African American Studies
Interviewee: Paul Himmelstein
Interviewers: Mark Naison and Brian Purnell
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Paul Himmelstein is one of 14 children and grew up on Prospect and Jennings Avenue. His father worked 7 days a week, as a truck driver during the week and a cab driver on the weekends. Both of his parents are Jewish and speak Yiddish.
The neighborhood was predominately black when he was 5. Before that, however, it was mostly Jewish. He speaks of the Jewish Delis and markets that he and his family used to go to on the weekends that were very close by. The market was located on Freeman and Wilkins Avenue.
He was surrounded by music from and early age. He remembers men singing in his backyard when he was younger for money. His brother and mother were good singers and would sing around the house. While he was attending grade school at P.S 54 his classmates and teachers discovered that he was a talented singer. Many people found out about his talent when he was on a televised children’s talent show. He also used to perform in talent shows held at P.S 99. He and his group used to perform at other weekly talent shows. They won so many times that they got to perform with the professional singers. From there, they made a record that was played on a radio station. However, shortly after this, he dropped out of music.
During this time he learned how to sing an arpeggio. When he was in grade school he did a number of small jobs to make money, like selling cool aid. As he got older he got involved with betting small amounts on dice or card games. He also played numbers. Much of the interview is spent discussing the gambling culture in the south Bronx in the early 1950’s.
He and his family had to leave Morrisania because they fell on hard times. He and his two younger siblings moved out on their own.
In addition to talking about the gambling culture in the south Bronx, he also discusses being white in a predominately black community.
Himmelstein, Paul. November 11, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Himmelstein, Paul.mp3 (218671 kB)