Sapoznik, Founding Director of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture, has Retired

Henry Sapoznik, director of the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture, has retired from the University of Wisconsin–Madison after seven years of service.

Since its founding, the Institute has become a nationally renowned center for Yiddish music scholarship while also fostering a vibrant community in Madison, Wisconsin.

Henry Sapoznik with tenor banjo.

Sapoznik first traveled to the UW in 2003, when he performed as part of Madison jazz icon Ben Sidran’s residency at the university. He returned in 2009 as an Artist-in-Residence through the Arts Institute’s Interdisciplinary Arts Residency Program, leading klezmer workshops and teaching courses on Yiddish-American popular culture.

The success of Sapoznik’s residency led to the Mayrent Institute’s establishment in 2010 by educator and musician Sherry Mayrent. During his tenure, Sapoznik organized numerous successful events including the Sound Salon series featuring live musical performances and talks on Yiddish music history, the biennial World Records Symposium, and the Viskonsin! Tales of Yiddish Wisconsin symposium. He also brought the long-running KlezKamp to Madison, which ran from 2010 until 2014. Sapoznik was regularly featured in print and on local radio, with appearances on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge” and “Whad’Ya Know?” programs.

In partnership with the Mills Music Library, Sapoznik also contributed to the curation of the Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recordings, a repository of some 8,000+ recordings of Yiddish traditional and folk music. The Collection includes the oldest-known recordings of Yiddish music: a set of cylinder recordings from c. 1901 that were reissued last year by Archeophone Records, the Institute, and Mills Music Library as Attractive Hebrews: The Lambert Yiddish Cylinders, 1901-1905.

Sapoznik was raised in a Yiddish-speaking home to Holocaust survivor parents. He graduated from the City University of New York with a degree in ethnomusicology in 1977, and soon after began studying and documenting traditional Yiddish music. He has received five Grammy nominations for his reissues of historic sound recordings, and earned an Emmy nomination in 2002 for his documentary soundtrack The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. That same year, Sapoznik won a Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for “The Yiddish Radio Project,” a 13-episode National Public Radio series he produced with David Isay. His history of Yiddish folk music, Klezmer! Jewish Music from Old World to Our World (2000), won the ASCAP Deems Taylor award for excellence in music history.


Photo credit: Dick Ainsworth, courtesy of Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society