Nine Luminaries Of Jewish Liturgical Song
by Cantor Sam Weiss
The following biographies, listed in order of birth dates, were commissioned in 2003 for inclusion in a Biographical Dictionary of World Jewish Music, a project which did not come to fruition. Details regarding artists and their recordings were accurate as of 2003.
Rosenblatt, Yossele (Josef, Joseph), world-famous cantor, recitalist and synagogue composer; b. Belaya-Tserkov (Ukraine), May 9, 1882; d. Jerusalem, June 18, 1933.
To help support his parents and their ten other children, he toured the cities and towns of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as an itinerant boy-wonder cantor between the ages of 8 and 18, obtaining his first regular post in Munkacs (1900). His boyhood nickname "Yossele" stayed with him throughout his entire career, for he was beloved no less for his endearing character, piety and generosity, than for his amazing vocal artistry.
In 1901 he was hired in Pressburg (Bratislava), and five years later moved westward again to Hamburg, whose Orthodox community he served from 1906 to 1912. Here he learned to modify his florid, emotional, East-European style of liturgical singing to suit the more "classical" tastes of his German congregation. In this city, too, he became acquainted with opera, another lifelong influence on his unique compositional and vocal style. Hamburg was also where, in 1907 and 1909, he made 36 phonograph recordings, the beginning of an output which would eventually number 182 pieces, and would help turn him into a world-wide celebrity, a name recognized by Jew and non-Jew alike.
An important factor in this great fame was his decision to move to America in 1912 in order to support his own growing family as well as his indigent extended family. Accepting a cantorial position with a congregation in Harlem, then an aristocratic New York Jewish neighborhood, he built on his European successes as well as on the American "open field" to gradually become the undisputed "King of Cantors". Equally important was his decision to vigorously pursue a career in the recording studio and on the general concert stage, alongside his acclaimed synagogue performances. (The latter—in his own congregation as well as in guest appearances elsewhere—often resembled concerts when it became necessary to sell tickets as a way of controlling the throngs eager to hear him.)
He composed nearly 500 synagogue works for cantor and/or male choir. His recordings included some Yiddish theater pieces (such as the acclaimed Eili Eili) and a few Hebrew pieces composed by others, but he predominantly recorded his own liturgical creations. The typical Rosenblatt cantorial recording balanced passionate melismatic singing and heartfelt declamation of familiar prayers with memorable melodic passages. But most memorable was his stunning voice, an instrument of plaintive beauty which ranged over four seamless octaves with incredible agility.
The launch of his American concert career was aided by the numerous programs on behalf of European Jewish victims of the First World War to which he lent his talents. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, war-relief concerts and patriotic rallies greatly multiplied, as did audiences which included substantial numbers of non-Jewish listeners and critics. He filled the 6,000 seat New York Hippodrome in May of that year, the same hall again as well as Carnegie Hall a year later, and halls all over North America through 1923— when he embarked on his first European return concert tour in support of the war-torn Jewish communities.
His concert programs included a great array of international and operatic selections, interspersed with his famed cantorial recitatives. The latter were invariably the favorites, mesmerizing and bringing tears to the eyes of even those who had no connection to the texts or the tradition from which they came. In 1918 the Chicago Opera Company offered him the phenomenal sum of $1,000 per night to appear as Elazar in its production of La Juive; they made the same offer again in 1922 for $3,000. He refused both propositions because they conflicted with his religious principles. The idealistic reasons for his refusals brought him as much admiration as did the size of the offers.
Throughout his career Rosenblatt kept breaking records for salaries paid to either a cantor or a concert artist, yet he, his wife and eight children enjoyed only a few years in the comfort of wealth. His charitable nature was legendary; and the needy as well as the unscrupulous took advantage of it. In 1923 he was deceived into investing his wealth and reputation in a fraudulent business venture with purported charitable aims. In 1924 this mistake caused him to declare bankruptcy, yet he refused to abandon his creditors. In an attempt to repay them, he made the painful decision to explore the vaudeville circuit. Even with the limitations of not working on the Jewish Sabbath and of maintaining his dignity by not doing any acting, he was one of the biggest box-office attractions of the 1925 and 1926 seasons. It was not the typical variety-show act: A bearded dark-suited gentleman simply entered the stage holding a small notebook, sang a few songs, and exited—but the crowds clamored for more.
Despite his dire straits, in 1927 he refused a $100,000 offer to act in the first Hollywood "talking movie," The Jazz Singer, but did agree to the use of his off-screen voice in a non-liturgical selection for $10,000. The new technologies of radio and sound films reduced the demand for live stage performances and cut the sales of his recordings. So in May of 1928 he embarked on his second European tour in search of lucrative engagements, appearing over a six-week period in two dozen concerts in nearly all of the major cities with large Jewish populations from France to Latvia. Despite the mixed critical reactions his secular numbers received in some cosmopolitan centers, he was a popular sensation. Halls that seated up to 4,000 people were filled, and police were needed to control the crowds who could not get into the smaller auditoriums. He ended the tour with an appearance in London, returning to America in time to officiate at High Holiday services. While it was an artistic and cultural triumph, the European tour did not turn a substantial profit.
In the gloom of the depression years 1930–32, his thoughts turned to his lifelong wish to settle in the land of Israel, and in March of 1933 the virtually penniless Rosenblatt, along with his wife and one of his sons, sailed for Tel-Aviv. His spirits were revitalized as he became active in a number of musical and cultural pursuits. Among these was the filming of a Jewish musical "travelogue" built around his singing. In the midst of this project he died of a heart-attack, three months after arriving in his new homeland.
Yossele Rosenblatt was an American folk-hero, a revered world-class artist, and a key figure in bringing the sounds of Jewish sacred music to vast audiences outside the synagogue.
Bibliography: S. Rosenblatt, Yossele Rosenblatt: The Story of His Life (New York, 1954).
Discography: NOTE: All of Rosenblatt's 182 original recordings have been reissued. New collections continue to appear, often on private labels. Available CD titles include the following: The Earliest Recordings; The Best of Cantor Josef Rosenblatt; [The Complete Selection of Prayers for] Selichot, Rosh Hashana And Yom Kippur; Yosele Rosenblatt: Yiddish Songs; Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt Sings His Original Compositions; Rarities For Shabbat and Rosh-Chodesh; Cantor Joseph Rosenblatt: Sabbath, Part I & II; Most Famous Cantorial Compositions; Shir Hamaalot; Synagogue Service. Also appears on: Mysteries Of The Sabbbath—Classic Cantorial Recordings: 1907–1947 (Yazoo #7002, 1994)
Hershman, Mordechai, noted cantor; b. Chernikhov (Ukraine) 1888; d. Israel, January 20, 1941
Defying his father, who considered a life of song to be beneath the dignity of a respectable mercantile family, he became apprenticed to seven different cantors in as many Ukranian towns from his early teens through early adulthood. He was the star soloist in the choirs of such East European cantorial celebrities as Nisi Belzer and Zeidel Rovner, who provided his musical and professional grounding. In 1913 he obtained his first cantorial position, at the synagogue in Zhitomir, but a few months later he became the cantor of the prestigious Great Synagogue of Vilnius (Lithuania), a significant accomplishment for a man of 25. With the advent of World War I he was drafted into the army, but was released from active duty by a commanding officer who was moved by his singing at a special synagogue commemoration. He maintained his position there until 1920, when he immigrated to America.
Although he had concertized and achieved fame in Europe, due to wartime disruptions he was not at first well known to the American Jewish community. Word of his resplendent tenor voice and excellent musicianship spread quickly, however, and soon he, Yossele Rosenblatt and Zavel Kwartin (1874-1952) became the three pre-eminent figures of the cantorial Golden Age—each with his own distinctive strengths and fiercely loyal following. In the 1920's and 1930's the recordings of one or all of these cantors were to be found in most Jewish households with phonograph players. Not being a composer, Hershman used his interpretive abilities and lustrous voice to sing and record fine liturgical recitatives by a variety of composers. Many of these pieces have entered the repertoire of other cantors and have remained popular to this day, due to their beautiful cantabile passages and absence of excessive coloratura. He also recorded a relatively large number of Yiddish folksongs and art songs; these too were sung by many other singers, most notably Jan Peerce. While the immense popularity of his recordings can be attributed to his classic vocal technique and artistic performances, their appeal was further enhanced by their effective orchestral arrangements.
In 1922, after two years of concertizing and recording, he accepted a year-round cantorial position with Congregation Beth-El in Brooklyn, N.Y., which at the time was housed in a modest-sized building; but his services attracted such crowds, that the synagogue needed to expand to its present-day grand structure. His relationship with that congregation continued until the advent of the depression in 1929, when he released his congregants from their long-term contract. In 1931 he appeared as one of the featured cantors in Joseph Seiden's film "The Voice of Israel." In 1933 he left the U.S. for his first visit to Israel, where, among other activities, he conducted the funeral service for his colleague Yossele Rosenblatt. Upon his second visit, in 1935, he officiated at the Great Synagogue in Tel-Aviv. Illness caused him to return to America; and only in 1937 was he able to finally settle in Israel.
Discography CD: Pearls of Jewish Liturgical Music: Cantor Mordechai Hershman (Aderet, 1995); Jewish Folk Songs (Aderet, 2002); Also appears on: Mysteries Of The Sabbbath—Classic Cantorial Recordings: 1907–1947 (Yazoo #7002, 1994); Great Voices Of The Synagogue (Tara); Golden Age of Cantors (Tara).
Cassette: Art of Cantor Mordechai Hershman Vols. 1–5 (Greater Rec. Co., 1973); Mordechai Hershman Sings Cantorials (Greater Rec. Co., 1973); Art of Cantor Mordechai Hershman (Aderet, 1989)
Video: Great Cantors of the Golden Age [an updated version of the 1931 film The Voice of Israel] (1990)
Glantz, Leib, cantor, composer, political activist; b. Kiev, June 1, 1898; d. Tel-Aviv, January 27, 1964.
At the age of eight he began leading services at the synagogue where his grandfather served as the cantor, and toured the Kiev countryside with his father (also a cantor) as a child prodigy. At thirteen he started formal piano and composition studies, and for the next two High Holiday seasons he directed the choir in his father's synagogue, introducing classic choral works in a rural congregation accustomed to simple folk chants—thereby foreshadowing his vocation as a radical within the field of traditional Jewish music. At thirteen he also embarked on his other lifelong passion, Zionism and local Jewish activism, which would carry him all over the world as a tireless writer, editor, speaker and political delegate when he was not singing, composing or teaching. For four years beginning in 1916 he moved between and Ukraine and Bessarabia, and began writing liturgical recitatives—the first of over 200 striking Jewish musical compositions uniquely suited to his own limber voice and fiery temperament. In 1920 he moved permanently from Ukraine to Kishinev (Moldova), continuing his university studies there. In 1923 he taught music in a Jewish teachers' seminary, and composed his first settings of secular Hebrew poetry.
He came to America in the summer of 1926, blazing an artistic path for himself in city after city; critics, congregants and concert audiences raved about the startling and uplifting experience of listening to this avant-garde cantor. He communicated the nuances of every single word he sang with old-world piety, and he was steeped in the traditional modes and patterns of synagogue song; yet he rarely proceeded along a predictable melodic path. Glantz stretched the classical cantorial art-form to its creative limits, using his lyric tenor voice in a dramatic and declamatory style with the eloquence of an orator. It was a style that made considerable aesthetic demands on the listener—with its angular vocal lines, chromatics, and occasional histrionic effects like shprechstimme, glissandi, and sharp dynamic contrasts—and not all listeners cared for it. But those who were willing to listen carefully to his interpretations and improvisations were rewarded with a profound musical and religious experience. The first two compositions that he recorded (in 1929, for RCA) were talked about for years, and to this day have not lost their creative edge. Sh'ma Yisra'el and Tal revealed his remarkable poetic soul even to those not versed in Hebrew or the Jewish liturgical tradition, while those so versed marveled at his use of the traditional prayer modes (or nusakh) for tonal exploration into areas untouched by his predecessors. In addition to synagogal works, the approximately 100 compositions that he recorded over his career included Hebrew and Yiddish art songs, as well as original settings of traditional Hasidic songs.
During his first brief visit to Israel in 1930, his involvement in Zionist activism was renewed, and he deferred accepting a full-time cantorial position until 1941, when he signed a contract with a congregation in Los Angeles. In the intervening years he appeared in numerous cities across America and Canada, as well as in Mexico, South Africa, and Israel as a guest cantor and concert artist. Beginning in 1950 he increased his pedagogical activities, training cantorial students at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, as well as addressing cantorial conventions and writing articles on the subject of synagogue music.
He settled in Israel in 1954 to assume a pulpit in Tel-Aviv, which he held for the very creative and productive last decade of his life. A crowd of 4,000 people, impossible to accommodate, gathered to hear his first Midnight Penitential Service (Selichot). In succeeding years the Selichot services, whether heard at his synagogue or via national radio broadcast, became a widely-followed annual cultural event among Israeli music lovers. A compilation recording of some of these broadcasted services was issued in 1962. His musicianship, creativity and scholarship in the field of liturgical music also earned the respect of secular Israeli composers and critics, many of whom looked to his theories for guidance in formulating a national musical idiom. In 1960 he established a cantorial training academy in Tel-Aviv. Following his death four years later, the academy was transformed into an institute charged with disseminating his life's work. Seven volumes of his liturgical and secular works were printed, as well as a 320-page anthology of articles and essays about his life and accomplishments.
Bibliography: E. Steinman, Zeharim: In memory of Leib Glantz (Tel-Aviv, 1965) in Hebrew.
Discography: CD: Midnight Selichot Service; Pearls Of Liturgical Music: Cantor Leib Glantz Also appears on: Mysteries Of The Sabbbath—Classic Cantorial Recordings: 1907–1947 (Yazoo #7002, 1994).
Cassette: Hallel & Three Festivals (Greater Rec. Co., 1973); Best Cantorial Works Of Cantor Leib Glantz (Greater Rec. Co., 1973); Cantor Leib Glantz: A Concert of Synagogue Music (Musique Internationale); Cantor Leib Glantz: Songs Sacred and Secular (Musique Internationale); Cantor Leib Glantz: Prayer and Song (Musique Internationale)
Peerce, Jan (born Jacob Pincus Perelmuth); operatic tenor, singer of Jewish music; b. New York, June 3, 1904; d. there, December 15, 1984.
(This biography focuses on the Jewish aspects of Peerce's career, which ran parallel to his noted accomplishments in the world of opera.)
His upbringing on New York's famed Lower East Side provided his foundation in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Jewish musical culture. From the age of nine he sang in synagogue choirs, including the famed Machtenburg Choir which accompanied such Golden Age cantors as Yossele Rosenblatt. From these—as well as from his father, a lay precentor—he absorbed the cantorial arts. As an adult he also studied with various cantorial teachers. From 1918 to 1932 he played the violin and sang in NY under the name "Pinky Pearl". In 1932 he was "discovered" by the Radio City Music Hall agent who named him "John Pierce". Other pseudonyms he used in the 1930's were Jascha Pearl (when singing his Jewish repertoire on NY radio station WEVD) and Paul Robinson or Randolph Joyce (when recording popular music).
In 1950 he sang with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on his first concert tour abroad. During a 1956 concert in Russia, he braved Soviet religious repression and reached out to Jews in the audience by singing the inspirational Yiddish song "A Plea With God". At the end of that tour he received a hero's welcome at the officially sanctioned synagogue in Moscow, where he was persuaded to conduct Sabbath services. Although he sang and recorded many cantorial recitatives and other Jewish music, Peerce rarely officiated as a cantor. He did, however, conduct a number of Passover Seders at hotels, and was often called upon to chant prayers at memorial and dedicatory events. In 1956 he recorded the first two of his nine extremely popular albums of Jewish liturgical, folk, theater, and art songs: A Passover Seder With Jan Peerce, and Hebrew Melodies. With these he began a fruitful collaboration with Abraham Ellstein, who composed several cantorial pieces specifically for his voice, and also arranged many of the rich orchestrations that made Peerce's Jewish recordings so memorable.
Whereas Peerce strongly valued his Jewish heritage throughout his operatic career, it took on added importance when he retired from the opera. In 1971, at the age of 67, he made his Broadway debut in Fiddler On The Roof as Tevye—a character with whom he strongly identified on a personal level—bringing a special cantorial flourish to that role. In 1973 he starred in The Rothschilds, and in 1974 he toured with Laugh a Little, Cry a Little, a musical based on the book The Joys of Yiddish. In 1980 he recorded his second Cantorial Masterpieces album, and in 1982, a month before he turned 78, he completed his final recording project, Across the Generations, a live concert of Jewish music in collaboration with a synagogue youth chorale.
Bibliography: Alan Levy, The Bluebird of Happiness: The Memoirs of Jan Peerce (New York, 1976).
Discography: A Passover Seder With Jan Peerce (RCA Victor, 1956); Hebrew Melodies [actually predominantly Yiddish songs] (RCA Victor, 1956); Cantorial Masterpieces (Vanguard, 1962); Yiddish Folksongs (Vanguard, 1963); Jan Peerce on 2nd Avenue (Vanguard, 1964); Songs From Fiddler On The Roof And 10 Classics Of Jewish Folk Song (Vanguard, 1967); Rosh Hashanah Service (Vanguard, 1969); Art of the Cantor (Vanguard, 1973); Jan Peerce Today—Cantorial Masterpieces (Vanguard, 1982); Across the Generations with Beth Abraham Youth Chorale (1982) [reissued as The Final Recording (Tara Music, 2000)].
Oysher, Moishe, singer, actor, cantor; b. Lipkany, Moldova, March 8, 1907?; d. New York, November 28, 1958.
He followed six generations of cantors, and sang as a child in the synagogue choir of his native village. He also performed as a child actor and singer with local and visiting theatrical troupes. At thirteen he immigrated to Montreal with his mother and sister to join his father, who had gone there many years earlier in search of a livelihood. In 1923 the family moved to New York, and shortly thereafter settled in Philadelphia, where his father served as a cantor. Although Zelig Oysher did not achieve fame, he had a hand in training his son Moishe, whose commanding performances of Jewish music would eventually earn him the title "Master Singer of His People." (Moishe later returned the favor by adopting "Ben Zelig" as a pseudonym under which he wrote some theater pieces.)
Growing up was a struggle that entailed taking many odd jobs, including any Yiddish theater work that he could find. In the latter he was well served by his good looks, charming personality and a beautiful voice which eventually turned into a rich instrument of unusual power, brilliance and warmth, spanning the range of baritone and tenor. His theater engagements became more numerous upon his marriage to the actress Florence Weiss, who toured the United States and South America with him as a singing-acting team. His voice also caught the attention of New York's Yiddish radio station producers, who were eager to showcase his fiery cantorial renditions, as well as the dynamic Oysher-Weiss duo. His radio career was marked by great popularity and longevity ending only with his untimely death. From the 1930's to the 1950's listeners looked forward to his folk songs, art songs, liturgical masterpieces, skits, oratory, charity appeals—as well to as his own commercial announcements and jingles for the program sponsors.
By 1935 he felt ready to offer his cantorial skills to a congregation; he auditioned and was accepted at New York City's venerable First Roumanian-American Congregation, known as "the Cantor's Carnegie Hall." Popular demand for his singing overcame the objections of professional and lay demonstrators who vehemently protested a matinee idol's officiating in a religious capacity. His cantorial credentials were legitimated after he appeared before a rabbinic panel and pledged not to perform as an actor on the Sabbath and Festivals. He continued to lead High Holiday and occasional Sabbath services to great acclaim in other congregations through the late 1940's, and thereafter performed these functions at New York Catskills resort hotels. Throughout this period he continued to appear in Yiddish plays and operettas. He also concertized extensively, entertaining his audiences with anecdotes and song introductions no less than with his singing.
In 1936 he was catapulted to even greater fame upon the release of "The Cantor's Son," the first of three classic Yiddish motion pictures in which he starred along with Florence Weiss. In this quasi-autobiographical drama, as well as in "The Singing Blacksmith" (1938) and "Overture to Glory" (1940) the persona of the real-life Oysher blended well with those of the films' heros. The latter film—based on the true story of a cantor in 19th century Vilna who leaves his pulpit in a tragic quest for a career in opera—was a capstone of Yiddish cinema and the perfect showcase for Oysher's many talents. It was also an authentic depiction of East European synagogue life which was then on the brink of destruction. With the demise of the market for Yiddish films after World War II, he tried his hand in two English-language movies: a cameo singing role in "Song Of Russia" (1943; credited to "Walter Lawrence") and a starring role in "Singing in the Dark" (1956).
In 1943 he signed a contract to sing in the Chicago Opera's production of La Juive and Pagliacci, but a heart-attack prevented him from doing so. Ill health followed him for the rest of his life, but he would not curtail his demanding singing career. Having divorced his first wife, he remarried in 1945. His new wife served as his piano accompanist until he died of a third heart-attack in 1958. Shortly before his death their eleven-year old daughter narrated a long-playing record album, The Moishe Oysher Chanukah Party, whose blend of liturgical, folk, and theatrical selections in Hebrew, Yiddish and English introduced his singing talents and outstanding repertoire to a new generation of Americans. It was the third in a series of recordings featuring English narration: The Moishe Oysher Seder (1956) and Kol Nidre Night with Moishe Oysher (1957). On these albums just as earlier in his career, the theatrical energy of his cantorial renditions and the sparkling orchestral arrangements—including occasional swing passages—breathed new life into a genre whose popularity had waned. Although technically unschooled, his sharp ear for melody, rhythm and style, made him the consummate American Jewish musician of his day—a multimedia star able to bridge the worlds of art and entertainment, synagogue and stage, old country and new world.
Discography: Moishe Oysher Sings; Cantor Moishe Oysher Sings Yiddish; The Moishe Oysher Seder/Kol Nidre Night/Chanukha Party (2-CD set)
Videos: Overture to Glory, (Ergo Media, 1988); The Cantor's Son, (Ergo Media, 1989); The Singing Blacksmith, (Ergo Media, 1992)
Carlebach, Shlomo, songwriter, folksinger, inspirational storyteller; b. Berlin, Jan. 14, 1925; d. New York, Oct. 20, 1994.
His father and forebears were Orthodox rabbis. The family moved from Berlin to Baden, Austria, in 1930; they escaped from the Nazis in 1938 to Lithuania, and arrived in Brooklyn, New York, in 1939. There he continued his high school education and met classmate Ben-Zion Shenker, a fellow aficionado of the music of the Hasidim—whose ecstatic spirituality and moralistic teachings had long appealed to him. Later, to the chagrin of his teachers in the rabbinical academy of Lakewood, New Jersey, he took to composing and performing simple tunes to short Hebrew liturgical phrases in a style reminiscent of Hasidic singing. He was ordained as a rabbi and briefly held a pulpit, but he eschewed the title, instead finding his calling among crowds of young people estranged from their Jewish heritage to whom he was simply "Shlomo." Through the early 1950's he taught his simple but infectious songs—along with his message of love, peace, self-respect, and spiritual connection—in cafes and on college campuses. At first he worked under official rabbinic auspices, but he soon found these to be too restrictive, so he charted an independent course that allowed him to get closer to his audiences and to place greater emphasis on his music-making, for which he learned to accompany himself on the guitar. It was an independent course that lasted thirty years, during which his Neo-Hasidic genre and its offshoots became the most popular form of Jewish music worldwide. His para-liturgical compositions quickly entered the public domain and from there were absorbed into worship services all over the world as "traditional" settings. They exerted a strong influence on the development of synagogue music and they helped to blur the lines between Jewish popular and religious genres.
In 1959 he recorded the first of approximately twenty-five albums—not including the many unauthorized recordings that were produced during and after his lifetime. In all, he recorded only a fraction of his compositions, estimated to total anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000; Carlebach himself was not sure of the number. He seemed to be constantly composing tunes, often extemporaneously right before or during a concert. He would also privately offer settings of a verse from the Psalms or the Prayerbook to individuals in need; these would not be performed in public. In the early 1960's he sang in venues large and small throughout America, as well as in Jerusalem, London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome. In 1963 one of his performances in a Greenwich Village (New York) nightclub was recorded for Vanguard Records, a label that also released a studio album in 1965. His 1966 performance at the Berkeley (California) Folk Festival was a landmark event which broadened Carlebach's conception of his musical mission; two years later he founded in San Francisco a synagogue and homeless shelter called The House of Love and Prayer. There, for a decade, the "Singing Rabbi" tended to the physical and spiritual needs of runaways, drug addicts, and sundry "Flower Children," even as he absorbed some of their dress, manner and free spirit. Concurrently with his activities in California, he inherited the leadership of the New York congregation formerly served by his deceased father, and maintained a world-wide musical ministry through his international concert schedule. He performed wherever there were new hearts to touch: in communes, ashrams, synagogues, concert halls, prisons, and hospitals (including one in which he himself was a heart patient). In 1970 he visited Russia for the first time, uplifting oppressed Soviet Jews with one of his most famous songs, Am Yisrael Chai ("The Jewish People Are Alive"), composed five years earlier as an anthem of hope for activists dedicated to freeing persecuted Jews.
In 1976, a year before closing his San Francisco center, he brought several dozen of its members to a settlement near the biblical city Modi'in (southeast of Tel-Aviv) where a new community of Carlebach's disciples was eventually established. Every year thereafter he would spend a few weeks there. In 1980 he toured the Far East. In 1989 he returned for a 21-day tour of the former Soviet bloc. He maintained his international concert schedule right up to the last year of his life, during which he toured Morocco, Australia, Israel, Germany, Austria, and France.
That Carlebach's inspiring songs filled a Jewish musical and spiritual vacuum of the post-Holocaust years contributed to their rapid acceptance. Their short sequential structure made them easily sung and remembered, and their logical melodic lines tapped into the folk styles of many different traditions -- further advancing their global popularity. Western, Oriental, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, as well as non-Jewish audiences all over the world, found his gently rhythmic melodies strangely familiar upon first hearing. Many of Carlebach's songs lend themselves to endless repetition, and in concerts he would sing them to the point of exhiliration or exhaustion. This might be preceded or followed by a bit of spiritual wisdom or an elaborate and moving story, and the pattern would repeat with the next song. Exchanges between the audience and performer were encouraged, and after the last encore amateur instrumentalists would crowd the stage to jam with the singer or the band.
Although his extensive concertizing earned him considerable money, he did not hold on to it, but gave it away to the needy—sometimes on the trip right after the concert. He similarly neglected his copyrights and the income from recordings and publications, and he died a poor man. His charismatic personality and simple sincerity earned him an immense and devoted following throughout his career, as teenage fans became adult disciples. But after his death his influence grew exponentially. A world-wide fellowship sings his songs, retells his stories, and trades legendary tales about the noble ways of their hero. While his spiritual and musical heirs can be found across the spectrum of Jewish society, his esteem among Orthodox Jews was especially remarkable in the years following his death, when objections to his controversial lifestyle gave way to an appreciation of his formative role in popular Jewish music via his early influence on such Orthodox pop stars as The Rabbi's Sons, The Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Mordechai Ben David, and Avraham Fried.
Bibliography: M. Brandwein, Reb Shlomele (Jerusalem, 1977).
Discography: Haneshomoh Loch (1959); Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Sings Live (1962); Shlomo Carlebach At The Village Gate (Vanguard, 1963); In the Palace Of The King (Vanguard, 1965); I Heard The Wall Singing—Vols. 1–2 (1967); Yisroel B'tach BaHaShem (1974); Ani Maamin (1975); Live in Tel Aviv (1976); Live in England (1978); Days Are Coming (1979); Live In Concert At Brooklyn College (1985); Chai (1985); Nachamu Ami (1990); Shvochin Asader (1992); A Melave Malka In Notting Hill; Open Your Hearts; Sings With The Children Of Israel; Holy Brothers & Sisters; Sweetest Friends; The Gift of Shabbos; Shabbos In Shomayim—The Final Album; The Very Best of Shlomo Carlebach—Vols. 1–2; Greatest Hits Unplugged—Vols. 1–2; Shlomos Greatest Stories—Vols. 1–4.
Shenker, Ben Zion, singer, composer, cantor; b. May 12, 1925, Brooklyn, NY.
As a child he learned European Hasidic melodies from his mother, as well as the cantorial idiom from recordings and occasional live performances by "Golden Age" cantors. At age 12 he joined a choir conducted by Cantor Joshua Weisser, who presented him in radio performances of Jewish music in 1939. At the same time he began studying music theory and composition. In 1940 he attended a religious service led by Rabbi Saul Taub, a Polish Hasidic leader noted for his charismatic devotional songs and wordless melodies, who had recently immigrated to America. The young Shenker fell under his musical and spiritual spell, and would eventually become identified with the collection, transcription, singing, and dissemination of the stirring para-liturgical melodies known as nigunim (sing. nigun). He would also play an important role in preserving the inspirational stories surrounding their composition.
In 1956 he formed the Neginah record label in order to produce the first commercial recordings of authentic Hasidic nigunim. His light tenor voice with its distinctive timbre was featured on all of the solos, which were accompanied by a professionally arranged male chorus singing the Hebrew texts as well as the characteristic Hasidic vocables. While the melodies he recorded all hailed from the "Modzitzer" Hasidic tradition—named after the European hometown (near Lublin) of Rabbi Taub's forebears—the importance of his project and the influence of his singing reached far beyond this small Jewish community. Other, larger, groups of Hasidim who had settled in Brooklyn following World War II (e.g. the Lubavitcher, Gerer, Bobover) soon emulated Shenker's Modzitzer recordings, and made similar documents of their own musical heritages. In 1953 Shenker was named the High Holy Days cantor of the small Modzitzer congregation in Brooklyn, NY, a position which he continues to hold. He also officiates there on occasional Sabbaths throughout the year. Since he rarely performs in concert, aficonados of Hasidic singing often visit his congregation in the hopes of hearing his singing.
Besides introducing Shenker to the riches of the Modzitzer repertoire, Rabbi Taub had also encouraged him to compose his own songs. He followed the rabbi's advice, and eventually wrote over 400 original nigunim. These include settings of Mizmor Ledavid (Psalm 23, comp. 1946) and Eyshet Chayil (Proverbs 31, comp. 1952), two Sabbath songs which became international Jewish "standards" shortly after he recorded them in 1960. His nigunim followed the traditional European Hasidic style, and so stood apart from the American-influenced neo-Hasidic songs composed by his contemporary Shlomo Carlebach, who was also inspired by the music and teachings of Rabbi Taub. In their separate ways, Shenker and Carlebach were the two most important conduits for preserving and spreading a nearly-lost European musical tradition, and served as models for countless performers and composers of Hasidic music.
Discography: Mevaser Tov (Aderet, 1995); Shenker's earlier solo albums have been reissued on CD as Ben Zion's Timeless Treasures, Vols. 1–2 (Aderet, 1997). All of the Modzitzer albums have been reissued on CD as Modzitz Chai Vols. 1–4 (Aderet, 2002)
Mizrahi, Alberto, world famous cantor, operatic tenor; b. Athens, Feb. 6, 1948.
He had little exposure to Jewish traditions in his native Greece. Shortly after his family immigrated to Cleveland in 1956, that city's community helped to fund his elementary and high school Jewish education. His musical education included studies at the Chicago Conservatory of Music (1965-1966), the Cincinnati Conservatory (1976-1978), and the Juilliard School's American Opera Center (1979-1981). Concurrently, he prepared for a cantorial career at the Jewish Theological Seminary's Cantors Institute in New York (1966-1970), and continued his studies with Moshe Ganchoff, a past master of the cantorial arts who was his mentor for twenty-five years. From 1970 to 1990 he served as the cantor of major congregations in Albany, Cincinnati, White Plains (NY), La Jolla (CA) and Cleveland. In addition, from 1980 to 1990 Mizrahi also made significant strides towards an illustrious career in opera and classical singing. He was a finalist in the first Luciano Pavarotti Voice Competition in Philadelphia, and in 1988 he understudied Pavarotti for the Miami Opera. He sang numerous operatic roles for major American companies and appeared as the tenor soloist with several American symphony orchestras. He also sang operatic concerts in Budapest, Melbourne, Sydney, London and Jerusalem.
In 1990 Mizrahi moved to Chicago to become the cantor of its historic Anshe Emet Synagogue. Since then he has devoted most of his energies to a celebrated career in many facets of Jewish music, his superb tenor voice and experience as an opera singer earning him the sobriquet "The Pavarotti of Jewish Music." He developed an individual cantorial style which is based on the East-European Ashkenazic singing and repertoire of such Golden Age cantors as Yossele Rosenblatt and Mordechai Hershman, but is augmented by motives and vocal techniques from the Sephardic and Middle Eastern heritages. His recital repertoire spans nine languages, and includes classical and cantorial masterpieces as well as folk, theatre and popular songs.
His very busy concert and recording career takes him to important halls all over the world, and he is in great demand to sing major compositions. Among many such works, he has sung the following world premieres: Yehezkiel Braun's Hallel Oratorio (Haifa Symphony, 1991), Samuel Adler's Ever Since Babylon (1992), Andre Hajdu's Dreams of Spain (1992), Paul Schonfeld's Klezmer Rondos (New York Philharmonic, 1995) and Thomas Beveridge's Yizkor Requiem (Kennedy Center, 1996). He has appeared as a featured soloist in many important festivals of Jewish music, including London, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, Krakow, Toronto, Chicago and New York.
In 1999 two other classically trained masters of Sephardic folk and liturgical music, Aaron Bensoussan (Toronto) and Gerard Edery (NY)—both of Moroccan descent—joined with him to form "The Sons of Sepharad." The consort performs a blend of songs in the tradition that hails from the Golden Age of Spain, singing in Ladino, Hebrew, English, Arabic, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian—including new songs they have composed in the genre. In 2002 they released their first recording, compiled from live performances around the world. In 2000 he assembled nine accomplished Chicago-area musicians to create "Titiko," a cross-cultural fusion band that backs him up in traditional as well as jazz and New Age arrangements of music from around the Middle East and Israel. In addition to exploring a greater range of the World music repertoire with the band, Mizrahi pays homage to his native Greece by singing a number of Hebrew arrangements of songs by popular Greek singer Nikos Gounaris.
Among Mizrahi's many recordings, the two volumes of Chants Mystiques (1998, 2002) are notable for tracing the development of Jewish music from its earliest extant written piece (12th century) through the 20th century. In 2000 he collaborated with songwriter Craig Taubman and others to create One Shabbat Morning, a contemporary-styled synagogue service that is infused with the sounds of the traditional Jewish prayer modes. He gives lectures on the development of Jewish music, has served on the boards of several organizations dedicated to the preservation of Jewish music, and has recorded extensively for the Milken Archive, a major project that will comprise the largest collection of American Jewish music ever assembled.
His command of various traditions in the cantorial arts, Hebrew and Yiddish song, Ladino folk and art song, and secular works from the song and operatic repertoire have established Alberto Mizrahi as one of today's most important Jewish voices.
Discography: Live with Selah (1985); The Voice of a People (1986); Love Songs of the Yiddish Theater (Opus Magica, 1990); Yizkor Requiem (Naxos, 1998); The High Holy Days with Schola Hebraica (Tara, 1995); Festival Delight (Tara, 1996); Birthday of the World (Western Wind Records, 1996); Die Stimme Der Synagoge (Widder Musik Produktions, 1998); Chants Mystiques (Opus Magica, 1998); An Hour in the Garden of Eden (Boston Zamir, 1998); A Taste of Eternity (Western Wind Records, 1999); Songs for Jerusalem (Opus Magica, 2000); Sons of Sepharad (Sepharad Records, 2002); One Shabbat Morning (Sweet Louise Music, 2002); Chants Mystiques: Encore (Opus Magica, 2003); Milken Archive of Jewish Music (various, to be released).
Fried, Avraham (born Avrohom Friedman), popular concert and recording artist; b. Brooklyn, NY, Mar. 22, 1959.
He was raised in a Hasidic home in which family singing of nigunim (para-liturgical Hebrew songs), as well as listening to cantorial recordings, was encouraged. He was a featured soloist in a number of children's choir recordings and concerts, but did little public performing before the release of his first recording, No Jew Will Be Left Behind, in 1980. Closely attached to the teachings and mission of the Lubavitch Hasidic community, Fried's goal in making this recording was to edify his listeners and instill in them feelings of religious optimism. With the release of a new album each year for over two decades, his original didactic goals brought him great fame in the Orthodox Jewish community as a charismatic "Hasidic Pop" singer. Nevertheless, spiritual and physical healing have remained important themes in his performances, and he is a frequent headliner for large-scale benefit concerts on behalf of health-related charities.
Subsequent albums followed the format of the first recording. Most of them include several up-tempo settings of short Hebrew prayer-texts, a few "easy-listening" style settings, a cantorial-style piece, plus one or two moralistic or narrative English songs (sometimes based on Hasidic stories or parables) often providing the album's title. Fried sings in a highly-charged prayerful tone, and occasionally intersperses melismatic cantorial breaks within the rhythmic songs. The arrangements borrow from a variety of rock, disco, reggae and swing dance styles, and are orchestrated in a modified "big-band" sound—a format popularized in the late 1970's by singer Mordechai Ben David.
He worked with such songwriters as Yossi Green and Moshe Laufer (Fried rarely performs his own compositions) to expand the range of lyrics that fall under the "Hasidic" rubric, going beyond the familiar passages from the siddur (Jewish prayerbook). In addition to imaginative verse in English, he has used lesser-known liturgical and biblical passages, Talmudic citations, as well as Kabbalistic and Rabbinic texts. While Fried's earlier albums included occasional songs in Yiddish, his two volumes of Yiddish Gems (1990 and 1992) were devoted entirely to the moralistic songs of Yom Tov Ehrlich, a Brooklyn Yiddish bard whose many recordings, privately-made in the 1950's and 1960's, were not widely circulated. His 1996 recording Hupp Cossack marked a return to the Eastern European roots of Hasidic music; all of the songs are reinterpretations and re-arrangements of Lubavitcher nigunim first recorded in the 1950's and 1960's. Fried's best-selling 1998 recording Chazak was a blend of the older and newer Hasidic styles, while his Niggun of Baal Shem Tov (1999) again returned to the classics, to honor the 300th birthday of the founder of Hasidism.
His concert career has taken him to many countries, from a 1983 concert at the Kremlin to a 1997 festival in Berlin. Fried, more than any other American Hasidic singing star, has cultivated a following in Israel that extends beyond Hasidic or Orthodox fans. In 1990 he filled Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, accompanied by the 100-piece Prague Symphony Orchestra; a 1994 concert in Jerusalem's Sacher Park drew 120,000 fans. He has recorded colloquial Hebrew versions of his two Yiddish Gems albums, and in 2002 he released a single, Aleh Katan, that reached the top of the secular Israeli music charts. He has become the most successful recording artist in the Orthodox Jewish community and has helped to define its favorite music genre for other entertainers like The Miami Boys Choir, Michoel Streicher, Dedi, Yisroel Williger, Shloime Dachs, and Shalsheles.
Discography: [all CD's on "Aderet" label] No Jew Will Be Left Behind (1980); The Time Is Now (1981); Forever One (1982); Goodbye Golus (1983); Melave Malka (1984); We Are Ready (1985); Around The Year II (1986); Aderaba (1987); Around The Year III (1988); Shtar Hatnoim (1989); Yiddish Gems—Vol. 1 (1990); All The Best (1991); Yiddish Gems—Vol. 2 (1992); Im Eshkochaich (1993); Brocho V'hatzlocho (1995); Hupp Cossack (1996); Good Old Days (1996); Chazak (1998); Niggun of Baal Shem Tov (1999); My Fellow Jew (2001); Avinu Malkeinu (2002)
Videography: Live Concert with the Prague Symphony (1990); Ohel Benefit Concert (1995); Chazak Benefit Concert (2002)