The Epstein Brothers
1997 Florida Folk Heritage Award
The Epstein Brothers—Max (1912- 2000), Willie (1919-1999) and Julius (b. 1926), were one of the top klezmer bands from the 1930s to the 1970s, when they retired to Tamarac, Florida. In the 1950s and 60s they were the “kings of klezmer” and in the 1990s they led a renaissance of the Jewish music originating in Eastern Europe that is at the heart of many celebrations.
The Epsteins were born and raised on New York’s Lower East Side, where they were introduced to klezmer music. They honed their musical skills as adolescents, but did not play as a group until World War II. Max played the violin and B-flat clarinet, William learned trumpet, and Julius played drums/percussion. Eventually they formed the Epstein Brothers Orchestra and also played with other orchestras in clubs, catering halls and hotels, at weddings and other festive occasions. By the mid-1930s, the brothers were performing their own klezmer-tinged blend of tangos, horas, Russian folk tunes, and gypsy drinking songs. Max was also an early member of the Warner Brothers studio band, with which he performed on many soundtracks. Julius accompanied many top-ranked artksts as musical director of the Forest Hills Festival in Queens.
Many ethnic music experts consider the Epsteins to be among the last musicians of their generation to learn from traditional European musicians. After reuniting in the mid-1990s, the brothers once again led an active performing and recording life. They recorded numerous records and were the subject of the 1996 award-winning documentary film, A Tickle in the Heart. The Epstein Brothers dedicated more than half a century to performing the traditional music of one of Florida’s oldest and largest cultural communities. They provided music and entertainment to countless senior centers, synagogues, Jewish community centers and Holocaust survivor groups. The Epstein Brothers were honored with a 1998 National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s most prestigious honor in the folk and traditional arts.