Known for her bold performance style and powerful voice, Pepi Littman was a leading actor and troupe leader in fin de siècle Yiddish theater.
Born Pesha Kahane in Tarnopol, Galicia, in 1874 Littman joined the broderzingers at an early age and toured across Galicia and Romania. She soon became the star of the troupe and was known performing as either a male Hasidic youth or as a fashionable bachelor. As Chana Pollack has written, her cross-dressing act “brought sex to the staid and the holy in the shtetl” and challenged prevailing views of women’s place in Yiddish theater. She regularly featured folk music and songs in her act, focusing on the working class alongside her comedic material. After the death of her husband and theatrical partner Jacob Littman, she took control of the troupe and led successful tours of Germany, Hungary, Russia, and throughout Eastern Europe.
Listen to Pepi Litman's "Freitag auf der Nacht" (Columbia E377, recording date unknown)
Litman recorded infrequently, cutting approximately 27 sides for Columbia, Victor, Syrena, and others in Europe and in the U.S. Though her output was minimal compared to other leading performers, her recordings reflect a wide-ranging repertoire that included everything from maudlin songs of familial separation such as Solomon Smulewitz’s “A Brivele der Mame” to comedic routines such as “Meschiach per Automobil.” Her voice was powerful yet agile, allowing her to deliver commanding performances as her on her recording of Sigmund Mogalesco’s “Schülem Eleichem” (from the operetta, Der Cherem in Beth Hamikdosh).
Listen to Pepi Litman's "Scholem Eleichem" (Columbia A562, recorded c. July 1907)
She spent most of her later career touring Germany and Poland, with brief tenures in Julius Adler’s theater in Warsaw and later in Odessa following the World War I. She died in 1930 in Vienna following a tour of Austria, Poland, and Germany.