Abe Schwartz was one of the most important Yiddish musicians in the early history of the popular recording industry. A violinist, composer, and bandleader whose career spanned nearly five decades, Schwartz helped define the sound of klezmer in the pre-WWII era.
Born near Bucharest, Roumania in 1881, he emigrated to the U.S. with his parents around 1900 (the year generally given is 1899, but census records indicate both 1900 and 1902). He led various dance bands in New York throughout the 1900s and 1910s before signing on as a musical director for Columbia Records in 1917. Schwartz made his impact immediately, cutting fourteen sides by the end of the year including “Tants, Tants Yiddlekh” and “Russian Sher.”
Schwartz recorded prolifically throughout the 1920s, a period that included his best-known composition, “Di Grine Kuzine” (1921), and duets accompanied by his daughter, Sylvia, on piano. He continued leading top-notch orchestras that fostered young talent, including the gifted clarinetists Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras, and became more highly involved in Yiddish theater around this time. Later he served as a recording artist and musical director for Emerson Phonograph Company and Apollo, as well as the short-lived Strong Record Company.
He recorded less frequently throughout the 1930s and 1940s, with his 1941 recording of “Ikh Bin a Boarder Bay Mayn Vayb” (I Am a Boarder at My Wife’s) featuring a young Fyvus Finkel being a particular standout. Schwartz retired from the music business in the early 1950s.
“Abe Schwartz, 75, of Yiddish Theater.” The New York Times, May 9, 1963: 37.
Andrews, Frank. “Strong (Label).” In Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, Volume 2, Second Edition. Edited by Frank Hoffman (New York: Routledge, 2005): 1076.
Sapoznik, Henry. Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World. (New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 2006).
Schwartz, Abe. Russian Sherr. Hebrew Publishing Company, New York, New York, 1921. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200185558/. (Accessed August 28, 2017.)
Strom, Yale. The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore. (Chicago: A Capella Books, 2002).
Image of Abe Schwartz from Schwartz, Abe, and Abe Schwartz. Got fun Avrohom. Hebrew Publishing Company, New York, New York, 1921. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <http://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200185560/>.