If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews
* * * *
To all my Jewish friends, Happy Rosh Hashanah! And here’s an ecumenical offering for the holidays.
In the conventional telling, Irish-Americans were xenophobes by the late nineteenth-century. Maybe that was true for the Lace Curtain crowd, but on the streets and in the music halls, plebeian Irish and Jews not only hobnobbed, they combined their creative talents. Musician and folklorist Mick Moloney explores their collaboration in this fascinating collection of vaudeville and Tin-Pan Alley offerings. Billy Murray popularized the title track, but William Jerome and Jean Schwartz penned it. It’s probably the least “Irish”-sounding track on the CD. It’s also one of the few direct references to Jews, but their fingerprints are all over the material. Who knew that the pre-World War I ditty “I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier”—popular in both America and Ireland—was composed by Al Piantodosi (which was probably an assumed name for Irving Berlin)? Who would suspect that songs such as “There’s a Typical Tipperary Over Here” had Jewish connections, or that famed vaudeville star Nora Bayes was Jewish? In all there are fourteen collaborations between Irish and Jewish songwriters, or Irish-themed songs originally sung by Jewish-Americans. Moloney’s mix of poignancy, sentimentality, defiance, and whimsy is ably backed by a cast of Irish- and English-American musical stalwarts such as John Doyle, Billy McComiskey, Joanie Madden, Susan McKeown, and Athena Tergis. If you know those names, you will very much appreciate how each departed from their usual patterns to capture the sound and feel of the music hall. Fun stuff, Mick, but one small gripe: Where’s the Gallagher and Shean?