The Cantorial Tradition In The Music Of Laurel and Hardy And "Our Gang?"

Visually, in one of Hal Roach’s Max Davidson shorts, maybe. That’s Max at left.

But ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik, of the nonprofit Living Traditions, which is releasing “Cantors, Klezmorim & Crooners 1905-1953” ($25, JSP Records/Living Traditions) says that devotees of LeRoy Shield’s later film music (including the wonderful background music heard in the 1930’s Hal Roach shorts) can trace Shield’s musical thematic development in his earlier work as a conductor/arranger for Jewish recordings (among others) at Victor. On the the CD, which will be released to mark KlezKamp’s 25th anniversary and a festival of Yiddish music and art set for December 23-29, there’s a track that features Yiddish Theater singer Ellie Casman backed by LeRoy Shield’s RCA band.

Sapoznik, a five-time Grammy winner for early folk and country music productions, who also received a Peabody Award for his “Yiddish Radio Project,” was misquoted and misinterpreted in a poorly edited interview that popped up on the ‘net and raised a few eyebrows among Shield admirers (and this post has been revised to reflect the proper context for his remarks).

The raised eyebrows had to do with the fact that Shield was Irish. Which is not to say he didn’t want to be perceived as Jewish… in fact, the reverse is true. Steve Cloutier, who runs the Leroy Shield website learned that “…Leroy changed his name from “Shields” to “Shield” [because he thought it] would be advantageous in Hollywood if his name sounded more Jewish than Irish.” Shield/Shields changed the name quite a bit – Roy Shield was yet another variation he used.

Sapoznik suggests Shield’s early work, including the Yiddish recordings for RCA, were an influence Shield brought to [the Hal Roach] movies. Sapoznik observed, “The cantorial tradition,” so central to Yiddish recordings, “was the key DNA of Eastern European Jewish music. Everything — klezmer, Yiddish theater, folk songs — that’s what links them all together.”

He makes a point. It would be great fun to hear more of Shield’s early work. Maybe we can convince a klezmer band to cover the Hal Roach tunes, but in the meantime, I’m going to check out the “C,K, and C” CD asap.

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