Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Paul Himmelstein


Paul Himmelstein 

Interviewee: Paul Himmelstein
Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison and Dr. Brian Purnell
Date of Interview November 11, 2005
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 an early age. He remembers men singing in his backyard for money when he was younger. 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. Soon, many people knew how talented he was and he went on a televised children’s talent show. One way so many people knew about his singing abilities was because of the many local talent shows he and his friends would perform at. In addition to neighborhood shows, he and his friends were regulars at the P.S. 99 talent show. 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.

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.

Keywords: Morrisania, Doo-wop, Prospect and Jennings Avenue, air-raid drills, Freeman and Wilkins Avenue, P.S 54, P.S. 99, talent shows, gambling culture, Junior high 40, racial tension


© 2009 Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University

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