The Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings is unique in its comprehensive scale and scope. The collection contains over 8,000 78rpm discs including Yiddish theater, popular and traditional music, cantorial songs, klezmer music, poetry, drama, and event ballads from locations as diverse as the United States, Eastern Europe, Latin America, South Africa and Israel. The contents offer an unparalleled audio entrée into the vibrant, fascinating cultural practices of early- mid 20th century Yiddish life.
Educator, historian, and collector Sherry Mayrent donated her collection to Mills Music Library at UW–Madison in 2010 with the stipulation that every recording be made available for listening via online streaming access. The discs have been fully cataloged and are being remastered and digitally preserved by Grammy award-winning sound engineer Christopher King.
Watch the video below to hear more about the story behind this incredible resource.
Disclaimer on Racist Language, Dialect Humor, and Other Offensive Recordings
The Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings strives to preserve the complete account of sound recordings related to Jewish vernacular life prior to World War II. As part of its exhaustive mission, the Collection includes recordings that contain racist and troubling portrayals of Jews and other ethnic groups.
The Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture and Mills Music Library do not endorse the views expressed in these recordings.
Commonly referred to as ethnic humor, songs and comedic sketches depicting racist and often grotesque caricatures of people of color formed a substantial portion of popular culture prior to World War II. Contemporary critics were highly critical of these performances, and important scholarship, especially over the past 25 years, has worked to uncover the deep and rhizomatic roots set down by these recordings. We include these recordings in the Mayrent Collection as historical documents for use by scholars to continue this research.
For further reading on Jewish stereotypes in music, see
Manela, Aaron. "Chosen Cowboy Mazl Tov: Tin Pan Alley and the Wild West Cowboy Jew." Journal of Jewish Identity 10(1): 27-59.
Merwin, Ted. In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
Various artists. Jewface. Reboot Stereophonic 18635, 2006. CD.
The materials and content on this website would not be possible without the assistance, time, and advice generously given us by our partners and colleagues, including:
The Mills Music Library staff, especially Jeanette Casey, Matt Appleby, Andrew Gaines, Tom Caw, Ron Wiecki (retired), and Nathan Gibson
The Mayrent Institute steering committee: Jeanette Casey (Mills Music Library), Susan C. Cook (Director and Professor, Mead Witter School of Music), James P. Leary (Professor emeritus, Folkore and Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures), Mark Louden (Professor, German and the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies), and Joseph Salmons (Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures)