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April 30: Mickey Katz

April 30, 2013

500ec7aa58211.image“Novelty” musician Mickey Katz, who specialized in Jewish parodies of American classics (such as Haym afn Range” and “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Katzkills”), died at 75 in Los Angeles on this date in 1985. Katz played clarinet and sax from childhood (in Cleveland) and was earning money as a musician even before his graduation from high school. Deferred from the draft for failing to pass the physical, he sold war bonds after his performances and took his six-man comedy and musical troupe, Mickey Katz and His Krazy Kittens, on a USO tour of Europe with Hollywood star Betty Hutton. In 1947 he scored a hit with “Haym afn Range,” which sold 35,000 copies in no time flat, and in 1948 he produced a English-Yiddish stage revue, Borscht Capades, co-starring his son, Joel Grey. During the 1950s he was a regular on Los Angeles radio, in Las Vegas, and in the Catskills. Some in the Jewish community scorned his shtik and found it either offensive, sophomoric, or “too Jewish,” but Katz was unfazed by the criticism and continued to spice his jazz with klezmer “breaks” and his repertoire with Yiddish parodies. The great clarinetist Don Byron recorded a tribute to Katz in 1993. To hear Katz’s parody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” look below.

“Sixteen tons all kinds smoked fishes
Latkes, blintzes, un heyse knishes
O Lordy nem es shnell to the promised land
A fayer afn bus zol er vein farbrent [a fire on the boss may he get burned up!]” — Mickey Katz

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