Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Joseph Cherniavsky


Ch. was born on 31 March 1894 in Lubny, Poltava Gubernia, Ukraine.

His grandfather (the prototype for Sholem Aleichem's "Stempenyu") and his father were klezmers.

He learned in a cheder and traveled around with his father to weddings and performed on the drums. He learned the cello from his father and performed for landowners [pritzim]. At the age of eight, through such landowners, he began to learn with his mother's brother Aleksander Fidelman (son of Pesakh Klezmer) in Odessa, and shortly thereafter he was sent to Peterburg, where he studied music on the state's account.

In 1911 he finished the music school in Peterburg with a gold medal as a cellist and conductor, and he then was sent to Leipzig to Professor Julius Klengel.

As a student in the music school he became a member of the Yiddish chamber ensemble "Zimro," which had the responsibility to propagandize Yiddish chamber music, and each summer, traveling from home on vacation, distributing in the villages the Yiddish badkhanim numbers and remaining for the wedding melodies, which he adapted afterwards for "Zimro."

In 1914 he returned to Peterburg and performed there in Russian orchestras, conducting and writing compositions, and he left on a tour with "Zimro" across Russia, Siberia, Japan and India.

In 1918 he arrived in America, and at the start of 1919 toured with "Zimro" across America, and in that span of time he wrote the composition for Sholem Aleichem's "I Don't Want to Go to Cheder," the text of which was adapted and sung by Ludwig Satz.

Returning from the tour, Ch. performed in New York in concerts, performing for records, was engaged by Maurice Schwartz as a composer and conductor for his (Yiddish) Art Theatre, where on 8 April 1920 he performed in Sh.'s "Moishe the Fiddler, a picture of klezmer life in one act, staged by Maurice Schwartz." Here Ch. arranged the music for Anski's "Der dybuk" (1 September 1921), from which there was issued and published "The Beggar's Dance" and "The Saint's Singer."

On 3 Nov,ember 1922 he directed Boris Thomashefsky in the National Theatre's H. Kalmanowitz's operetta "Dance, Song and Wine" with music by Ch.

On 18 January 1923 in the Irving Place Theatre he staged through Ludwig Satz Kalmanowitz's comedy "The Bandit," with music by Ch.

For the 1923-24 season Ch. was engaged by Thomashefsky for his Broadway Theatre as a composer and conductor, and here on 3 September 1923 he directed A. Kartojinski's [Oscar M. Carter's] comedy, "The Three Little Business Men" with music by Ch., and on 30 September 1923 Thomashefsky's musical play, "You and I" with combined music, including that from Ch., and on 2 November 1923 Thomashefsky's revival of his operetta "The Jolly Tailors" with music by Ch.

In February 1924 he directed at the Irving Place Theatre N. Braker's (Stutchkoff) comedy "Mazl tsu froyn," music by Ch., and on 28 March 1924 in the Hopkinson Theatre Meyer Schwartz's tragi-comedy in 3 acts, "A Game With Fire [?] [later called "A Bridegroom for a Joke."]

On 11 March 1925 in the Yiddish Art Theatre he directed through Maurice Schwartz his free adaptation of Goldfaden's "The Witch," music arranged by Ch.

For the 1925-26 season Ch. was engaged by the Lenox Theatre, where he wrote musical numbers for the then-played melodramas (among them: on 17 September 1925 William Siegel's "Evil Companions," and on 6 November 1925 H. Kalmanowitz's "Wives' Powers [?]."

In the 1926-27 season Ch. was engaged as a composer and conductor at the Public Theatre where he appeared, but only to arrange and conduct the production of Kalman's "Parisian Love, or, "Bajadre," and he then retired from the theatre.

For a long time Ch. performed as a cellist at the great Roxy [vaudeville] Theatre and other vaudeville theatres, and since 1928 has been associated with the motion picture industry in Hollywood.

A special achievement has been noted for Ch., as the founder and leader of the "Chasidic Band," with whom he attempted "jazzy" Chasidic melodies.

M. E. and M. E. from Jacob Mestel.

  • Ab. Cahan -- Di naye operetke in thomashefskys theater, "Forward," N. Y., 10 November 1922.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 2, page 904.

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