Last October, Moloney completed an album celebrating these Irish-Jewish relationships both within his own life and in American musical history. Growing up in Limerick, Moloney says, he knew “very little” about Jews or Jewish culture. He met Jewish people for the first time while at college in Dublin, and later learned that Limerick was one of few Irish cities ever to have a pogrom, in 1904. Moloney sees this project as “turning the circle, as it were,” celebrating Irish-Jewish cooperation. “If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews” includes 14 songs, all researched and performed by Moloney, and products of the fruitful and nearly forgotten era of collaboration between Irish and Jewish songwriters in New York’s pre-World War I Tin Pan Alley.
Within popular culture, this reciprocity and competition led to fruitful cross-cultural pollination. Moloney points to upstart Jewish songwriters like Leonora Goldberg, who thought that to succeed, she had to “go Irish,” and so she changed her name to Nora Bayes. At the same time, farsighted Irish musicians were “hedging their bets,” worried that the only way to survive was to “go Jewish,” Moloney explained. Though he has heard thousands of songs from this era, Moloney still cannot guess the ethnicity of a song’s writers just by listening. “These were commercial songwriters,” he explained. “They knew what went over. Their genius was that they created these beautiful, crafted songs that just tugged at people’s heartstrings.”(read more...)