The Ruth Rubin Legacy
Archive of Yiddish Folksongs

A biography by Irene Heskes

This text was written by the great music historian Irene Heskes (1923–1999) when Ruth Rubin was still alive and is published with permission of the author's daughter Deborah (Heskes) Kraut.

At the concluding decade of this turbulent 20th century, Yiddish has managed to endure as a spoken language. It has survived as the precious legacy of a thousand years-old ethnic culture, whose folklore illumined Jewish history. Brought over to America by immigrants from East Europe, Yiddish folklore documented the migration and settlement, the acculturation and integration, the economic and social struggle of one group in our pluralistic society. Yiddish poetry and song defined the very universality of the life cycle – birth, childhood, education, courtship and marriage, family, work, community, broader government and general events, religion and customs, joy and adversity, death.

Essentially, such a treasury of human expression transcends boundaries of linguistics, race, religion, and ethnicity. Therefore, along with other diverse cultural traditions, it will abide into the next century to do yeoman service for us all.

Ruth Rubin has devoted a lifetime to the collection and preservation of that Yiddish folklore, poetic and musical. With prodigious dedication, for many decades she has gathered a large body of field collections, and has studied those materials in the context of their relationship to world-wide ethnology. Over the years, her activities have included publishing books, songbooks and articles, giving conference papers and lecture-recitals, and making recordings. As a performer-folklorist, her style has been simple and unaffected. Recreating the folklore, she would first describe the background for selections from her phenomenal repertoire, and then as she sang, seem to become one with those materials. In her significant achievements, Ruth Rubin ranks among the leading Yiddish collector-scholars, along with Moshe Beregovskii (d. 1961) eminent Yiddish folklorist of the U.S.S.R., and Yehuda Leyb Cahan (1881-1937), who began his extraordinary collections in East Europe and continued after his arrival in America. Ruth Rubin’s particular insights into the relationships between the music and their texts, places her work in the important pathway set by the noted anthologist and father of modern Jewish musicology Abraham Z. Idelsohn (1882-1938).

See Irene Heskes' bibliography of Ruth Rubin's work:

Ruth Rubin's Bibliography

Affiliations, Grants and Honors:

Ruth Rubin has been a member and officer of the American Folklore Society, the Canadian Folk Music Society, the International Folk Music Council, and the New York Folklore Society. Her other associations include: American Association of Yiddish Professors; American Society for Jewish Music; ASCAP; Jewish Music Forum; National Jewish Music Council; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. In 1983, she received a field collection in preparation for an anthology of previously unpublished 150-160 Yiddish songs. She has also been given a grant for her research work from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. The recipient over the years of numerous honors in the field of Yiddish and folklore, in 1989 Ruth Rubin was awarded the Yiddish Folk Arts Program Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to Yiddish culture.

Irene Heskes (1923–1999) was a music historian, lecturer and author. Among her books are: The Cantorial Art, Studies in Jewish Music, Jews in Music, Ernest Bloch: Creative Spirit, and The Resource Book of Jewish Music and the important resource Copyrighted and Sung: American Yiddish Popular Songs, 1895 to 1950 published by the Library of Congress in 1990/91.

Ruth Rubin

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