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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Moishe Oysher Chanuka Party LP 1956

And, in keeping with that today begins the Festival of Lights.........

Oysher, Moishe, singer, actor, cantor; b. (born) Lipkany, Moldova, March 8, 1907(?); d. (died) New York, November 28, 1958.

He followed six generations of cantors, and sang as a child in the synagogue choir of his native village. He also performed as a child actor and singer with local and visiting theatrical troupes. At thirteen he immigrated to Montreal with his mother and sister to join his father, who had gone there many years earlier in search of a livelihood. In 1923 the family moved to New York, and shortly thereafter settled in Philadelphia, where his father served as a cantor. Although Zelig Oysher did not achieve fame, he had a hand in training his son Moishe, whose commanding performances of Jewish music would eventually earn him the title "Master Singer of His People." (Moishe later returned the favor by adopting "Ben Zelig" as a pseudonym under which he wrote some theater pieces.)

Growing up was a struggle that entailed taking many odd jobs, including any Yiddish theater work that he could find. In the latter he was well served by his good looks, charming personality and a beautiful voice which eventually turned into a rich instrument of unusual power, brilliance and warmth, spanning the range of baritone and tenor. His theater engagements became more numerous upon his marriage to the actress Florence Weiss, who toured the United States and South America with him as a singing-acting team. His voice also caught the attention of New York's Yiddish radio station producers, who were eager to showcase his fiery cantorial renditions, as well as the dynamic Oysher-Weiss duo. His radio career was marked by great popularity and longevity ending only with his untimely death. From the 1930's to the 1950's listeners looked forward to his folk songs, art songs, liturgical masterpieces, skits, oratory, charity appeals—as well to as his own commercial announcements and jingles for the program sponsors.

By 1935 he felt ready to offer his cantorial skills to a congregation; he auditioned and was accepted at New York City's venerable First Roumanian-American Congregation, known as "the Cantor's Carnegie Hall." Popular demand for his singing overcame the objections of professional and lay demonstrators who vehemently protested a matinee idol's officiating in a religious capacity. His cantorial credentials were legitimated after he appeared before a rabbinic panel and pledged not to perform as an actor on the Sabbath and Festivals. He continued to lead High Holiday and occasional Sabbath services to great acclaim in other congregations through the late 1940's, and thereafter performed these functions at New York Catskills resort hotels. Throughout this period he continued to appear in Yiddish plays and operettas. He also concertized extensively, entertaining his audiences with anecdotes and song introductions no less than with his singing.

In 1936 he was catapulted to even greater fame upon the release of "The Cantor's Son," the first of three classic Yiddish motion pictures in which he starred along with Florence Weiss. In this quasi-autobiographical drama, as well as in "The Singing Blacksmith" (1938) and "Overture to Glory" (1940) the persona of the real-life Oysher blended well with those of the films' heros. The latter film—based on the true story of a cantor in 19th century Vilna who leaves his pulpit in a tragic quest for a career in opera—was a capstone of Yiddish cinema and the perfect showcase for Oysher's many talents. It was also an authentic depiction of East European synagogue life which was then on the brink of destruction. With the demise of the market for Yiddish films after World War II, he tried his hand in two English-language movies: a cameo singing role in "Song Of Russia" (1943; credited to "Walter Lawrence") and a starring role in "Singing in the Dark" (1956).

In 1943 he signed a contract to sing in the Chicago Opera's production of La Juive and Pagliacci, but a heart-attack prevented him from doing so. Ill health followed him for the rest of his life, but he would not curtail his demanding singing career. Having divorced his first wife, he remarried in 1945. His new wife served as his piano accompanist until he died of a third heart-attack in 1958. Shortly before his death their eleven-year old daughter narrated a long-playing record album, The Moishe Oysher Chanukah Party, whose blend of liturgical, folk, and theatrical selections in Hebrew, Yiddish and English introduced his singing talents and outstanding repertoire to a new generation of Americans. It was the third in a series of recordings featuring English narration: The Moishe Oysher Seder (1956) and Kol Nidre Night with Moishe Oysher (1957). On these albums just as earlier in his career, the theatrical energy of his cantorial renditions and the sparkling orchestral arrangements—including occasional swing passages—breathed new life into a genre whose popularity had waned. Although technically unschooled, his sharp ear for melody, rhythm and style, made him the consummate American Jewish musician of his day—a multimedia star able to bridge the worlds of art and entertainment, synagogue and stage, old country and new world.


And, let the party begin!!

Happy Chanuka
Blessing of the candles (Brochot)
Moat Tzur
Mizmor Shir
Ani Mamin
Drei Dreidle (Spin the Dreidle)
S'hma Yisroel (Hear o' Israel)


  1. Hello hello! As a Marilyn Michaels' fan (Oysher's daughter) it was a pleasure to find this here and hear her at 14. Recently having lots of fun with the Barry Sisters (and Jewish music, that I find quite beautiful), it's been a pleasure to hear Moishe Oysher. Great voice!
    Thanks for posting this wonderful record!
    Ravel, Montreal, Quebec

  2. YES!!! I was hoping for a fellow fan! :) I really had a lot of downloads of it, so I did realize there were a few of us....but Thanks so much, I'm so very glad you enjoyed it. I do have a lot of other very old recordings in Yiddish that I could post. Perhaps I can get some of it up on here, soon.