Rosenblatt, Yossele (1882-1933)

By Jean-Philippe Amar

Josef Rosenblatt is born on May 9th 1882 in Bila Tserkva, in Ukraine. He comes from a great dynasty of cantors. Considered as a child prodigy, he starts his career as a member of the synagogue’s choir of his hometown. He becomes a hazan at the age of 18, in Hungary (Munkacs), and settles then in Bratislava, and finally in Hamburg (Germany).

In 1912, he immigrates to the United States and becomes hazan of an orthodox synagogue in Harlem.
Noticed for his great vocal technique, he is considered as the greatest cantor of his time. His fame goes beyond the synagogue and the Jewish community. He gives many concerts as a soloist. Tenor, people call him the “Jewish Caruso”. Besides, he sees many lyrical singers of his time.

In 1927, he appears in the first talking movie: « The Jazz Singer ». Toscanini calls him to make him sing and perform the main character in the opera La Juive, be Halévy (Jacques-Fromental Lévy), but Rosenblatt declines the offer, as he wishes to sing only for the cult, or at least for the glory of God. For the same reason, he declines a job proposition at the Chicago’s opera.

Mastering a variety of vocal techniques, Rosenblatt largely influenced the cantorial music, making his time a golden age for cantors. One characteristic of his style, the “krekhtz”, a kind of emotional singing weep. Rosenblatt was also a great composer, around 200 of his pieces have been preserved.
He dies in Jerusalem on June 19th 1933.

Selective discography :
- Jewish Liturgy - 7 great cantors, Buda Music, 92581-2
- Yiddish popular songs, 92595-2, Buda Music
- Yiddish New-York Paris Warsaw 1910-1940, Frémeaux & Associés, FA 025, 1994
Od Yosef Chai, Mostly Music, 2010
- The Complete Recordings: Cantor Josef Rosenblatt (Rosh Hashana), Collectors Guild, 2009

See an original video : Yossele Rosenblatt – Yortzeit

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