David Meyerowitz represents the early phases of the American Yiddish musical stage that preceded the zenith of the so-called Golden Age of Second Avenue during the 1930s and 1940s. His songs and even his one-act presentations were often oriented toward vaudeville, variety show, and revue formats.
Meyerowitz was born in Dinaburg, Latvia (then part of the czarist empire). He had no formal education, and his life as a songster and later a songwriter started as he entertained fellow workers in a match factory. When his father emigrated to America, temporarily leaving his family behind until he could earn enough money to pay for their passage, Meyerowitz began earning extra income by singing songs from Abraham Goldfaden operettas, and ballads by the famous bard Eliakum Zunser, which he had learned from his mother.
In 1890, Meyerowitz came to America, but he continued at menial shop labor while he composed simple Yiddish parodies and patriotic sentiments. Representative of the latter is his early miniature, Kolombus, ikh hob tzu dir gornit (Columbus, I’ve Got Nothing Against You!), a typical humorous expression of enthusiasm for the new country (“And I have nothing against you either, America! You’re very good to us, and life here is happy; you’re ‘okay’!”). He began singing such songs at various gatherings and then for small remuneration at cafés and music halls, and soon became known as “the wandering poet.”
Among his early original songs that gained popularity were several he created for the famous Yiddish actor and producer Jacob P. Adler (1856–1926), and in 1921 Meyerowitz’s song Aheym (Go Home) was introduced by Adler at the Kessler Theater in the play The Power of Nature. Meyerowitz, who was vocal about his Zionist sympathies, dedicated that song to the World Zionist Organization. When the most famous and powerful personality in the entire Yiddish theater world—impresario, actor, singer, and songwriter Boris Thomashevsky, often called the Father of Second Avenue Yiddish Theater—wanted a Zionist-oriented song to sing in his play Tate mame tzores (Heartbreak, Papa and Mama), he turned to Meyerowitz, who then wrote Kum, srul, kum aheym (Come, Little Srul, Come Home).
Meyerowitz’s one-act operettas, in which he sometimes played and sang while also producing and directing, grew in popularity throughout New York music halls and vaudeville houses, playing at no fewer than all fourteen that once existed simultaneously.
By: Neil W. Levin
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