Di grine kuzine
The Greenhorn Cousin
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Di grine kuzine (The Greenhorn Cousin, 1921) is one of the best known in the category of “disillusionment” songs of the immigrant era. Some are inherently theatrical (such as this), while others became folksongs. Some are lighthearted and humorous despite searing denunciations, while others bespeak unalloyed dejection. The archetypal theme of these songs was a dampened enthusiasm on the part of working-class Jewish immigrants for the new country, in the face of unexpected economic hardships and sweatshop conditions—for the transatlantic rumors about “streets paved with gold” had almost seemed believable from Europe. Yet it must be acknowledged that Yiddish patriotic anthems and love songs for America also permeated those decades—on stages, in sheet music, and on records—especially from the First World War on.
Abe Schwartz was the first to copyright this tune and its lyrics (though the music copyright is only for his arrangement), but one Yankele Brisker, pseudonym for Jacob Leiserowitz, also claimed copyright for the lyrics, listing the tune as a “folk melody.” Yet a third claimant to the song was Hyman Prizant. Eventually it was republished and re-copyrighted, crediting Prizant with only the lyrics and Schwartz with the music—although again, in a particular arrangement. Meanwhile, Leiserowitz initiated a lawsuit, but did not prevail. Still, the truth about the authorship is impossible to know.
Di grine kuzine was a hit far beyond the confines of music halls. It helped catapult its publishers to a new level of prominence in the business, and it was a major boost to Schwartz’s career, gaining him and his songs access to some of New York’s major Yiddish theaters. At the same time, Di grine kuzine either spawned or accelerated a fashion of songs about “greenhorns”—a common tag for newly arrived, un-Americanized, and unadapted immigrants.