The Arty Semite

Abe Elenkrig and Tupac Shakur, Together At Last

By Ezra Glinter

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Tupac Shakur, rubbing shoulders posthumously with the greats of Yiddish music.

Abraham Elenkrig was a trumpeter, a barber, and the bandleader of Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra, one of the very first outfits to record klezmer music in America. Though considered something of a secret treasure by klezmer connoisseurs, Elenkrig has never really gotten his due.

Last week, however, the Library of Congress made Elenkrig’s 1913 rendition of “Fon der Choope” (“From the Wedding”) the first klezmer recording to be included in the National Recording Registry. Other selections include pieces by Little Richard, the Bill Evans Trio, Willie Nelson and Tupac Shakur.

“There are many fine klezmer artists but we settled on the Elenkrig title, first of all because it’s good, but also because it’s so early and it captures a transitional moment in Jewish music in the United States,” said Matthew Barton, Curator of Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress.

“While chiefly colored by Romanian musical influences, the cornet and trombone on ‘Fon der Choope’ lend it a brassy sound typical of John Philip Sousa, Arthur Pryor and other popular military bands of the time. It was a sound characteristic of early klezmer recordings in the United States,” read the notes accompanying the selection.

The National Recording Registry was started in 2002 in accordance with the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, which called on the Library of Congress “to maintain and preserve sound recordings and collections of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and for other purposes.” The recordings, 25 of which are selected each year, also have to be at least 10 years old.

According to Henry Sapoznik, the founder of KlezKamp/Living Traditions and the director of the newly founded Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the Elenkrig track was an inspired selection.

“Up until then the record companies had licensed European orchestras, so those [Elenkrig] sessions were really critical because they established an American large-ensemble aesthetic for the bands that subsequently recorded,” he said.

“This shows that there’s some really critical listening going on in terms of who’s doing the choosing,” he added. “It shows that this is perceived quite rightly as part of a national cultural literacy, rather than some off-beat ancillary culture.”

In addition to the musical numbers, selections also included a 1941 episode of the NBC radio program “America’s Town Meeting of the Air,” field recordings from the Second Battle of Guam, and a 1949 reading of “The Little Engine that Could.”

Listen to Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra play “Fon der Choope”:


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