Dave Franklin is one of the many remarkable but elusive figures to grace the Yiddish stage in the early twentieth century. Though billed as “the king of the comic singers,” he would likely rest in eternal anonymity if not for four surviving recordings released by the Lambert Company of Chicago sometime between 1901 and 1905. These extant recordings reveal a performer brimming with talent and impeccable comedic timing, and yet he appears to have escaped the notice of contemporary and future biographers.
So who was Dave Franklin? Like quite a few pioneering Yiddish recording artists, Franklin does not appear in Zalmen Zylbercweig’s Leksikon fun yidishn teater. And like many of these early Yiddish stars Franklin anglicized his moniker, trading a Jewish king’s hallowed name for that of his breezy Americanized cousin, “Dave.” His decision to retain his surname unfortunately blows his cover, as “Franklin” becomes “Frenklin” in his self-announced introductions on the Lambert recordings.
Listen to Dave Franklin's "Lustige Khsidim" (Lambert 110, recorded c. 1904)
Contemporary photographs of Franklin show a pompadoured, fresh-faced young man in his early twenties. His youthful visage, however, belies the robust voice we hear on the Lambert recordings—a product most likely of cantorial training. Franklin’s use an old theatrical device on his recording of Abraham Goldfaden’s “Vayzuso” (from the operetta Akheshverus) indicates deep theatrical chops and an intimate familiarity with the role: “So, what do you think of Vayzuso?” he exclaims halfway through the recording. Could Franklin have played Vayzuso in a production of Akheshverus? Might it even have been for Goldfaden himself?
Franklin’s lush, regional accent and certain dialect markers (the use of fun rather than fin, for example) suggest he was born in Galicia rather than in eastern Ukraine or Russia. The existing census records, however, complicate the search for his birthplace with listings for both Austria (1905 New York State Census) and Russia (1915 New York State Census and 1920 Federal Census).
Listen to Dave Franklin's "Vi meine tate hot gemacht" (Lambert 150, recorded c. 1904)
One of his published compositions, “Shenkt a nedove” (“Give a Donation,” 1906), was reprinted in a year-end best-of compilation by the Lower East Side music publisher Theodore Lohr but this, too, was soon forgotten. Little else is known about Franklin’s career: he copyrighted only one other composition, “Dos Retzele” (“The Phylactery Strap”) in 1910. He next appears in the 1915 New York state census as a violinist, and in the 1920 federal census—the latest record for him that we have found—he is listed simply as a café musician.
Henry Sapoznik and Scott A. Carter
Photograph of Dave Franklin from Franklin, Dave, and Dave Franklin. Shenkt a Nedove!. Theodore Lohr, New York, New York, 1906. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <http://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200185839/>.