish theatrical world became divided by Olshanetsky's sudden death.

The funeral will begin on Friday at twelve noon at the Sigmund Schwartz Funeral Parlor. The funeral will be organized by the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance, the Society of Jewish Composers, the Yiddish [Hebrew] Theatrical Union, and also by the Vilna Branch 367 of the Arbeiter Ring, in which the deceased was a member.

Olshanetsky was fifty-four years old. He was born on 23 October 1892 in Odessa. His father was a businessman. As a young man Olshanetsky manifested musical abilities, and his father sent him away to learn in the Odessa Imperial Music School. He studied composition and also learned how to play various instruments. He became a violinist in the orchestra of the Odessa Opera. He played with the orchestra for a long time, and he also traveled around, across many cities.

During the time of the First World War, he was drafted into the army, and he performed in a "muzikantske komande" (military band), and he later became Kapellmeister for his people.

After the revolution of 1917, Olshanetsky's people were sent to Kharbin. At this time he had been rejected by [Misha] Fiszon's troupe. Peretz Sandler was the musician, however amidst all of this he received an offer to go to America and become the musician for the National Theatre.

Peretz Sandler left Kharbin, and the troupe remained without a musician. Olshanetsky, who had been a daily attendee of the Yiddish theatre there, offered to be the musician. Up until then he had served in the army, and he had to fight for permission to do this, and this then was Olshanetsky's first connection with Yiddish theatre.

The first music that he composed for Yiddish Theatre was for Itzhak Kaplan's operetta, "Tsurik a heym," and Fogelnest's "Aronchik and Solomonchik," which the Yiddish troupe had staged in Kharbin.

In those years, Kharbin had a significant Jewish population, and the theatre did fine business.

Then Olshanetsky became the musician for a Russian operetta troupe, which guest-starred in the Far East and had put on productions in China, Japan and India.

Olshanetsky arrived in America in 1922. His uncle, the deceased actor, Hyman Meisel, had brought him over, and a few years later he married the prima donna, Bella Mysell, whom he later left.



About the funeral service, the procession and the gravesite activity,
there was a Forverts article which appeared on June 8, 1946:


Alexander Olshanetsky, the deceased Yiddish theatre musician, was brought to his eternal rest yesterday afternoon at Mount Hebron Cemetery. He was interred in the plot of the Yiddish Theatrical Association.

A large audience of many thousands of people came to give the last honors to the deceased. Many thousands of people followed the deceased's casket  from the Gramercy Park funeral parlor at Second Avenue and Tenth Street to the club of the Yiddish  [Hebrew] Actors' Union at 31 E. 7th Street, from where the procession continued on to the cemetery.

Representatives of the entire theatre profession, of al the branches of the Yiddish theatre, held a mournful cemetery, which occurred at the casket of the deceased musician at the Gramercy Memorial Chapel.

Charlie Cohan, the secretary of the [Yiddish] Theatrical Alliance, was the first speaker; then Chazn Moshe Ganchoff and a large chorus under the direction of theatre musician Joseph Rumshinsky, sang suitable prayers, "Shvisi, elohim, lenigdi tomid," a chapter of psalms, and also sang "Shiru shir leadonoy kodesh" from the first play for which the deceased had composed music for, which was put on by the Yiddish Art Theatre.

Zvi Scooler read aloud Ch. N. Bialik's poem, "Acharei Moti" (After My Death.)

Sholom Secunda, president of the Jewish Composers' Society, spoke in the name of the organization.

Reuben Guskin, the manager of the Yiddish Actors' union, portrayed the life of the deceased musician. He said that Olshanetsky was one of the talent-filled musicians, filled with an effervescent temperament, and that he had brought a fresh spirit to the Yiddish theatre music.

Sam Kulok, president of the Theatrical Alliance, read out the names from his organization, and Rabbi Charles Shay Abeles.

At the cemetery representatives of many organizations that Olshanetsky had belonged to spoke. Also among the speakers was a representative of Branch 367 of the Arbeiter Ring, to which he had belonged.

Many organizations had sent wreaths of flowers, and the funeral chapel was filled with flowers.

The public [in attendance, at the chapel] was so large in number, that the police had to hold up traffic across Second Avenue, between Ninth and Tenth Street for a significant time.



"Mazel in liebe" (Lucky in Love)
Fox Trot
Alexander Olshanetsky and his Orchestra
(Vocalion Records)

"Ein kik af dir, eyn kik oyf dir" (One Glance at You)
Fox Trot
Alexander Olshanetsky and his Orchestra
(Vocalion Records)


Photographs courtesy of Mrs. Anita Willens (daughter of Alexander Olshanetsky and Bella Mysell, and the stepdaughter of Herman Yablokoff)
and the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance Archives.




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