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'No more wandering for me'
by Linda Grant in The Guardian

When Linda Grant tracked down the Yiddish singing star she loved as a child, she didn't expect to find him winning over a whole new audience: young north Africans

When I was a child, on Sunday mornings the family would assemble around the blue-leather-covered gramophone to listen to records. Apart from the Light Programme, there was no music in the house during the rest of the week, and anyway, the star of my parents' collection of 78s was now heard only occasionally on the BBC. His discs, kept carefully in a cupboard in their paper wrappers, were placed on the turntable, the stylus lowered, and within a few notes we were all sobbing.

For the singer, Leo Fuld, was renowned as the leading exponent of Yiddish song; he was, as it turned out, the last great Yiddish star. Einstein was said to be a fan. Fuld had had two smash hits: one was a cover of Sophie Tucker's My Yiddishe Momma, but it was the second, Wo Ahin Soll Ich Geh'n (Tell Me Where Shall I Go), that had us crying our eyes out.
Tell Me Where Shall I Go told the story in two devastating verses, sung in Yiddish and English, of a man with no country:

Where to go, where to go
Every door is closed to me
To the left, to the right
It's the same in every land
There is nowhere to go
And it's me who should know
Won't you please understand

Without actually stating it, Fuld was obviously talking about the hundreds of thousands of Jews in the postwar displaced persons' camps. By the second verse, he has found a home:

Now I know where to go
Where my folks proudly stand
Where to go, where to go
To that precious promised land
I am proud, can't you see
For at last I am free
No more wandering for me

The words of that song and the emotions they aroused, the story of the Jewish diaspora, never left me: I could sing the whole song, on demand, and would do so whenever I tried to explain what Zionism meant to my parents' generation. When my mother died in 1999, I tried to find Leo Fuld's records, but they had been lost in a house move, or thrown away, so one day I looked him up on Google.

The internet can throw up many surprises, but none so bizarre as the fate of Leo Fuld. Just before his death in Amsterdam in 1997, he had been discovered by Mohamed el Fers, a Dutch TV producer of Algerian descent. El Fers had produced Fuld's final album, The Legend, backed by an Algerian rai band, in front of a live audience of young Moroccans. You could download a couple of tracks, and when I clicked on My Yiddishe Momma, I heard the most extraordinary sound: a fusion of Arab north Africa and Jewish eastern Europe. At 84, Fuld's voice was still fresh and the crowd was going crazy, whooping as he announces that he's going to sing My Yiddishe Momma.

I tracked down El Fers, and he told me the Leo Fuld story. He was born Lazarus Fuld in Rotterdam in 1912 and started out in the synagogue choir; at 16, he was leading services, while at night he was singing secular songs in Rotterdam's Cafe de Kool. In 1932, still only 19, he came to Britain to audition for the BBC, where he was noticed by bandleader Jack Hylton and became a radio star. Seven years later, he left for the US where he established a career as a singer of Yiddish songs, performing with Frank Sinatra. When he returned to Rotterdam after the war, his entire family - with the exception of one sister - had died in the Holocaust. In 1948, he wrote Tell Me Where Shall I Go, which became a worldwide hit.

Click here to buy the Leo Fuld BiographyFuld's career had three phases, El Fers says: the British one, the American one and the French one. In the latter, he performed with Edith Piaf and is said to have discovered Charles Aznavour. In the 1950s, he began to develop an Arab audience and toured the Arab world, still performing Yiddish songs. Then he moved to Las Vegas, but in 1992, at the age of 80, his career more or less over, he returned to the Netherlands.

"I thought he was dead," El Fers told me, "but a friend said, 'He's very poor; everyone has forgotten him and he's living all alone in a tiny apartment.' I remembered the records of my childhood, so I went to interview him and we became friends. He started playing me his old records." To El Fers' ears, the cantorial music of the synagogue had an undercurrent of the Middle East.

"Nobody cared," says El Fers. "He was 82 but still going. He had a kind of nightclub orchestra which was very bad, so I put him in contact with rai music from Algeria." El Fers got Fuld working again: "He went on national television with these very young Algerian musicians and in front of an audience of young Moroccans, and they loved him. I have no idea what was the magic between them. Normally, they're very against Jews and shout about the Palestinians, but the audience wouldn't let him go."

How did they take to Tell Me Where Shall I Go, I asked him? "We were clever," he said, "and we never played that song." Fuld didn't mind: "If he could play, he would play." The song was not performed until El Fers got Fuld together with an arranger, and in 1997 they recorded The Legend.

Suddenly, Fuld was a star again. Sony gave him a contract, and he was taken to meet the Dutch royal family. Sadly, however, he died a few months after the release of The Legend, aged 84. He went out on a high, with a new following and a new wife.

The fusion of the heartfelt sounds of Yiddish and the Arab Middle East resonate still in Leo Fuld's work. People loved him because he sang from the heart. No more wandering for him.

The Legend is available from Hippo Records (www.hipporecords.nl), Calabash Music (calabashmusic.com) or Sterns (www.sternsmusic.com)

Linda Grand in The Guardian July 26, 2007

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Leo Fuld & Railand on National TV: Moishele, Mein Freind


Songlines

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A thorough rehabilitation
of the Jewish standard songbook
by Philip Sweeney

Here, Lazarus ‘Leo’ Fuld, the one-time king of Yiddish music, caps a 60-year career with a riveting reinvention of the old European Jewish song repertoire that the likes of Sophie Tucker and Barbra Streisand rendered such saccharine showbiz fare.

This is the Yiddish folk poetry of authors such as Mordechai Gebirtig, celebrating life in the old shtetls of Middle Europe.

Fuld, a Dutch-born one-time rabbinical student and cantor, made it his own through a career which took him from being an Amsterdam singing waiter to the star of Broadway and concert halls from Paris to Buenos Aires. Also, of course, Tunis and Cairo – indeed, Oum Kalthoum attended Fuld’s 50s performances at the Auberge de Pyramides. And it is the submerged Middle Eastern heritage within this music that this new record makes its ace.

Arranger Kees Post has treated Fuld’s songs to striking new arrangements – tight swathes of Oriental violin, eerie and sinuous woodwinds and accordions, and sombre double bass – which bring out the pathos but not the sentimentality of Fuld’s light but world-weary voice and provide considerable drama. So brilliantly noir is the orchestral prelude to ‘Fraitag oif der Nacht’ that it’s as much Fritz Lang horror film soundtrack as Sabbath party song, while the languorously menacing oboe of ‘My Yiddishe Mama’ brings to mind Salomé and the head of John the Baptist as much as the dear little grey-haired chicken-soup-maker of the title.

Fuld died shortly after making this record, which he apparently considered his crowning achievement.
One can understand why.

Philip Sweeney in Songlines - juni 2006

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As I Heard It

 

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Among the royalty of Yiddish music
by Morton Gold

I never know what surprises will await me in my mailbox. Recently, among the usual catalogs that routinely get discarded, was a CD from Holland. After opening the box, I found a CD, the cover of which featured a handsome man with Edith Piaf, the acclaimed French songstress (the word legendary readily applies to her), and in the lower left a poster which describes Mr. Leo Fuld as "The King of Yiddish Music."
It may be my fault, but I regret to state that I have never heard of Leo Fuld, and I knew most of the principals in the Yiddish theatre in the late 1930s and early 1940s in New York. Since Holland was his native country and he did tour extensively, it is quite possible that his reputation and his recordings did not reach my ears.

Rather than read the (excellent) booklet first, I decided to listen to the CD first and let the performances speak for themselves. All of the songs on the CD are chestnuts to those who are senior citizens and knowledgeable of the music of this genre. For many, and I daresay the majority of, listeners, these songs are probably unknown, and there may be a fresh audience emerging who will enjoy this material anew.
It is not only in the realm of Jewish music. There are millions of American youth as well as youth around the globe who do not know the songs of Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart, Berlin, Lowe, and a host of others, so it should come as no surprise that there is at least one generation of Jews who have never heard the music of Secunda, Rumshinksy, Olshanetsky, Ellstein, Trilling, and many others.
Listening to this CD, it was readily apparent from the start that the performer may once have had a fine lyric voice but was not now in his vocal prime.
This was not at all surprising when I later learned that he was 84 years young when he recorded these songs! All of his artistry was still there however.
In many of these songs he resorted to a kind of melodic declaiming. His diction was always crystal clear, whether in Yiddish or in the occasional English lyric.
The songs on this CD include the following: "My Yiddish Mama" by Pollack; "Oif'nn Veg Steht a Boim" by Manger; "Mein Sheltele Belz" by Olashanetsky; "Grienen Tag" by Rozenthal; "Moishele Mein Friend" by Gebirtig, "Freitag Oif Der Nacht" (traditional); "Dos Pintele Yid" by Wohl and Gilrod; "Shein Wie Die Lewone" by Rumshinsky and Tauaber; "Gesselach" by Kletter; "Az Der Rebbe Tanst" (traditional); "Wo Ahin Soll Ich Geh'n" by Stroch and Fuld; "Der Sidereal" by Gilrod; "Oh Mamme! Bin Ich Farliebt" by Ellstein; "Reisele", Gebirtig, and "Oif'n Pripetshik" by Warshawsky .
Ït was the rendition of "Vie Ahin Soll Ich Geh'n" that one could hear the years fading away and one could grasp the sheer beauty of what this song sounded like when he sang it 50 years before.
I heard Haimmy Jacobson sing this, and Fuld's performance topped even that. Fuld sang this song from his heart, and not even his advanced years prevented him from reaching out and touching me.
I cannot state that Fuld was the "King" of Yiddish music, but on the basis of this CD I can state that he surely was amongst its royalty.
He was born in 1912 and died in 1997, just three months after making these superbly recorded songs. During his lifetime there were 30 million copies of his songs sold all over the world. It is something of a strange but wonderful occurrence that a company based in Ghana and the Netherlands decided to record Mr. Fuld in 1997, but so very glad that Mr. El-Fers decided to produce this CD.
One other congratulatory note is due: the arrangements by Kees Post are all first rate and do much to add to the all around excellence of this CD. In my opinion this is a most enjoyable and historic CD. Highly recommended.

Morton Gold - As I Heard It - NAT 27, 2005/08/23

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Tracks

 

  1. Go to the cd The Legend by Leo FuldMY YIDDISHE MAMA (EXTRA ORIENTAL) (Jack Yellen/Ben Pollack)
  2. OIF'N WEG STEHT A BOIM (Itsik Manger)
  3. MEIN SHTETELE BELZ (Jacob Jacobs/Alexander Olshanetsky)
  4. GRIENEN DAG (Moishe Oysher/Zalman Rozental)
  5. MOISHELE, MEIN FREIND (Mordechai Gebirtig) in RealPlayer MOISHELE, MEIN FREIND in RealPlayer or
  6. FRAITAG OIF DER NACHT (Trad. arr. C. Post)
  7. DOS PINTELE YID (Arnold Perlmitter/Herman Wohl/Louis Gilrod)
  8. SHEIN WIE DIE LEWONE (Joseph Rumshinsky/Chaim Tauber)
  9. GESSELACH (Max Kletter)
  10. AZ DER REBBE TANTST (Trad. arr. C. Post)
  11. WO AHIN SOLL ICH GEH'N (S. Korntayer/Oscar Strock/Leo Fuld)
  12. DER SIDEREL (YIDDELE BRIEDEREL) (Joseph Kammen/Louis Gilrod)
  13. A KLESMER YINGEL (OI MAMME! BIN ICH FARLIEBT) (Abe Ellstein)
  14. RESELE (Mordechai Gebirtig) in RealPlayer RESELE in RealPlayer or
  15. OIF'N PRIPETSHIK (Mark Warshawsky, arr. C. Post)

DOWNLOAD or BUY CD WITH 16 PAGE BOOKLET | AT CD BABY | STERNS MUSIC

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Review of The Legend by Odetta Clarence on UKFM


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If one picture is worth a thousand words, one song is worth at least a thousand pictures. The very best Yiddish songs by the King of Yiddish music! Hearing is believing! This will be the first time you'll hear Leo Fuld sing his million-sellers in this extra oriental style. Did Mordechai Gebirtig ever sound more moving as on this album? No, not another re-release of old stock, but a brand new digital recording of the instantly recognisable and attractive voice of Leo Fuld. For the first time recreating like it was in Cairo, Buenos Aires, New York, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Tunis, Addis Abeba, Paris... Still in great shape at the age of 84, Leo Fuld was performing on the National Holiday for Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. This album is pure history. Recorded a few months before the King of Yiddish Music passed away. `The Legend', produced by Mohamed el-Fers, was the crown on his career.

Leo Fuld: The Legend
The recording of that album was what Leo Fuld called `a dream becoming true'. Abandoning the `Broadway-tradition' and returning to the roots of Yiddish music: Europe and the Middle East. Adding an overtone of tender melancholy, missed for so many years. Ten years after the recording and death of The Legend his legacy will be hounoured during MokumTV's Year of Yiddish Music. As well a tribute to the late Mira Rafalowicz (1941-1998).

Life and work of the late Leo Fuld
Born into a modest family of eight children it was during his study at the Amsterdam Jewish Seminary when his unique voice was discovered. Only sixteen years old he was sent all over the country to the Jewish congregations to serve as cantor on Sabbath. This background was of essential influence on his later career with Yiddish songs. Fuld was eighteen when he became the very first Dutch singer performing at the BBC. In 1936 he was a star on Broadway, New York.
His recordings of `My Yiddishe Mama', `Dos Pintele Yid' and `Mein Shtetele Belz' were giant hits in the Old and New World. Fuld was the King of Yiddish Music. Just two months before the nazi's occupied his country, Fuld left for a second American tour. Except his sister, the whole Fuld-family died in the German destruction-camps. He wrote about his early years in his autobiography.

The Four Wives of Leo Fuld
He married for the first time in Rotterdam with Marjorie Winifred Gotlib, born in Stretford Lancaster Engeland, daughter of the musician Salomon Gotlib and Hanna van der Sluis. Soon after he divorced and married April 12, 1937 in New York with Sjaan (Dutch pronunciation for Jeanne) from Beverwijk and divorsed her in 1970 to marrie with Ilone Winter. Ilone Winter had already a daughter Mirjam, Fuld recognized Mirjam as his own. His daughter Mirjam married Levy Lelah and their son Jeremy Set Lelah had his bar-mitzvah in 2006 in Las Vegas NV on Leo's birthday. After Fuld divorsed Ilone Winter in Las Vegas, he returned to Holland. Less then a year before he passed away, Leo married the young police-woman Bep van Laar.

Leo Fuld his last recording
So Leo was in great shape when he made this faithful reconstruction of some of his historic performances in Europe and the Middle East. The recording of 'The Legend' was what Leo Fuld called `a dream becoming true'. It's a `moifes' that despite his age he could add that overtone of tender melancholy unknown to the Broadway-tradition.The Legend was the first Yiddish recording ever made by an African record company. It took twice the studio-time to produce this as the Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper. `No effort at all', according to Robert Bierings, president of Hippo records. His aim was to make the very best recording ever of the King Of Yiddish Music when he signed up with Ghana-based Hippo Records.Leo Fuld sold already a solid 30 million records all over the world. But it surprised the legendary singer that producer Mohamed el-Fers wanted more than just good songs and first class arrangements. It was the president of Hippo records, Rob Bierings, who introduced arranger Kees Post to producer el-Fers. The arrangers was sometimes producing and the producer was arranging to realize the best recording ever made by Leo Fuld. It's sad that this was also his very last recording. But certain one of his very best!

Odetta Clarence UKFM June 9, 2007

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