Dissertation Index

Author: Falch, Niels

Title: From Oy to Joy: Jewish Musical Style in American Popular Songs, 1892-1945

Institution: University of Groningen

Begun: January 2015

Completed: May 2020


In the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe and their descendants collectively developed a Jewish musical style that would alter American popular music. Composers such as Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Jerome Kern drew (consciously and subconsciously) upon stereotypical elements from the broad spectrum of Ashkenazic Jewish music. They incorporated features from cantillation, wedding music, and folk songs, first into Yiddish theater songs, and later into Broadway musicals and musical films. During the 1930s, songwriters wrote hit songs reflective of this Jewish musical style including “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” “Blue Skies,” “Donna Donna,” “I Love You Much Too Much,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and “Summertime.” However, since then, this style has not been systematically analyzed, nor conceptualized as a historically relevant musical style in relation to other popular music stylistic developments (e.g. the “Latin Tinge”).

Building on theories of Meyer’s definition of a musical style, Lomax’ cantometrics, and Gottlieb’s adaptations, adoptions, and absorptions, this dissertation integrates methods from comparative musicology supplemented with newly adapted and designed approaches and terms such as the lead sheet method and the periodic table of musical elements. In addition, this cross-cultural study also introduces the role of five minor moods, especially the happy minor which is characteristic of the Jewish musical style. Furthermore, this study investigates the relationship of mass media such as the phonograph record, radio, and sound film. Finally, this dissertation argues for the recognizable presence of a cultural and musically rooted Jewish music style concomitant with the development of an American popular music canon in the first half of the twentieth century.

Keywords: popular music, Jewish music, American music, jazz, swing, ethnomusicology


Introduction to the Jewish Musical Style (1)

Methodology (11)

“That’s Yiddisha Jazz”: Literature Review (27)

Part I Oy: “A Brivele fun Russland”

Chapter 1 “Adon Olam”: Sacred Jewish Music (55)

Chapter 2 “Hatikvah”: Secular Jewish Music (89)

Part II Joy: “Leben Zol Amerika”

Chapter 3 “After the Ball”: American Popular Songscape, 1890 (137)

Chapter 4 “Eili, Eili”: The Immigrant Song, 1892-1924 (157)

Chapter 5 “Blue Skies”: The Jazz Age, 1917-1929 (205)

Chapter 6 “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön”: The Swing Era, 1935-1945 (259)

Chapter 7 “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”: Neo-Jewish Music, 1935-1945 (297)

Conclusion: “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (343)



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