Audio Gems Tell the Story of Jews in America; Retro-Fabulous, Mid-Century Show Has NYC Premiere at YU Museum

Born of dingy attics, roadside yard sales and dusty archives is an extraordinary array of Jewish recorded music from the 1940s through the 1980s, brought to stereophonic life in the Jews on Vinyl exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum from July 24, 2011 – January 8, 2012.

Harvey Jacobs, D.J. Martin, Victor Goldring, Mrs. Portnoy’s Retort, United Artists, 1969, Courtesy of Josh Kun and Roger Bennett

Mrs. Portnoy’s Retort, United Artists, 1969, Courtesy of Josh Kun and Roger Bennett

The introduction of traditional standards like Fiddler on the Roof and Eli, Eli into the American mainstream are due to some unexpected interpreters like The Temptations, Johnny Mathis, Louis Prima, Eartha Kitt and Herbie Mann. In this experiential exhibition, visitors are transported to the days of turntables by relaxing in authentically recreated mid-20th Century living rooms while listening to the sounds of the time.

Jews on Vinyl is based on the book And You Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl: The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost (Crown Press, 2008) by Roger Bennett and Josh Kun, and marks the New York premiere of this highly acclaimed exhibition organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

What started out as a mutual affinity for kitschy Jewish album covers became a quest for identity, history and customs in the sleeves of LPs. To this end, Bennett and Kun embarked on an intriguing journey, scouring the world to collect thousands of albums, and pieced together these scratched, once-loved and now-forgotten audio gems to tell a vibrant tale: How Jewish culture became mainstream American culture.

Batman and Rubin  Mercury, 1967 Courtesy of Josh Kun and Roger Bennett.

Batman and Rubin, Mercury, 1967, Courtesy of Josh Kun and Roger Bennett

“For the Boomer and older generations, many of these album covers will evoke instantaneous recognition and a whole host of memories; here is the soundtrack of their past,” said Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of the Yeshiva University Museum. “For younger visitors, the music and LP covers present a fascinating, enjoyable and enlightening glimpse into the recent American Jewish past. Jews on Vinyl has great artistic, historical and sociological value, and appeal for all audiences.”

Featuring music, comedy, storytelling and other hybrid sounds, Jews on Vinyl reflects a rich heritage and raises important questions about the evolution of tradition and cultural assimilation in America’s melting pot. Much of the music is no longer available in any format and, through this exhibition, audiences will have the unprecedented opportunity to experience forgotten moments in Jewish-American pop history.

At the heart of the exhibition are four 1950’s style suburban living room vignettes where visitors can sit comfortably and hear MP3 sound clips from listening stations in the era of their surroundings. A wall-size installation features facsimiles of the records in the exhibition and album covers corresponding to a soundtrack of highlights played throughout the space are projected on an adjacent wall.

Throughout the show, the Yeshiva University Museum will offer a series of programs designed to delve deeper into the various genres represented in the exhibition and to provide historical and cultural context to the listening experience. For more information, visit www.yumuseum.org.

Listen to a sample teaser of Mickey Katz’s My Yiddishe Mambo.

The 1950s saw an explosion of creativity among Jews, including among Yiddish Speaker. Mickey Katz was a notorious Yiddish commedean, as you can here in this 1950s take on a Yiddish Mambo.  These types of tunes illustrate just how much traditional Jewish culture was finding its place in the increasingly diverse mainstream culture.

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