Solomon Smulewitz

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Solomon Smulewitz
Solomon Smulewitz.jpg
Born1868
Died1943
Occupationsinger, composer, badkhn
Spouse(s)Tillie Small b 1873
ChildrenBerr Smulewitz b 1897

Aaron Small b 1902 Springer Small b 1903 Dorothy Small b 1912

Ida Small b 1913

Solomon Smulewitz (1868–1943, also Shloyme Smulewitz, Solomon Small) was a Russian-born (later American) Jewish singer, badkhn, recording artist, and primarily composer for the Yiddish theatre. He was born on April 13, 1868 in Pinsk, White Russia (now Belarus)

His father was a cantor; Solomon sang in his chorus from the age of 5. When his father died seven years later Solomon went into the tailoring trade while still singing in cantorial choirs in exchange for his meals. He left to join the chorus of a traveling theater troupe and was very successful in girls' roles. After being left behind in an inn as a mashkn (pledge that the others would come back and pay their bill) he went back to the cantor in Pinsk but was thrown out. He became a street singer.

He wrote his first song at the age of 12: The desolate orphan, an autobiographical plaint. Having learned Russian he sang and played the fiddle from town to town, finally settling in Minsk, where he became a successful badkhn, also writing songs for other local wedding singers. He wrote for Shomer's play productions in Warsaw. He published his first book in 1891.

Solomon Smulewitz in 1903

In America he toured singing his own songs, which eventually totalled around 500 (in a letter to the press he claimed 300 written to his own melodies and 200 set to melodies by others). The most famous were A brivele der mamen, Dos talesl, Al tashlicheinu, Khave, and Dos blumenkrentzele - these and others have through the years often been considered folksongs.

1906 issue of "Der teater zinger" (The Theater Singer), song lyrics by Solomon Smulewitz
Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) and J.M. Rumshisky (1879-1956). A Brievele dem Taten [A little letter to my father]. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1911. Sheet music cover. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (82)
Solomon Smulewitz (1868-1943) and J.M. Rumshisky (1879-1956). "Zei gebensht Du Freie Land" [Long Live the Land of the Free]. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1911. Sheet music cover. Music Division, Library of Congress (50)

From 1905 to 1909 he issued a yearly collection of his lyrics called "Der teater zinger." In 1916 he published "Poeziye un lider." His 500-page autobiography was never published. His song "Khave" was so popular the famous Russian singer Feodor_Chaliapin included it in his repertoire. He was a prolific recording artist.

Smulewitz had a strong and piercing tenor voice which suited early recording capabilities well; after 1920 both his manner of singing and style of composition went out of fashion. Smulewitz fell on hard times and to make a living continuously toured the United States and Canada from Halifax to Calgary and Winnipeg, often with his daughter Dorothy, without much success. He died impoverished on January 1, 1943 in New York.

Sources[edit]

  • Zylbercweig, Zalmen, Leksikon fun yidishn teater [Lexicon of the Yiddish theatre]. Vol. 6, 1934.
  • 1920 United States Federal Census, New York, Kings County, Brooklyn Assembly District 17, District 1039 (Solomon Small)