Question: My grandmother used to tell me about female vocalists who performed synagogue music on the stage in the decades of yesteryear, in the earlier half of the 20th century. Who were these women and what phenomenon was my grandmother reminiscing about?
Answer: Your grandmother was probably referring to the Khazntes, observant women who became popular performers of Jewish liturgical music. They attracted large audiences on the secular and Jewish stage: resorts, Yiddish musicals, night-club cabarets, formal concert halls, radio broadcasts and even the Ed Sullivan Show. They were most active during the "Golden Age" of the cantorate, especially from the 1930's and even up until the 1960's. Many of these women were from families of the great cantors; other were from families involved in the Yiddish theatre.
Two excellent articles on the Khazntes were published in the Fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Synagogue Music (vol. 32):
The Khazntes — The Life Stories of Sophie Kurtzer, Bas Sheva, Sheindele the Khaznte, Perele Feig, Goldie Malavsky andFraydele Oysher" by Arianne Brown (p. 51-79)
"Kol Ishah--An Analysis of the 'Khazntes' Phenomenon" by Hayley Kobilinsky Poserow (p. 80 - 99).
Both articles are available via the Internet on the Cantors Assembly website , where volumes 1-34 (1967-2009) of the Journal of Synagogue Music are freely available to the public.
The Cantors Assembly has also digitized the Proceedings of their annual conventions (most years from 1947 to 2008), and Words About Music , newsletter articles by Hazzan Samuel Rosenbaum. The full text of all of these resources are searchable via the PDF search engine.
These excellent resources include articles about hazzanut, Jewish music and liturgy, in addition to notated music. The Journal of Synagogue Music and the Proceedings of the Cantors Assembly are also available in printed format in the Music Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.