Henrietta Kamern – Musician, pianist, organist 1905-1972 – a few details from a busy life

About Henrietta Kamern – a pioneer Theater Organist in America.

It was not good to read that this lady was not well documented. She has a whole bunch of recordings held in the DAHR – The Discography of American Historical Recordings, in the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Here is some more detail for Henrietta Kamern from material which has been placed accessibly in the public domain:

Musical Family

Henrietta Kamern was born into a musical family, of Russian ancestry, and both her father and her mother were Musical Directors and instrumentalists in New York City, and its environs. Henrietta Kamern’s mother was Jennie Kamern, Feb 16 1883 – March 1979. She was the first woman in America to direct a jazz orchestra, leading this orchestra in a New York theatre for eleven years. Her father Nathan Kamern was born c.1876, Russia – died New York City 31st August 1947.

Early Appointment; Dates of Birth and Death; Place of Death

Henrietta was billed as being “probably the youngest professional organist in the world” in 1927, in “Variety” magazine. Her age was given as 17 (but she was actually 22). Kamern became for many years an organist with Loew’s, at their Rio Theatre and later moving to their Pitkin Theatre, Brooklyn, New York City in 1942 and eventually leaving Loew’s to be baseball organist for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Henrietta Kamern also composed “Ramblin’ Blues” with Harry D. Squires in 1927, copyright renewed 25 August 1954.

Henrietta Kamern married Charles Zelenko some time in the late 1920s or early 1930s. He was the proprietor of “7-11 Restaurant” New York City. In the late 1940s, they relocated to Florida, and as well as working as an organist at Copacabana in 1946 and 1947 and Hotel Matinique in 1948, Henrietta and her husband managed Charys Restaurant.

Henrietta Zelenko (nee Kamern) born April 02 1905 died May 01 1972 in Dade County, Miami, Florida.


About Henrietta Kamern and Her Recordings now in the DAHR at Santa Barbara

Henrietta Kamern was one of only a handful of female organists world-wide who made solo theatre organ 78 rpm records. This is an Edison vertical-cut electrical Diamond Disc recorded in 1928, and features the 3/32 Möller semi-straight/duplexed and partially unified organ which was one of a number of instruments bought in job lots of half-a-dozen or so at a time, often without the theatres to which they were to go having been decided. It is worth repeating that Henrietta Kamern was for many years an organist with Loew’s, moving to their Pitkin Theatre and eventually leaving Loew’s to be baseball organist for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Kamern, Henrietta on the Moller Organ at Loew’s Rio Theatre.
Seven recording sessions.
3/32 M.P. Möller Deluxe Organ, Loew’s Rio Theatre, NYC.
Bold dates indicated start of new recording session.
3 Edison Diamond Disc records (6 sides) were issued. 3 sides out of 9 recorded by Kamern were not issued. The list here shows the following information for each disc:
(a) Date Recorded; (b) Matrix #; (c) Disc #; (d) Title, (e) Composer(s) & Lyricist; (f) Release Date

(a)19/7/28; (b)18621; (c)52373-R; (d)Laugh, Clown, Laugh; (e)(Lewis-Young-Ted Fiorito); (electrically recorded); (f)25/8/28

(a)25/7/28; (b)18635; (c)52373-L; (d)Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky; (e)(Walter Donaldson) (electrically recorded); (f)25/8/28

(a)1/9/28; (b)18645; (c)52376-R; (d)Girl Of My Dreams; (e)(Sunny Clapp) (with Theo Alban, Tenor) (electrically recorded)5595 (f)10/28

(a)1/8/28; (b)18646; (c)52376-L; (d)Come Back Chiquita; (d)(L. Wolfe Gilbert-Mabel Wayne) (electrically recorded); (f)1/9/28

October 1928
(a)04/10/28; (b)18780; (c)52429-L; (d)My Angel (Angela Mia); (e)(Erno Rapée-Lew Pollack) (electrically recorded); (f)20/10/28

November 1928
(a)04/11/28; (b)18781; (c)52429-R; (d)Jeannine I Dream Of Lilac Time; (e)(L. Wolfe Gilbert-Nathaniel Shilkret) (electrically recorded); (f)20/11/28

November 1928
(a)10/11/28; (b)18797; (d)Gypsy Love Song; (e)(Victor Herbert / Harry B. Smith) (electrically recorded) “unpublished” but “passed”

(a)19/11/28; (b)18821; (d)I’m Falling in Love With Someone; (e)(Victor Herbert) (electrically recorded) “unpublished” “rejected”

December 1928
(a)5/12/28; (b)18919; (d)Sally of My Dreams; (e)(W. Kernell) (electrically recorded) “unpublished” and “rejected”

Why Henrietta Kamern’s Recordings Are Important

It will become clear later on by reading below why Henrietta Kamern was a pioneer recording artist. This is not to denigrate the early acoustic recordings of other organists and the acoustic recording system. But Henrietta Kamern is playing in a huge echoey empty theater. The Edison recording team, with their microphone, captured every nuance of her playing, and for the very first time, captured (and probably completely by accident) the bass pipes. To be able to record the bass was a kind of “Holy Grail” of recording at that time. It is my belief that the bass notes would only become apparent on playing the discs on electrically reproducing equipment, and might even have only been discovered years after the event. However, Edison produced by accident, a great recording of Henrietta Kamern, who made a balanced, accurate, and stylish performance which also showed how to play for massed audience unison singing, which shows how she – as organist – kept the audience in time. We can easily judge from this just why she was held in such high regard. Here is a link to youtube and if you can listen through headphones, you will see exactly what I mean. https://youtu.be/ZrZv41uZ5n8

Extract from Critical Essay by Dennis E. Ferrara

(In this part of the essay, I have reproduced some extracts from the detailed assessment of these recordings by Dennis E. Farrara, and applied for permission to do so. This insightful document places Henrietta Kamern’s recordings into context and makes useful comparisons of style and repertoire within a period of growing technological and musical sophistication. It also shows Henrietta Kamern’s fresh and clean musical style to have been innovatory and different from many of her contmporaries).


By Dennis E. Ferrara

“The Edison organization obtained the services of the following artist c/organists from 1924 until 1929. Their complete discographies will be listed in this article: John Gart, Henrietta Kamern, Frederick Kinsley, Rollo Maitland and Charles Sharpe-Minor, better known simply as C. Sharpe-Minor.

“The pipe organ has always been a very difficult instrument to record due to its extremes in the frequency spectrum. The auditory range may vary from 16 Hz or (cycles per second) (the 32 foot pitch in the pedal) to over 30,000 Hz (CPS) at the upper end of the spectrum. Needless to say, no acoustic or early electrical recording of the Twenties could do full justice to the instrument; however, the Edison company certainly tried to capture the King of Instruments onto wax.

“One particular type of organ which was extremely popular throughout the Roaring Twenties was the theatre pipe organ. Built to imitate the orchestra, the theatre pipe organ installed in movie palaces throughout the world was a popular means of musical entertainment as well as the “voice” of the silent film. Under the hands of a sensitive artist, such as Jesse Crawford, “The Poet of the Organ,” the instrument was capable of musical sophistication. The Victor Talking Machine Co. had signed Crawford to an exclusive contract in late 1924. No doubt the Edison A & R man wanted to find talent worthy to compete with Crawford and the Victor company.

“The following instruments were utilized in recording organ solos by the Edison company: the two- and three-manual, 7 rank Midmer-Losh at the Hippodrome, New York City (Kinsley and Maitland); the three-manual, 32 rank M. P. Moller Organ in the Loew’s Rio Theatre, New York City (Kamern); the three-manual, 7 rank Midmer- Losh Organ at the Columbia Street Studio, West Orange (Kinsley and Maitland); a two-manual, 7 rank Style E WurliTzer Organ, installed at the Sanford Theatre, Maplewood, New Jersey (Kinsley and C. Sharpe-Minor); and the four-manual, 23 rank Robert-Morton “Wonder Morton,” located in Loew’s Valencia Theatre, New York City (Gart).

The sound reproduction of the Edison organ recordings tends to be dull and lifeless; however, the stylistic playing of the individual organists ranges from very good to poor.

“The Kinsley recordings, for the most part, are not good. The playing is sloppy and contains actual mistakes. The choice of selections reflects the “mother, heaven, and home” variety which was always apparent in the Edison catalog. The Midmer-Losh instruments are poor examples of theatre pipe organs; rather, they sound like small non-unified church instruments without any highs. The listener is treated to tubby diapason, flute, tuba, and excessive vibrant tremulant on the Vox Humana stop. Both instruments had chimes and harp stops. Kinsley was organist at the Hippodrome and later became organist of the famed Riverside Church, New York, before the coming of organ virtuoso, the late Dr. Virgil Fox.

Henrietta Kamern’s recordings, on the other hand, are quite alive. The electrical process captured the large warm acoustics of Loew’s Rio Theatre. The Moeller organ sounds good. The tremulants tend to be fast; yet, the playing is fine without excessive mannerisms.

“The Maitland recordings are good, but the selections are typical “funeral parlour” variety. The playing on the acoustic recordings is good. An article in The Etude for October, 1929 indicates he had been a Philadelphia church organist for twenty-eight years and that he had also been trained as a violinist. He later became the municipal organist on the gigantic seven-manual, 354 rank Midmer-Losh instrument at the Convention Hall, Atlantic City. He also played in various theatres in Philadelphia on W. W. Kimball pipe organs.

“The recordings by John Gart are poor. The playing sounds amateurish, and the sound of the “Wonder Morton” does not sound so wondrous as recorded by the Edison company. The dubbed cylinders are terrible and the lateral-cut recordings tend to be excessively noisy.

“The C. Sharpe-Minor recordings are rare. The author has not heard them. By the way, C. Sharpe-Minor was not a pseudonym. According to Dr. John W. Landon in “Behold the Mighty WurliTzer: The History of the Theatre Pipe Organ” (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 1983), C. Sharpe-Minor was a colorful organist and showman who toured throughout the United States playing various instruments, as well as touring with his own three-manual, 8 rank Link pipe organ. He continued to play into the
1940s and taught organ and showmanship. Little is known about him after his performance at the Palace Theatre, Dallas, Texas.

Details from the life and appointments of Henrietta Kamern

Variety Sept 1915
The Keith New York theatres have announced the executive staffs for the season [including] Nathan Kamern Musical Director

Variety (Wednesday 13 August 1924

Henrietta Kamern, 758 Kelly St N.Y.C. advert under “Organists”.

Variety (Wednesday April 20 1927 Vol. LXXXVII. No. 1)
17-year-old Organist
Probably the youngest professionl organist in the world is Henrietta Kamern, 17, at the Rio, at Broadway and 163d st, New York.
She is “showing” today, Thursday and Friday, doing “Rhapsodie in Blue” on the organ.

[This recently from a publicly made comment on a local forum: ‘…A. L. — The theatre now known as Spooner’s Theatre, in the Bronx, on Southern Boulevard and 163rd Street, is now a motion-picture house. This was the same one in which Cecil Spooler appeared with her stock company some years ago…’]

Henrietta Kamern Talks Jazz
The TIMES (Munster, Indiana) Mon 25 Feb 1929

Jazz Takes Rank With Folk Music of Europe

Henrietta Kamern, Organist, Thinks Our Music Patrician

New York City.- “Modern American music is not a changeling, an ugly duckling left on the doorstep of the twentieth century. The new rhythm is of patrician pedigree, tracing its origin back to the very sources of the earliest music.”

This is the opinion of Miss Henrietta Kamern, whose interpretation of jazz on the organ, has won her such recognition in musical circles that she has been engaged by a large theatrical syndicate to direct a new school of organ rhythm.

Coming from a family of Russian musicians with musical ancestors on both maternal and paternal sides as far back as the family history has been traced and that is over one thousand years Miss Kamern speaks with authority.

“The modern rhythm is a legitimate evolution of the music of the ages,” she declares. “Its new aspect lies in the fact that it is not written down – that it requires a further step in musical imagination to play it.

“Good jazz well written demands far more ingenuity in the playing than do the majority of the classics. It is a music in which there is life and which the player must actually feel to properly interpret.

“‘Mamma’s Grown Young, Papa’s Grown Old.’ is real jazz, which many of the so-called legitimate players could not possibly interpret. In consequence this type of dance music has received severe criticism.

“Lyrics of the type that emulate modern slang which ‘Mamma’s Grown Young, Papa’s Grown Old’ does, have been called vulgar, whereas in reality they are nothing but the every day expressions of modern youth, and the people who condemn these lyrics are the very ones who approve operas with salacious lyrics, and all because opera is considered ‘classic.’ I say it is purely a case of envy when the highbrow musician starts knocking modern music.

“Those musicians who refuse to recognize it as ‘legitimate’ music are high-hatting* it simply because they do not know how to play it.”

Miss Kamern’s mother was the first woman in America to direct a jazz orchestra, and has been leading this orchestra in a New York theatre for eleven years.

*being snobbish


Parents of Henrietta Kamern: Jennie Kamern Feb 16 1883- March 1979
living 1945 Dade Florida piano accompanist; conductor;

American federation of Musicians (Vol XVIII No.1 July 1919) suspended 1919 Ney York City Branch Local 310

Nathan Kamern born abt 1876 Russia d. 31 8 1947 burial 02 09 1947 address 758 Kelly st Bronx, NY
Musical Director Manhattan Opera House 1923
Greenpoint Theatre 1915 musical director (opened Oct 10 1908 part of Percy Williams chain of vaudeville theatres) 825 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11222 later part of the RKO chain after 1930.

Exhibitors Herald World (Jul-Sept 1930)
Henrietta Kamern (New York Loew’s 175), who is billed as the “Singing Organist” and since her advent here has rapidly gained favor, presented an original organ solo in her “Trip to Songland” this week. Miss Kamern, making a beautiful appearance at the organ, opened her solo with an introduction over the “mic” of the songs, “Ro-Ro-Rolling Along,” “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Two choruses each of the popular numbers were played by Miss Kamern and sung lustily by the audience (Miss Kamern in a most pleasing voice sang along with the audience) and “Sweet Mystery of Life” was offered in various combinations. An interpolation of the finale of the “Fortune Teller” added greatly to the presentation.

Motion Picture Herald – 1931
HENRIETTA KAMERN (New York Loew’s 175) presented a clever novelty called “The Social Club” which carried as its theme the idea of getting together and singing. It was effectively worded and all the audience joined in singing these songs: “Lady, Play Your Mandolin,” “On Account of Your Kisses,” “Tears,” “One Little Raindrop,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and closed with a medley of oldtimers, starting with “Good Night Ladies.” Audience reaction to this solo was very good and Miss Kamern received a gratifying reception for her efforts.

…Was talking to Henrietta Kamern, organist at Loew’s 175th street theatre, the other day when a hurdy-gurdy interrupted our conversation…Miss Kamern wise-cracked, “Oh, Oh, not enough competition from other theatre organists, but must have competition brought right in front of the house in which I’m working…(the gist of the article concerns out-of-town theatre organists who are in New York looking for assignments).

HENRIETTA KAMERN (New York 175th) presented a timely solo entitled “Football Fancies” for her solo this week. It was one, composed of the usual collegiate songs, interspersed with rare comedy and set to popular songs for the audience to sing. Though the house was but half full, those in it did their best to sing and applauded Miss Kamern’s efforts at the finish. Besides being a very good musician, Miss Kamern is the fashion plate of the neighborhood. Her dark beauty was set off by a black and white evening gown, and the console was beautifully decorated. (Dec 26 1931)

(mid 1930s?)Loew Managers Will Fete C. C. Moskowitz

Charles C. Moskowitz, recently elevated to treasurer of Loew’s as successor to the late David Bernstein, will be honored by managers of the company’s theaters in New York at a dinner at the Seven-Eleven Restaurant, 7-11 E. 44th St., tonight. Among the Loew’s executives on hand will be Joseph R. Vogel and Oscar A. Doob. Ex-Mayor James J. Walker will act as toastmaster, and emcees will include Eddie Sullivan and Louis Sobol, Joe E. Lewis and Harry Hershfield. Charles Zelenko, proprietor of the Seven Eleven Restaurant, will host the reception which is being arranged by Gilbert Marbe, Jack Harris, E. Burke, Sam Perlman, Bernard Zelenko, and Leo Sidowsky of the Loew managerial staff.

Motion Picture Daily (Oct-Dec 1939)
Loew’s Frolic Reards 400 For Fighting Summer Slump
Four hundred persons joined hands in a spirit of gayety as the Loew’s theatre organization of New York played host to its managerial staff, plus the wives and sweethearts, at a beefsteak dinner and dance in the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria last night.

The affair, given as a tribute to the theatre staffs for helping to lick the Summer slump, drew such notables as Nicholas M. Schenk, C. C. Moskowitz, J. R. Vogel, Leopold Friedman, W. F. Rogers, Marvin Schenk, Oscar A. Doob, Eugene Picker, H. J. Cleary, Joel Levy, J. T. Mills, Harry Moskowitz and others from the home office group.

Those who attended (incl) Miss Henrietta Kamern…

Tucson Daily Citizen Sep 27 1940
Henrietta Kamern, the organist, conducts the delightful concerts at Loew’s Pitkin in the Brownsville sector of Greater New York. She is popular too, for rendering song requests. A patron who never missed Tuesdays and Thurdsdays for eight years always sent an usher for “It’s a Sin to Tell a lie”/…It was “his” song, he always told the usher to tell her – it “sort of gets me”…..she always looked forward to his hand-clapping (loudest of all) from his balcony perch….Several months ago she began missing the request and the familiar applause…”What happened to that nice gentleman,” Henrietta asked the usher, “who always requested ‘It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie’?”…The usher gave her a strange look…”Nice guy?” he blurted. “That was Abe Reles of Murder, Inc. He only killed fifty people.”

1942 Organist of Pitkin Theater, Brooklyn

THE EXHIBITOR (Jun-Nov 1942)
Henrietta Kamern, Loew’s Pitkin, Brooklyn organist, entertained girls and boys at a “Fleet’s In” blind date party, recently arranged at the theatre by manager Al Weiss, assistant Louis Kramer, and Loew publicists Eddie Dowden and Sam Coolick.

Variety – October 1946
By Larry Solloway
Henrietta Kamern, organst, set for cocktail lounge at Copacabana.

Variety – June 1947
Miami Beach
By Larry Solloway
Henrietta Kamern, former Loew (N. Y.) theatres organist and featured at Copacabana here last season, signed year’s contract with Hotel Matinique. Will be featured in the new Rogue Room.

Variety – September 1947
Miami Beach
By Larry Solloway
Johnny Greenhut at the Hotel Martinique, joining show biz colony which includes Henry Youngman, Harry Babbitt, Jerry Wayne, Henrietta Kamern and Liza Morrow

Copyright entries: RAMBLIN’ BLUES: w & m Henrietta Kamern & Harry D. Squires C. 25Aug1927; E670950, Harry D. Squires (A) : 25Aug54; R135028

Further Recording Sessions:

Henrietta Kamern
Pipe-organ solos. Church studio, Camden, NJ, July 18 1927.
Alabamy (Here I Am)
Vic test (unnumbered)
Rambling Blues
Vic test (unnumbered)

“…at Loew’s Pitkin – All this while being serenaded by Henrietta Kamern at the grand organ, whose function was to welcome patrons as they entered, and to hint to them when it was time to leave. This pleasant sensation (music to our ears) has been replaced in many theaters today by muzak…” (Another Time Another Place: a neighborhood remembered By Gerald Chatanow/Bernard D. Schwartz Published by Xlibris Corporation, 2000. ISBN 10: 073884232X / ISBN 13: 9780738842325.)

Jewish Genealogy Search:
Nathan Kamern 1947 Ridgewood, NY- Mt. Judah, Cypress Ave

Charles L Zelenko wife Henrietta married 1928 CLZ died Jan 1980 Restaurant Proprietor “7-11 Restaurant NY”
Henrietta Zelenko April 02 1905 – May 01 1972 (Miami, Dade County)

No recordings issued from other masters.
Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description
Victor [Trial 1927-07-18-01] 10-in. 7/18/1927 Alabamy (Here I am) Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Victor [Trial 1927-07-18-02] 10-in. 7/18/1927 Rambling Blues Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Edison 18621 10-in. 7/20/1928 Laugh, clown, laugh Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Edison 18635 10-in. 7/25/1928 Just like a melody out of the sky Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Edison 18645 10-in. 8/1/1928 Girl of my dreams Henrietta Kamern Organ solo, with Theo Alban male vocal solo
Edison 18646 10-in. 8/1/1928 Come back, Chiquita Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Edison 18780 10-in. 10/4/1928 My angel Henrietta Kamern Organ solo
Edison 18781 10-in. 10/4/1928 Jeannine, I dream of lilac time Henrietta Kamern Organ solo

(to be continued)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.