If you’re Jewish, come into the parlour . . .
In the Tin Pan Alley years, Irish-Jewish music collusions were common
Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, an accomplished musician. Photograph: Elizabeth Malby/Baltimore Sun
Michael Oren enjoys nothing more after a long day discussing the complexities of Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy and on the blower to Benjamin Netanyahu and others back in Israel than pounding on one of his three bodhráns.
The American-born Israeli ambassador to the United States became interested in the bodhrán after seeing someone playing it in a pub in Dingle, Co Kerry.
He was taught to play by Abe Doron, a Mexican Jewish guy and the only bodhrán player in Israel – well, the only professional one at any rate. Doron played bodhrán with the Riverdance band. Go on to YouTube and see Oren perform with Evergreen, an Israeli-Celtic band, at an Israeli-Irish night in Washington. In a follow-up clip, Maryland governor Martin O’Malley performs Tribe, a song by Irish singer-songwriter Luka Bloom.
The overlap between the Irish and Jewish musical tribes goes back more than a century on the American music scene. During the Tin Pan Alley era of music publishing between 1880 and 1920, Irish-Jewish musical collaborations were common; the era was so named by Jewish songwriter and journalist Monroe Rosenfeld after the streets of New York around Broadway and 28th Street where songsmiths sweated over pianos in what was the centre of America’s song-publishing industry.
During this time it was common for Irish songwriters to assume Jewish names for commercial reasons when they saw New York’s rapidly changing song-making business becoming distinctly Jewish.
Cohan from Clonakilty
George M Cohan, one of the most acclaimed performers and songwriters of the period, was the grandson of Jeremiah Keohane, who had emigrated from Clonakilty. Keohane’s son changed his name to Jerry Cohan and along with his wife, daughter and son George Michael they became the Four Cohans, a popular song and dance act on the American vaudeville scene in the late 19th century.
“You have to presume they did it for strategic purposes,” said Mick Moloney, professor of Music and Irish Studies at New York University’s Department of Music.
Moloney unearthed intriguing interactions between Irish and Jewish communities in the US for his 2009 album of vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley songs, If It Wasn’t For The Irish and The Jews, taken from the title of a 1912 hit for two songwriters Jean Schwartz, a Hungarian Jew, and William Jerome.
Jerome was in fact a Flannery, the son of Patrick Flannery, a Famine immigrant from Co Mayo, but he adopted a Jewish surname not to miss out on this lucrative trend in American songwriting at the time. Jerome and Schwartz also wrote My Irish Molly O in 1915, the equivalent of a chart-topper today.