Eatala: A Life in Klezmer

Eatala: A Life in Klezmer

"Moving chronicle of one family's life in music. A rare glimpse, touched with humor, of how a musical tradition was held in trust." - Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

"Drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts is still smoothly rolling on a snare in her eighth decade." - David Stampone, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A 3rd-generation klezmer, the mother of a next generation of klezmorim, and a raucous, wonderful storyteller. The Philly sound in full force and dance-compelling splendor." - Ari Davidow, Klezmer Shack

Klezmer is Eastern European Jewish folk music. In other parts of the country, klezmer seemed to disappear and then was revived. But in Philadelphia, the Hoffman family never stopped playing this music. A new documentary, "Eatela: A Life in Klezmer" shares the unique Ukrainian-Jewish klezmer sounds of Elaine Hoffman Watts and Susan Watts, third and fourth generation klezmorim. Including dynamic concert footage, family movies, interviews and historic photos, the documentary shows what this music means, and how it has remained vital. The documentary is $25 and available from our store. Contact PFP at 215-726-1106 for ordering instructions.

Eatela: A Life in Klezmer is a loving portrait of Elaine Hoffman Watts (her Yiddish name is "Eatela") and her family legacy. The documentary shows how a feisty and determined musician has broken barriers—as a musician, a working mother, and in her persistent devotion to her family's klezmer music. Drawing on performance footage, family movies and photographs, and interviews, Eatela shows how the klezmer tradition has been sustained over four generations in a single family, with a good dose of humor and joy. Eatala features performances by Elaine Hoffman Watts, Susan Lankin Watts and an all-star klezmer band with Josh Dolgin, Jay Krush, Rachel Lemisch, Hankus Netsky, Henry Sapoznik, and Carmen Staaf. Directed by Barry Dornfeld and Debora Kodish.

Born in 1932, Elaine Hoffman Watts is a winner of the prestigious 2007 National Heritage Award from the National Endowment of the Arts. Watts is one of only eight artists from Pennsylvania, and one of only six Jewish artists from the entire country, to be so honored over the last 28 years. In 2000, she received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. 

Elaine Watts was the first woman percussionist to be accepted at Curtis Institute, from which she graduated in 1954. She has performed and taught for more than forty years, working in symphonies, theaters, and schools. Despite her skills and family heritage, when she was young Ms. Watts was seldom given opportunities to perform by local klezmer bands, from the 1940s on: "they didn't want to employ a girl," she recalls, not even Jacob Hoffman's talented daughter. This documentary centers on the artistry of a woman (and a mom) who couldn't be stopped or silenced. 

For generations of Jewish families in Philadelphia, the Watts' klezmer music was a mainstay at weddings and other communal and family celebrations. The music produced by Elaine Watts' vast talent and indomitable spirit is a critically important, feisty, and enduring link to a particular Philadelphia-style Jewish klezmer sound. Working actively in Philadelphia since the early years of this century, the Hoffman family and other Philadelphia Jewish musicians shaped a Jewish American music reflecting the influences of their homelands as well as the musical culture of Philadelphia. Elaine's drumming anchors the sounds of this Jewish style. 

Trumpeter and vocalist Susan Watts represents the fourth generation of this important klezmer dynasty. In addition to playing with a variety of noted klezmer musicians from around the world, Watts has recorded and performed with Hankus Netsky, Mikveh, London's Klezmer All-Star Brass Band, and others. Susan has taught at klezmer festivals and privately, and performs in a diverse range of trumpet styles. She and her mother will be joined by other noted klezmer performers. 

Eatela is produced by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, through Philadelphia Music Project, and Philadelphia Folklore Project members. 

About PFP 

Locally-sourcing culture since 1987, the Philadelphia Folklore Project works to build critical folk cultural knowledge; sustainvital and diverse living cultural heritage in communities in our region; and create equitable processes and practices for nurturing local grassroots arts and humanities. For more information, call 215.726.1106, email, or visit

For more:

For high quality photographs: Elaine Watts (1960s), Susan and Elaine (2009).

For more information, please contact the Philadelphia Folklore Project, 215.726.1106, pfp [a]

* Check the Philadelphia Folklore Project's website ( for a preview of the song "Goodnight Mishegas," which will be part of a companion DVD to be issued in the spring of 2012. Also check out Susan Lankin Watts' lyrics to the song:

Goodnight Mishegas
Lyrics: Susan Watts

A gute nakht, gute nakht, gute nakht mayn mishegas
Shlof (1) mayn tsores (2) shlof mayn troyerik (3) harts
Shlof gezunterheyt, (4) sha (5) still gezunterheyt 
Shlof mein tsoris mayn troyerik harts.

Good night, good night, my sad song memories
Rest my thoughts, my tearing cried out eyes
Rest gezunterheyt, sha still gezunterheyt 
Shlof mayn tsuris mein troyerik harts.

Ya bai bai bai, a new song has begun
L'chaim (6) to my blessings
Yasher koach (7) everyone!
Over and again, once more each day begins anew
Good night for now, dream sweet for now
Ai lu lu lu. . . .

- - - -
Translations of the Yiddish:
(1) sleep
(2) worried, troubled
(3) sad
(4) in good health
(5) quiet, hush
(6) to life! Health!
(7) have strength, more power to