Fuld, Leo (1912-1997)

Leo Fuld is one of the last popular Yiddish singers. His carrier started long before world war II and ended when he died in 1997. Before the second world war, Fuld was already a very famous artist in Europe and in America. With his immediately recognizable voice, he recorded several discs in various languages, especially in Yiddish, English, German, French, Hebrew and Dutch. His carrier after the war made him become once more a star throughout the world and on the most prestigious stages. At the age of 83, he records « The Legend », surely his best disc, nicknamed the « Sgt Pepper of Yiddish music » (Abe Goldstein).

Born in 1912 in Rotterdam, Leo Fuld is the third child out of ten of a poor Jewish family. His father, Louis Fuld is a vendor of occasional goods. Fuld’s gift for singing is revealed very young during the synagogue’s services. He receives a grant to study at the "Seminar". His parents hope that young Leo will become « hazzan », cantor at the synagogue. At the age of 16, Fuld sings already in the synagogue. At the same time, he performs secular songs in bars, in particular in Rotterdam where he begins by singing 60 songs for one dollar ! Later on, his success on stage pushes him to pass an audition on radio station VARA. He is immediately hired and starts perfoming with Louis Davids. He goes to England in 1932 to pass an audition for the BBC. He becomes then the first Dutch singer of the BBC.

At the age of 19, he is spotted by Jack Hylton, who makes him sign a three year engagement with his famous orchestra, which leads him to perform on all the stages of Great Brittany and continental Europe. In 1936, Clifford C. Fisher hires him in the French Casino of New-York, and then in the Paramount Theatre on Broadway.

As he becomes an internationally reknowned artist, Fuld starts adapting Yiddish and Hebrew songs and to include them in his repertoire. In the French Casino, his greatest success is « Rozinhes mit Mandlen », and the great Al Jolson comes back every night just to hear him sing. In 1938, his temporary visa ends and he must go back to Europe to ask a new visa. He boards on the last boat before the nazis invade the Netherlands, and offers right away his services to the Free Dutch Government in Exile. With Hendrik Willem Van Loon, he starts doing short waves radio shows for Holland and Netherlands East-Indies. Rumors start to circulate on the fate of the Jewish population of Holland, and actually, almost all Fuld’s family was killed by the nazis. The consequence for Fuld was that he didn’t have any more spirit to perform in front of an audience, and he stopped singing.

As he had a great talent for writing, he quickly becomes one of the most seeked authors on Broadway. He writes for actors such as Milton Berle, the Ritz brothers, Jackie Miles, Jackie Gleason, Jan Murray, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, before making the program of the Kraft Music Hall. He writes, produces and directs on stage a musical comedy called « Fun For Your Money » with which he tours all over the country.

In 1948, he goes back to Holland as an American citizen to get news from his family. Upon his arrival, to thank him for his radio shows during the war, thousands of people acclaim him, and he is proposed a contract to sing in Amsterdam’s biggest theatre. As he did not sing for 5 years, he is scared to death, but the success is such that the show continues six weeks more than programmed. After getting his confidence back, he agrees for a new engagement in the London Casino where he makes a triumph.

New proposals to sing come then from all over the world, and as he performs in Paris, he goes to a small Yiddish cabaret where he hears a survivor from the Warsaw ghetto singing a song that moves him deeply : « Wo Ahin Soll Ich Geh’n ». Fuld is so moved by this song that he asks a copy to its author, certifying it will become a world hit. And it will. Back in England, he writes the lyrics and records it for Decca under the title « Where Can I Go ? ». The song becomes a hit in America : Fuld sang it on television shows hosted by Milton Berle, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. The song was also recorded by great singers such as Ray Charles and Steve Lawrence and Fuld had song celebrities for fans like Billy Holliday, Al Jolson and Edith Piaf.

From 1949, Leo Fuld performs on all stages of the world, at least five times. He shares the stage of the Théâtre de l’ABC in Paris during ten years with Edith Piaf and is even hired by the Emperor Hailé Selassié for the wedding of his daughter in the Imperial Palace of Addis-Abeba.

In 1956, he opens his own night-club in New-York, before moving it to Las Vegas. On his 80th anniversary, he goes back to the Netherlands. With the producer Mohamed El-Fers and the arranger Kees Post, he records, at the age of 84, his mythic album in Yiddish « the Legend ». In this album, Fuld performs his most known songs, but with a new Oriental arrangement.

At the age of 84, Leo Fuld marries for the third time. He passes away one year later in his home in Amsterdam.

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The king of Yiddish Music: Leo Fuld - Where can I go? (Wo Ahin soll Ich Geh'n?) - YouTube
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Leo Fuld - Yaas (Yiddish Song) - YouTube
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LEO FULD " The king of yiddish songs" - YouTube




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