Fifty years ago, a perfectly lovely piece of classic music--Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours--was altered forever by the addition of lyrics… taken from a whiny kid's letter home from summer camp.
Yes, 2013 marks the "Goldeneh" anniversary of Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah," here performed by Jewish singer John "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na on that band's show.
To mark this auspicious anniversary, Mark Cohen has written the first authoritative biography of the parodist: Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman. It contains many photos and lyrics. Cohen will discuss the book at Max and Benny's Deli in Northbrook on May 27.
The book, like its subject, is both hefty and hilarious. One of its main features is a complete list of Sherman's almost-lost work Goldeneh Moments from Broadway, which Sherman said answered the burning question: "What would have happened, how would it have been, if all of the great Broadway hits of the great Broadway shows had been written by Jewish people?"
"Sherman became a star in 1962 with the Jewish song parody album, My Son, The Folk Singer," Cohen retells. "Then came My Son, The Celebrity and My Son, The Nut. All three albums went gold, sparked a national concert tour and landed him television appearances that brought his comedy to millions."
American Jewish parody songs were at least as old as Yiddish theater, vaudeville or Mickey Katz. But Sherman had a much wider audience. He performed on TV, even with some of the major stars of the day, like Dean Martin and Vic Damone. Hello Muddah won a Grammy and spun off a board game.
Sherman's lyrics were very Jewish indeed. They referred to Jewish holidays and history and they used Yiddish words and accents. But mostly, they were commentary on suburban Jewish life in midcentury America. Sherman even parodied a well-known, perhaps the best-known, Jewish song of all.
Since then, there have been other Jewish song parodists, like Tom Lehrer, whose audience remains somewhat limited… and of course Weird Al Yankovic, who is extremely popular, just not Jewish. Even Adam Sandler has only come across with that one Chanukah song that crossed into the mainstream (even if he does have three versions of it by this point).
And now we have Andy Samberg, who is Jewish, and popular. But his material is decidedly not. Oh, and Sean "Jewmongous" Altman, who is Jewish, and whose material also is… but who has not gotten famous yet (but should be!).
Which leaves us with only Allan Sherman as the one musical comedian in American history who was proudly Jewish in his subject matter and widely popular.
Also, popular widely.