“Blown away tonight by the most talented collection of musicians! Artists Without Walls hosted a terrific musical evening at Rockwood Music Hall. What a line up of super talented vocalists. One after another boom, boom, boom! All equally stunning performances! Niamh Hyland, Maritri Garrett, Honor Finnegan, Basya Schechter, Ashley Bell and with equally beautiful instrumentals from Noah Hoffield and Deni Bonet. Curated and M.C’d by the one and only, Charles R. Hale. A slice of New York History. Take it on the road guys! Hopefully this will be done again…. not to be missed.” Actress/Director Aedin Moloney
This past Thursday night, as part of Artists Without Walls’ Presentations Series, a number of the organization’s musicians, with narration by Charles R. Hale, presented The Musical History of the Lower East Side Copyright © 2015 [ARTISTS WITHOUT WALLS] celebrating the music of New York City’s Lower East Side, an area from which many of our nation’s ethnic groups can trace their origins.
The Irish, leaving behind famine and poverty, began streaming into the country in the 1840’s. The emigrés wrote a large number of emigrant ballads, which were usually sad laments, steeped in nostalgia and self-pity, and despite the troubles they’d left, singing the praises of their native soil. But they also brought Celtic music with them. One tune “Red Haired Boy,” a melody common to fiddlers throughout Scotland and Ireland was transferred nearly intact to the American fiddle tradition where it has been a favorite of bluegrass fiddlers in recent times. Fiddler Deni Bonet opened the evening with a rendition of the tune.
Stephen Foster known as “the father of American music” was an American songwriter known for his parlor and minstrel music. The minstrel show was an American form of entertainment developed in the 19th century, consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface. Popularized in the 1830 and 40s, in New York City alone, when minstrelsy was at its height in the 1850s and 60s, there were ten theaters in New York City devoted almost solely to minstrel entertainment. Bonet strung together a medley of Foster’s tunes, illustrative of the minstrel style: “The Old Folks at Home,” “Camptown Races,” and “Oh Susanna.”
Singer Niamh Hyland, cellist Noah Hoffeld joined Deni to perform two of Foster’s parlor songs, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” written in 1854 and “Slumber My Darling,” written in 1862, two years after Foster moved to New York.
Many ethnic groups or cultures tend to claim sections of New York City as historically their own. The Lower East Side is especially remembered as a place of Jewish beginnings in America. Between 1880 and the start of World War I in 1914, about two million Yiddish-speaking Jews left Eastern Europe and
Russia where repeated pogroms made life unbearable for many. The immigrants brought a great deal of their European music with them and the music became an integral part of the immigrant’s life. Two of these songs “Oyfn Pripetchik” and “Shnirele perele” were performed by guitarist/singer Basya Schecter and cellist Hoffeld .
The first Italian opera, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, was performed in the United States in NYC in 1825, but it wasn’t until a steady stream of Italian immigrants began arriving in America in the late 19th and early 20th century—four million—that the popularity of Italian opera picked up steam. The Metropolitan Opera debuted a number of Italian operas, including Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi in 1918. The most popular aria from that opera remains “O Mio Babbino Caro,” which was performed by soprano Ashley Bell who accompanied herself on piano.
Canzone Napoletana, sometimes referred to as Neapolitan song, is a term for a traditional form of music sung in the Neapolitan language. Many of the Neapolitan songs became world-famous after they were taken abroad by emigrants from Naples and southern Italy. The music was popularized in New York City by performers such as Enrico Caruso, who took to singing the popular music of his native city as encores at the Metropolitan Opera. Bell sang one of the most popular Neapolitan songs, “No ti Scordar di me.”
If many are unfamiliar with the names Israel Baline, Samuel Cohen, Isidore Hochberg, and Jacob and Israel Gershowitz, it’s because they were better known as Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Yip Harburg and George and Ira Gershwin, composers who were either born or raised on the Lower East Side. George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” was sung by Maritri Garrett, who played the guitar, with additional accompaniment from fiddler Bonet.
Yip Harburg wrote a number of popular tunes including “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” and “April in Paris,” but he’s probably best known for the Wizard of Oz’s “Over The Rainbow,” which he wrote with Harold Arlen, and for which they won an Academy Award. The versatile Garrett moved to the piano and performed “If I Had A Brain,” also from the “Wizard.”
The East Village was once considered the Lower East Side’s northwest corner; however, in the 1960s, the demographics of the area above Houston Street began to change, as hipsters, musicians, and artists moved in. And from 1968 to 1971 the Fillmore East, located in a Second Avenue building that was originally a Yiddish theatre, was the rock palace of the world. The performers are legendary: The Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and many others performed there. The brilliant singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell appeared at the Fillmore on April 26, 1969. Honor Finnegan, accompanied by Carl Money on guitar performed two of Mitchell’s songs, “All I Want” and “Both Sides Now.”
Some American music critics began using the term “punk” in the early 1970s to describe garage bands and their devotees. By late 1976 Patti Smith, Television and the Ramones in New York City were recognized as the vanguard of a new musical movement performing in such places as the famed CBGB at 315 Bowery. To close out the evening Hyland, Bonet, Hoffeld and Garrett performed a song from that era, a rousing rendtion of Blondie’s “Call Me.”