Leyke's early life

When I first met Leye Carrey, she was sitting behind a desk, checking people in at Circle Lodge, Workmen’s Circle’s adult summer camp near Hopewell Junction, New York. I was there to give some lectures and, quite honestly, didn’t know what to make of her when she asked me if I’d like to meet her later to run through some Yiddish songs – until I heard her sing. Hers was a voice and interpretative style from another era, eerily reminiscent of Isa Kremer, perhaps the greatest Yiddish diva of all time, who I later found out had been one of Leyke’s admirers.

We immediately began to rehearse – and I quickly learned that with Leyke you didn’t just run through a song, you worked it out until it was a show unto itself. Also a gifted actress and storyteller, she would launch into a nineteenth-century Yiddish folk song and, within seconds, would have her late twentieth-century audience in stitches.

Born in Zhitomir, Ukraine in 1907, into a family who loved to entertain, she and her mother Freydl, also a Yiddish folksinger with a prodigious repertoire, joined her father Shloyme in Boston’s West End when she was 5 years old. She made her stage debut at a young age with a Yiddish touring company featuring the likes of the great matinee idol Michal Michalesko, performing Goldfaden’s “Heyse bapkelekh” ("Hot Babkas") while dressed as a boy. Soon she became a regular at Boston’s Grand Opera House, Shawmut Theater and Franklin Park Theater, and toured all over New England and in the Catskills, performing Yiddish folk, art and theater songs, often accompanied be the gifted pianist and composer, Reubin Osofsky.

December 8, 2009