Reissues of historic sound recordings don’t happen without discs in hand. Networking with committed discographers, visionary institutions, and ardent collectors ease the process, yet hunts for limited century-old releases by obscure immigrant labels are challenging. I’d sworn off protracted sonic archeology after an ultimately successful 2016-2018 search with Archeophone to find every Swiss American side issued on Helvetia by Ferdinand Ingold of Monroe, Wisconsin (Alpine Dreaming, Archeophone 8002).
But serendipity sparked a three-year quest for Wallin’s Svenska Records (WSR).
Remember those funny pink celluloid cylinders made by a man named Thomas Lambert during the first few years of the 20th century in Chicago? Our CD, The Pink Lambert, was only the second release by Archeophone, back in 1999. Well, we’re seeing pink again.
A large block of Yiddish selections were among Lambert’s first releases, around 1901—titles including show tunes from Yiddish theater, operatic arias, and sacred numbers. A collection of many of these very early Lamberts was recently acquired by the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and they have reached out to us to put them out on a new CD. In turn, we have asked Mayrent Director Henry Sapoznik to shepherd the project, providing translations and context for material that is foreign even to people knowledgeable about Yiddish culture.
Lamberts come in a variety of colors: pink, wine, and black (Courtesy of the Mayrent Institute)
That’s because apparently these are the earliest known recordings of Yiddish music. It’s not clear why Lambert chose to market this material, but presumably he had an “in” with Chicago’s large Jewish community. One other mystery we’re trying to solve is why all the cylinders are announced “Standard Record,” instead of something like “Record made for the Lambert Company of Chicago,” which is the usual formula we hear. Has anybody out there got a clue?