Harlem's Good Ol' Days

Music Exhibit Recalls Another Time For Jews and Blacks

By Seth Berkman

Published January 18, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Reddick began collecting sheet music three years ago, after he attended a lecture given by Jeffrey Gurock, author of the 1979 book “When Harlem Was Jewish.” Gurock explained the similarities between the black and Jewish migrations to Harlem, and this resonated with Reddick. Black residents in Manhattan were forced out of Midtown dwellings because of the construction of Penn Station. Jews came in large numbers after plans were made to build the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, and families like the Marx Brothers and the Gershwins began to leave the tenements of the Lower East Side.

The collaboration between black composers and Jewish musicians often took place in apartments, away from the public eye. Black artists were often not admitted to clubs, even in Harlem, and Jewish performers occasionally went to great lengths to keep their collaborations with black performers away from their families, who did not approve of their associations with blacks.

“Fanny Brice’s first hit was written by a black composer who couldn’t go into a lot of theaters where she was performing,” Reddick said, referring to her hit “Lovie Joe” written by Joe Jordan.

The buzz surrounding Harlem’s budding music scene led downtown impresarios to turn their attention uptown. One of the displays at Settepani is for “Darktown Follies,” composed by Harlem resident John Leubrie Hill in 1913 and performed at the Lafayette Theatre near 132nd Street. Florenz Ziegfeld saw the performance and copied songs from “Darktown Follies” for his own Broadway show, “which started a whole trail of people coming uptown to see what’s going on and taking it downtown,” according to Reddick.

Reddick said disputes over money and royalties likely led to the downfall of black and Jewish musical collaboration in Harlem. At the same time, the rise in popularity of motion pictures led a majority of influential Jews in the entertainment industry to move to California. Karp said a riot in Harlem in 1935 also contributed to a sharp decline in whites from other areas of Manhattan visiting clubs uptown.

Reddick, who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia, attending friends’ Seders and bar mitzvahs, said he hopes to continue the exhibit at a larger, permanent space in the future. “I really resent the Gray Line double decker [bus]; it kind of goes through the neighborhood, you get the Apollo marquee from the second level of the bus and they’ve checked off Harlem as having visited,” he said.

To support Reddick’s mission, Settepani’s co-owner Leah Abraham, a native of Ethiopia, added Jewish dishes to her menu for the duration of the exhibit, including caponata, a mixture of vegetables and eggplant that was a staple of Sabbath luncheons in Sicily, and sweet-and-sour trout, which, Abraham said, is referred to in mainstream Italian households as “the Jewish fish dish.” Reddick is also giving walking tours of the neighborhoods, showing visitors the houses, synagogues and theaters where Jewish performers made their living.

“There’s a richness in the community I’d like to see last, particularly in the physical environment, and I want to see everyone invested in it,” Reddick said.

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.