Yossele Rosenblatt's Later Career

The talented cantor Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933) becomes an international star.

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This is the second of a two-part article about the life of famed cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. The first part ends with Rosenblatt, the most talented cantor of his day, turning down an offer to sing with the Chicago Opera. His refusal, ironically, lent him fame on a scale he hadn't experienced previously, as described below. Reprinted with permission from Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union.

Although the opera would be denied his talents, neither Rosenblatt nor his congregation saw any problem with his giving Jewish or secular music concerts. He aspired to be to the Jews "what John McCormack is to the Irish," and was proud to be introduced as the  Jewish tenor," rather than the Russian, German, or Hungarian tenor. He rapidly learned some operatic arias and a repertoire of other ethnic songs, and in May 1918, gave his first recital at Carnegie Hall.

Rave Reviews

The reviews in the New York papers,all of which recapped his refusal to sing with the Chicago Opera, were mostly ecstatic. "Jewish Tenor Triumphs in Concert," trumpeted the New York American, adding "Cantor Rosenblatt Reveals Voice of Exceptional Beauty, Evoking Thunderous Applause in Music Far from His Accustomed Field." The Morning Telegraph said that his rendition of Verdi's Questa o Quella "could scarcely have been excelled by any living tenor."

Some critics, however, were less enthusiastic about his ventures into operatic arias, but all were swept away by the vocal agility he displayed when singing pieces of hazzanut [cantorial music] and Yiddish songs.

From this point on, Rosenblatt was an integral part of the New York cultural scene, and the appearances of "Cantor Rosenblatt" were regularly listed in The New York Times, together with those of other celebrated artists of the day. His bookings were handled by well-known managers, including the foremost impresario Sol Hurok, who promoted him in advertisements in the Musical Courier alongside other world-famous artists such as Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and Austrian pianist and composer Artur Schnabel.

yossele rosenblatt's later careerIn order to fight off offers from other congregations, Ohab Zedek was now paying Rosenblatt the record salary of $10,000 a year; Rosenblatt was also earning huge concert fees and royalties from his records. But as his income grew, so did his philanthropy and his generosity to various members of his family whom, in addition to his own eight children, he helped support. The many Jewish organizations that asked for his help were not only treated to a benefit concert but often also received donations out of his own pocket. And his home saw a constant procession of those in need, who knew that he would never turn them away empty-handed.

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David Olivestone, director of communications and marketing at the Orthodox Union, contributed several biographies of famous hazzanim to the Encyclopaedia Judaica. He can be reached at davido@ou.org.