Rosenblatt, Josef

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ROSENBLATT, JOSEF

ROSENBLATT, JOSEF (Yossele ; 1882–1933), ḥazzan and composer. Born in Belaya Tserkov, Russia, Rosenblatt toured Eastern Europe as a child prodigy, conducting synagogue services together with his father. When he was 18 years old he was appointed ḥazzan in Mukachevo. He moved to Bratislava in 1901 and to Hamburg five years later. In 1912 he emigrated to the U.S. and became ḥazzan of the Ohab Zedek Congregation in New York. Rosenblatt became widely known in the U.S. and Europe through extensive concert tours. In 1918 he refused, on religious grounds, to appear with the Chicago Opera Company in Halevy's La Juive at $1,000 per performance, but in 1928 he did allow his voice to be heard in the first full sound film, Al *Jolson's The Jazz Singer. The most popular ḥazzan of his time, Rosenblatt earned huge salaries and concert fees. Nevertheless, he was almost continually in debt, giving much of his income to charity and to the support of members of his family. Naïve in business matters, he agreed to provide financial backing for a dubious Jewish newspaper venture. In 1925 he was forced to declare bankruptcy but undertook a rigorous schedule of appearances in vaudeville to pay off his debts. Rosenblatt's immense popularity with Jewish and gentile audiences never waned. He died in Jerusalem while working on a Yiddish film. Rosenblatt possessed a tenor voice with the exceptional range of two-and-a-half octaves of full voice combined with a remarkably agile falsetto. He constantly impressed his listeners with his brilliant coloratura coupled with the sweetness and control of his voice and his "sob" in devotional passages. He composed hundreds of liturgical melodies that reflect his Ḥasidic background in their tunefulness; many of these achieved great popularity and a permanent place in the repertoire of the synagogue. Some of his compositions, however, are of little melodic interest, while others demand a vocal range as wide as that of the composer and are therefore rarely sung by other ḥazzanim. Some of his best-known pieces appeared in the collection Tefillot Yosef (1907; 19272). The extent of his popular appeal and his influence on synagogue music may be gauged from the widespread distribution of his numerous recordings, which were repeatedly reissued even many years after his death.

bibliography:

S. Rosenblatt, Yossele Rosenblatt (1954; Heb. trans., 1961); A. Holde, Jews in Music (1959), 33–35; Jewish Ministers Cantors' Association of America, Geshikhte fun Khazones (1924), 188–9; idem, Goldene Yoyvl Zhurnal (1947), 19–20; P. Szerman, in: Di Khazonim Velt (June 1934), 1–2; S. Kaufman, ibid., 3–4; S. Mandel, in: Morning Journal (Jan. 20, 1948), 5; I. Goldfarb, in: Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Conference-Convention of the Cantors' Assembly of America (1954), 24–27; Sendrey, Music, indices.

[David M.L. Olivestone]

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