There are countless Jewish artists who impressed, mesmerized, inspired and entertained the world, and still do, including superstars like the late Leonard Cohen. Some Jewish musicians and entertainers left big footprints on this planet before they passed away, others are still working on theirs.
In some cases, the Jewish aspect is obvious. Steven Spielberg is a good example here. So is Barbra Streisand. In other cases, many fans do not even know their favorite musician is a Jew. Only few Jewish artists are overly religious. Some make a point of promoting Jewish culture, others try hard not to. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, for instance, did not really touch Judaism in their art, while the late Ofra Haza did.
These are ten Jewish artists who continue to inspire people. Some are more famous and some less. Some continue mesmerizing us with their tunes or performances, even though they are not alive anymore, others will be on stage tonight. Many more could (and should) be part of this list.
Ben Sidran: ‘American Success Story’ in Europe
Looking through his albums is almost like looking through all music genres there are on this planet. Ben Sidran, a Jewish multi talent from Chicago, has done it all. He has recorded Contemporary Jazz and Vocal Jazz tunes, Fusion and even Jazz-Funk in the late 1970s. In between, he metamorphosed into the singer/songwriter type who would deliver message songs which belong into the Folk drawer.
Sidran may not be religious, as he pointed out in at least one interview he did decades ago, but he did transport Jewish culture and history to his fan base by recording ‘Life is a Lesson’, an album dedicated to traditional Israeli songs, partially sung in Hebrew with thick American accents. Ben Sidran himself sang some tunes on this one. He seems to have invited all Jewish colleagues he knew to take part in the recording. Plus he found a Shofar player to join. Ben Sidran will be touring Europe this fall. He is scheduled to hit stages in the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy and Belgium in November. His detailed touring schedule can be accessed here. Sidran’s “American success story” mainly took place in Europe. This is the kind of thing several Jazz colleagues from the U.S. have experienced, and still do.
Djamchid Sisters: Siblings and Good Friends
A Folk and Pop music duet run by siblings? Meet the Djamchid Sisters. Eden and Shay-Li accompany their songs sung in Hebrew with a cello and a guitar. In 2016, they released their first album and started touring Israel. They also performed in Poland. When they perform or record, they often hire fellow musicians in order to achieve what they call a “full sound”. Simultaneously, they work in regular jobs. It is not like Israel is the largest country in the world with a million venues in just as many cities where they could perform.
The sisters’ smooth voices and the way they write and play songs make them a contemporary Pop and Folk act. They are unique. Nobody sounds like the Djamchid Sisters. The blend and style they developed makes their sound special. In this list, the Djamchid Sisters stand for an entire generation of young Israeli musicians.
Funk’N’Stein: The Most Funky Jews Ever
There are groups of the kind we do not see, meat or hear every day. Those include Israeli Funk bands. In the predominantly Jewish state, at least Funk’N’Stein keep on delivering the Funk. Funk is their thing, their message, even their religion. They do convey a message of peace and diversity too, but they are doing so through the Funk. There is clean Funk with expensive arrangements. Earth, Wind & Fire is an excellent example. And there is the cool approach of James Brown, but also Funkadelic, Parliament and others. This is the direction Funk’N’Stein is taking. The coolness is just as important as the music.
The eight-member band was founded in 2006. They performed at every single club in their home country and released two albums. But Funk’N’Stein also carried their message and the Funk abroad and they were seen promoting love, peace and Funk on television. They are the most funky Jews ever. Amen.
Neil Diamond: The Perfect Son-in-Law
Neil Diamond was idolized in the 1970s and 80s, when he celebrated his biggest successes with songs like ‘Sweet Caroline’, ‘Beautiful Noise’ or ‘Song Sung Blue’, but also in the past three decades. During his concerts, his fans kept on shouting for more. ‘Hot August Night’, a gig he played ten times at The Greek venue in Los Angeles, was recorded and put on an album. It sold like hot bagels. “It captures a very special show for me”, Diamond said afterwards. “We went all out to really knock ’em dead in L.A..” They did. And they repeated that ‘Hot August Night’ decades later.
Neil Diamond, who is 78 today, is the guy who first turned down an offer from Quentin Tarantino. The director wanted to use his song ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ for the motion picture ‘Pulp Fiction’. His manager convinced Diamond, who must have been the perfect son-in-law a few decades ago, to agree anyway. Neil Diamond is the guy with that phenomenal voice who announced he would stop touring for good when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease last year. With more than 100 million albums sold, Neil Diamond may be the most successful Jewish musician of all time. In certain circles, his music may not have been ‘hip’. But his millions of fans around the globe never gave a damn.
Hans Rosenthal: The ‘Good Jew’
The late Hans Rosenthal was one of the most popular TV hosts in West Germany during the 1970s. His show ‘Dalli Dalli’ was something like a blockbuster. Germans who were not able to talk about the show at the office the next morning were in trouble. But far more interesting than the show itself was the man who hosted it. Hans Rosenthal was a Jew German TV viewers accepted and liked. He was their ‘good Jew’ during a time when Germany was not that good at coming to terms with its terrible history yet.
Rosenthal was a true Berliner. He was born in Berlin in 1925 and died in West Berlin in 1987 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. While he lost the battle against the cancer, he won the one against the Nazis, by surviving the Holocaust in hiding places. A radio show on RIAS radio made him famous. He presented the “Sounding Sunday Quiz” a thousand times before he moved up to prime time TV. A public swimming pool in Berlin was named after Hans Rosenthal who presented all of his shows in a very good mood. “Das war spitze!” (“That was awesome!”) was his favorite line. Whenever he shouted it, he jumped in the air. The TV show itself may not have been too awesome, but Hans Rosenthal saved it with his personality and talent.
Sarah Silverman: The Jew Without Inhibitions
Sarah Silverman is a unique personality, comedian and activist. In her stand up comedy performances and during TV appearances, she has provoked many people, for instance by talking about taboos, and made countless audiences laugh. When she started her career, nobody expected a young, stunningly beautiful lady like her to talk about sex and similar subjects the way she does or to curse like a sailor. As a writer and performer at ‘Saturday Night Live’, she built up a big fan base in North America. “Fucking Matt Damon” was a Youtube hit she had in 2008. She sang it with Matt Damon himself.
In 2010, her autobiography ‘The Bedwetter’ revealed that she went through personal issues including depression, addiction to medication she took at that time, bed wetting as a teenager and more. As an activist, she has fought for the Democrats in the U.S. many times. On top of it all, Sarah Silverman is also an actress who has participated in several TV series and motion pictures such as ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’. She is 48.
Don Rickles: The Funniest Jew Ever
Nobody was safe whenever Don Rickles, also known as ‘Mr. Warmth’, made landfall. He insulted his good friend Frank Sinatra, show hosts like Johnny Carson, his audiences in Las Vegas, where he performed for more than 50 years without interruption, and President Ronald Reagan. Apart from his role as an ‘insult comedian’, he played in motion pictures. In Martin Scorsese’s ‘Casino’, he was pit boss Billy Sherbert and acted alongside Robert De Niro. Even during the filming, he told De Niro to remember his lines and to stop the “method acting bullshit”, so that the two could finish the take and “get out of here.”
At the ‘AFI Life Achievement Award’ ceremony, he insulted Scorsese. “Forty million jobs in show biz and I got a midget to direct me”. He also told him this, in front of the entire country: “Marty, you are the most annoying director I have ever worked with.” On another occasion, he gave it to Jerry Seinfeld: “Talking to him is like being alone.” During his many appearances on ‘The Late Show’ with David Letterman, he insulted everybody available, including ‘Late Show Band’ leader Paul Shaffer, after engaging him in a conversation: “Shut up, Paul.” Letterman himself got a lot of ‘warmth’ too: “There are lots of clinics in New York, Dave.” Don Rickles was always unique, and still is, two and a half years after his passing. He always will be. The world recently lost the funniest Jew ever.
Arik Brauer: The Multi Talent
If the word ‘multi-talent’ did not exist it would have to be invented for Arik Bauer who turned 90 this year. He is an Austrian singer/songwriter, painter, poet and production designer. On top of it all, he has political opinions not everyone agrees with. A recent statement according to which the Arab antisemitism in Europe is more dangerous to the Jews that the antisemitism from the far right was criticized by some in the community as well. Arik Brauer also has his own opinion regarding the way Austria should deal with the far-right party FPÖ. “This party exists and is being supported by part of the population”, he recently said in an interview with the Austrian ‘Der Standard’ daily. “To reject them and to be on the side of the just is wonderful, but it does not lead anywhere.” Brauer even wanted to include that party in a commemoration at the former concentration camp Mauthausen.
Arik Brauer was born in Vienna in 1929. His youth was cut short when the Nazis took power. His father died in a concentration camp, he survived by staying in hiding. Once the Allies had defeated fascism, he became a convinced communist. This was something he later regretted, saying he had fallen for it “because of those bonfires and the pretty girls.” He studied at Vienna’s Academy of Arts. Later he switched to the Vienna Music School. Soon, he would develop his own painting style because of which he was compared to his fellow painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser. In 1971, Arik Brauer released his self-titled debut album with folk songs sung in this cute Viennese dialect. Also he took a three-year bicycle trip through Europe and Africa. Brauer married in Israel, where he was part of a Folk duet with his wife. And he designed opera stages. At the age of 90, he is still active today,
Jay Beckenstein: Co-Inventor of Fusion
Sixty-eight years ago, Jay Beckenstein was born into a Jewish family in New York in which music had a high priority. His mother was an opera singer and his father a Jazz record collector who would play Charlie Parker on his stereo all weekend long. Interestingly enough, Jay Beckenstein’s style as a saxophone player is a lot smoother. He started playing the piano at age 5 and the sax at 7.
Later, the instrumentalist and composer co-founded what became one of the most brilliant Fusion groups of all time, namely Spyro Gyra, with whom he is still touring the world and recording albums. On op of it all, he released solo albums and played with many fellow artists. To many, Jay Beckenstein plays the smoothest, most beautiful saxophone sounds ever.
Chava Alberstein: The Living Legend
Born in Poland in 1947, Chava Alberstein made Aliyah with her parents in 1950. After appearing on two stages with her smooth voice and a guitar, she got a record contract because of her convincing performance. When she joined the Israeli armed forces in 1965, she became even more famous while singing for the troops. Since, the composer, arranger, guitarist and vocalist has sung her tunes in Hebrew, English and Yiddish for decades. Up to now, Chava Alberstein has recorded as many as 62 albums. It is safe to say that she is one of the most famous Israeli singers. She has also composed music for Israeli motion pictures. In this incomplete list she stands for many other colleagues who mesmerized their listeners in the past decades.
Yasmin Levy: The Brilliant Vocalist
The eleventh out of these ten Jewish artists is a very special performer by the name of Yasmin Levy. She sings in Spanish, Hebrew and Ladino, an almost forgotten language spoken among Sephardic Jews. Yasmin Levy’s late father, Yitzhak Isaac Levy, researched Ladino music. She stepped into his footsteps. Yasmin Levy’s ballads incorporate a number of styles, including Flamenco, Chanson and various Middle Eastern sounds. The World Music star received several deserved prizes for her work. Read more about Yasmin Levy here.