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The Lost World of African-American Cantors: 1920-1953
An online lecture by Henry Sapoznik, presented by Jewish Community Library, based in San Francisco.
While the history of Black-Jewish cultural interaction generally focuses on how Jews adopted and adapted Black music—ragtime, jazz, swing, R&B and blues, etc.—as performers, promoters, managers, and record company executives, what has not been explored were the Blacks who performed Yiddish and cantorial music in the Jewish community—in theaters, on record, and on radio between the World Wars. In this presentation, Henry Sapoznik will introduce several forgotten African-American cantors, including Thomas LaRue Jones, billed as “Der Shvartzer Khazn”; Goldye May Steiner, billed as “The Only Colored Woman Cantor”; and David Kallistra. We will listen to Jones’ 1923 record, the only known recording of a Black cantor from this period.
Henry Sapoznik, a child of Holocaust survivors and native Yiddish speaker, began repopularizing klezmer music in the mid-1970s, producing the long-running event KlezKamp, writing books, and producing or performing on more than sixty recordings, which resulted in five Grammy nominations. In 2002, he produced a Peabody Award-winning series on the history of Yiddish radio for National Public Radio. Sapoznik is a professional banjoist in American Southern styles and early 20th century ragtime. He first uncovered the history of African-American cantors in the 1970s, but only started to document this forgotten history in the past year. He hopes that his next research breakthrough will not take as long.
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