The songs are sung here by Mary Stahl and arranged and played by Jim Calabrese. They were produced and recorded at Soundscape Studio, Buffalo, New York.
Words and music to all songs by Tom Naples and copyrighted in 2017. For information on the use of this music please contact Tom Naples at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From 1892 until it closed in 1954, over twelve million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. During the peak years between 1905 and 1910, up to five thousand people a day were processed. At the time there were great fears for the possible spread of contagious diseases, so physical exams were conducted. Some immigrants were quarantined for up to thirty days before being admitted. Approximately one percent were turned away and forced to return to their country of origin.
“Everything Changed” & “Triangle”
In Russia and Poland, Jews experienced extreme political and religious persecution. Restrictions were imposed that limited choices of employment and denied education. Government-encouraged programs caused much death, injury and destruction of property. Fleeing to America was, for some, the only chance of survival.
The lower east side of New York became the new home for millions of Jews. Waiting for the young men and women were the sweat shops of the garment industry. Conditions there were brutal and workers soon battled to organize trade unions to obtain better working conditions and wages. The most famous of the clothing factories is the Triangle Shirt Waist Company where, in March of 1911, one hundred and forty six (mostly young immigrant women) died in a fire. The workers were trapped because the owners had locked them in from the outside to prevent possible theft of material.
Of that disaster journalist Abraham Cahan wrote: “Who is the angel of death? Who is the mass murderer? Must we again say it is that gluttonous ravager of humans-Capital.”
“I’ll Work Here ‘Til I Die”
In Anzia Yezierska’s novel “Bread Givers” she describes the plight of young Jewish girls in New York City. She portrays the not uncommon practice of Rabbis to spend almost all of their time studying Torah while their wives took in boarders and their daughters worked in factories, turning over to the Rabbi all the income they generated. Most young women worked in the garment industry where they labored long hard hours.
“Fire On First Avenue”
The conditions were appalling in the slums of New York where the Jewish and Italian immigrants lived. Tenements were overcrowded, unsanitary and at great risk of fire. A detailed description of a specific fire on Tenth Avenue is told in this song, written about by journalist Jacob Riis.
“Great White Wings” & “Dakota (Winter)”
Many Norwegian immigrants settled in the northern state of Minnesota and the Dakota Territory. They had been farmers and fishermen in their native land and were eager to take advantage of the free farmland granted under the Homestead Act. The desolation and extreme cold were worse than they could have expected.
O.E. Rolvaag, in his masterpiece “Giants of the Earth,” offers vivid descriptions of that hard life.
“Great White Wings”
“It’s A Better Life” & “Cold Cork Rain”
Irish immigrants, escaping poverty and political oppression came to North America in the early part of the 19th century. In 1817 work began on the Erie Canal. This massive project employed many young Irish workers who left behind families and sweethearts. Their pay for much of the work was eighty cents per day and a ration of whiskey.
While many young men sent for their wives and sweethearts, some did not.
“It’s A Better Life”
“Cold Cork Rain”
My grand-mother, Carmella Vizzi, like millions of others, came to the United States with young children in tow. In her case she was meeting her husband who had come earlier and was working near Boston. Her decision to come in 1917 was brought about by the fact that her oldest son was approaching draft age in Sicily.
“Hills Of San Fele”
Thousands of people from this poor farming village in the mountains of southern Italy settled in New York City and Buffalo. A not uncommon scenario was for a boy to remain to care for an elderly parent while older siblings came to America.
‘Mezzadria’ was a system employing a farmer to work on owner’s land in exchange for a portion of the crop. This was similar to the sharecropper system that existed in the southern United States. Because the term is rarely used in Italy now, I’ve used “farmer” in its place.
I wrote this song after hearing the epic poem “Bread and Onions” read by its author, Joe Giambra, and seeing a photo of his Mother as a beautiful young woman. All true and from the heart.
The first person to arrive at Ellis Island in 1892 was a young girl from Ireland named Annie Moore. In 1954 Arne Petersen of Norway became the last person to be processed there. Between the two, over twelve million came, stayed, lived and helped weave a tapestry of national culture that had not been seen before.