Parodies that make us cringe today used to make people roar. A music critic discovers Abie Cohen, the Jewish version of Aunt Jemima.
Irving Berlin, the man responsible for “God Bless America,” was also the brains behind “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollar,” a 1916 number which sent up the stereotype of the tight-fisted Jew. It was one in a slew of Tin Pan Alley minstrel songs that made fun, often affectionately, of greenhorns and their slightly savvier predecessors.
Jewface, a new album from Reboot Stereophonic, introduces several of these songs to listeners far removed from the immigrant experience and the Yiddish inflections that infused it.
Jody Rosen, the music critic for Slate, is the album’s curator. He talks with Nextbook about discovering these scratchy wax-cylinder recordings and what audiences a century ago thought of songs like “When Mose With His Nose Leads the Band” and “That’s Yiddisha Love.”