Several months ago amidst our current global pandemic, my parents, Madeline and Joseph Forman, moved from their house of 60 years to an apartment. During that process, my mother stumbled upon a box of old 78 rpm records that she had recorded decades earlier. The discs included studio recordings from 1946, as well as others of my mother singing during her wedding in 1953. She estimates that she had neither seen nor heard the records in almost 65 years. My mother was once a very talented young woman who dreamed of stardom as a professional singer.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she was the fourth of five children of Russian immigrant parents. At a very young age, she discovered that she loved to sing and did so anytime and anywhere. No one else in her family possessed musical talent, and no one was present to guide or advise her. She also never received any formal voice training. Nevertheless, during high school she entered and won a talent contest at Newark’s Adams Theater. At that time, the theater was a very popular establishment where artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and the Andrews Sisters performed.
After the contest, the master of ceremonies, comedian Joey Adams, told her she had enormous potential and should seriously consider a singing career. This gave her further confidence to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer like her personal idols Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland.
After graduating from high school in 1944, my mother completed her studio recordings in 1946. Unfortunately, the reality of her life was that she grew up impoverished in the projects, where money and food were scarce. As the financial state of her family continued to worsen, my mother made the heartbreaking decision to discontinue her pursuit of a singing career and accept a full-time position as a secretary. At that time, she felt certain it was essential to ensure an immediate, steady income to assist her family.
Almost 75 years after her initial studio recording, my mother found the box that contained those forgotten recordings. After notifying me of her discovery, I reached out to my cousin, Howard Forman, an accomplished musician and record producer in Montreal. He then enthusiastically accepted the challenge of restoring and preserving the recordings, but knew that this would not be an easy feat. Howard immediately enlisted the assistance of colleagues in the music industry in the United States and Canada. Under their guidance and expertise, he was able to successfully digitize, remaster and transfer the music onto a CD.
“I know from restoring archival audio from old tapes that they usually can only be played a few times before they start to degenerate or disintegrate,” Howard recently explained. “These recordings were on acetate, a highly brittle and fragile material. I knew that playing them with the wrong-sized stylus (needle), or the improper weight of the tonearm on the turntable, could destroy them.
“I asked industry friends to guide me towards a specialist,” Howard continued, “and we sent the discs to California for transfer. When I received the tracks, I took them into my studio for noise reduction and sweetening. This made them more listenable and was done with care so as not to eclipse the original performance, which was quite beautiful. It was lovely to return Madeline’s loyalty towards my own mother by using my odd skill set to bring her music, both English and Yiddish greats, to light.”
After having successfully preserved the recordings on CD, Howard then posted one of the songs, “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” on social media dedicated to individuals in the music industry (singers, musicians, engineers, record producers, etc.). The response was swift and extremely positive. As Howard explained, “This time capsule of sorts really touched those in my community of music professionals. They felt it transcended the years instantly.”
Of note, two of the songs on the CD were originally recorded in Yiddish (“Sheyn Vi Di Levone” and “Oy! Mama”). My mother grew up in a household where her mother spoke fluent Yiddish. Consequently, my mother felt very comfortable singing Yiddish songs. The two aforementioned songs were recorded during my mother’s wedding reception. My parents hired a family friend to audio-record their wedding ceremony and to interview guests. When he saw my mother about to join the band during the reception, he stood in front of them and recorded her singing.
I consider myself to be extremely blessed because both of my parents are alive. During COVID and prior to the discovery of her recordings, my mother felt hindered as a very active nonagenarian who is used to going out frequently and running errands. What she uncovered during the move seemed to have had the “Benjamin Button” effect on her, bringing her back to her youth and putting a smile on her face that I had not seen in a long time.
My father is 98 years old and a proud United States Navy World War II veteran, and my mother is 94. My goal regarding this project was to bring my mother the joy she is finally experiencing and allow her to relive many exciting moments of the 1940s. I cannot begin to express how appreciative I am for the warm response and kind words of those who have listened to my mother’s music.
I hope that these songs evoke fond memories in those who are familiar with popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s and especially, Yiddish tunes familiar to Baby Boomers. I also hope that younger individuals will develop an appreciation for music from a prior era by listening to my mother’s songs.
The music of Madeline Forman can be heard online ( www.madelineforman.com and on Soundcloud: shorturl.at/pPSZO). To date, visits and audio plays on her website have come from individuals in five continents and over 40 countries.
By Glenn Forman