Morhaim family photo featuring Dona Morhaim Baruch, standing at right, ca. 1908. (Courtesy Isaac and Rachel Baruch via Ty Alhadeff, ST01382).
Azure blue, violet, fire engine red – bright colors on round labels. Emblazoned across the top, gold or silver letters – RCA Victor, Popular, Decca, Balkan, Kaliphon. Here and there, half covering the letters, a green or purple sticker – “The Balkan Phonograph Record Store, 42 Rivington St, NYC.” A ring of black shellac completes the platters.
These are the 78 rpm records in the collection of Sam “Sabetai” Hayman Baruch and his wife Dona Baruch (née Morhaim), Turkish Jewish immigrants from Marmara and Tekirdağ respectively and married at Congregation Ezra Bessaroth in 1921 in Seattle, Washington. Called taş plak (pronounced “tash plak”) in Turkish – literally “records made out of rock” – these discs represent a small chunk of a global recording industry that, from the very beginning of the twentieth century to the 1950s, manufactured and distributed records from around the world to international destinations including Seattle.
Let’s explore intriguing questions raised by the Baruchs’ record collection, focusing first on the local: Why did the couple purchase so few Ladino and so many Turkish language records? What did a phonograph culture look like in the living rooms of the interwar Seattle Sephardic community? And finally, widening our lens, how can a simple record label serve to broaden the story and significance of the Baruchs’ Turkish language records beyond Seattle and the borders of the United States?