Leo Fuld (1912-1997) was the world’s most famous singer of popular Yiddish song. He was aptly nicknamed the King of Yiddish Popular Music. Lazarus Fuld was born in Rotterdam and grew up in a poor Jewish family of eight children, where at age sixteen he won a scholarship to study to become a Rabbi. While singing on weekends as the cantor at various synagogues throughout the Netherlands he discovered he could make a living with his voice. But by the time he was eighteen he decided to become a singer of popular secular music. His first professional job was as a singing waiter in a Rotterdam café, and his first serious engagement was a stint in 1931 at Amsterdam’s Tip Top Theater.
From that point on, Fuld’s career took off. He began performing in various local revues, movie theaters and on the radio. His performances on the popular Dutch radio program De Bonte Dinsdagavond (The Tuesday Night Variety Show) made him a star in his own country. Leo Fuld decided to seek further fame and fortune abroad and made the first of his many recordings in Berlin’s Odeon Studios in 1933. He further spread his wings and became the first Dutch singer to perform for BBC microphones with Jack Hylton’s legendary big band. Clifford Fisher, the renowned New York impresario brought him to the Big Apple in 1936 where he performed on Broadway rubbing shoulders with stars of the day. His first visit lasted two years, but after his residence permit expired he returned to the Netherlands.
America kept pulling at his heart strings and he returned to New York in February 1940, a few months before the outbreak of war in Holland. Fuld spent the war years in New York. In 1945 he was to discover that one of his sisters was the sole family survivor of the Holocaust. He was so devastated he did not perform for three years.
Fuld resumed his career in 1948 in Amsterdam packing the famous Dutch movie theater Tuschinski singing a more wistful and melancholic brand of Yiddish song. Leo Fuld embarked on singing the Jewish version of the blues. This included his rendition of Wo Ahin Soll Ich Geh’n? (Where Can I Go?) which made him world famous and was a dramatic ode to the birth of the state of Israel.
The 1950s marked the high point in Fuld’s international singing career. He toured worldwide – performing in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America where he opened his own nightclub in New York called Sahbra. American stars of the day such as Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Danny Kaye. Billy Holiday and Dean Martin were charmed by the singer of My Yiddische Mama.
In the 1960s he opened a short-lived club called La Bohème in Amsterdam in a time when his repertoire had gone out of fashion. He returned to the US and performed in Las Vegas until he was 75. The last ten years of his life were spent in relative obscurity in Amsterdam. In 1993 Dutch television broadcast a documentary about his life which led to a comeback and sporadic performances in the local cultural scene. He also visited Israel that year. Experts in the field have estimated his worldwide record sales to exceed 30 million.
In the final year of his life, Leo Fuld fulfilled a long standing dream. He completed an album of songs called The Legend in which he sang Yiddish music in oriental style. The Legend is not a re-release of old stock but a digital recording of new arrangements that recreate the orchestrations that marked his heyday when he performed in Cairo, Buenos Aires, New York, Tel Aviv, Addis Abeba and Paris… Leo Fuld’s swansong album also marked a return to the roots of Yiddish music with European and Middle Eastern influences. He himself regarded it as the crown to his career. The Legend was first released on September 11, 1997 and launched on the English language section of the Dutch World Service.
"...it is the submerged Middle Eastern heritage within this music that this record makes its ace.
Arranger Kees Post has treated Fuld’s songs to striking new arrangements – tight swathes of Oriental violin, eerie and sinuous woodwinds and accordions, and sombre double bass – which bring out the pathos but not the sentimentality of Fuld’s light but world-weary voice and provide considerable drama. So brilliantly noir is the orchestral prelude to ‘Fraitag oif der Nacht’ that it’s as much Fritz Lang horror film soundtrack as Sabbath party song (...). Fuld died shortly after making this record, which he apparently considered his crowning achievement. One can understand why." (Songlines magazine)