Black Artists Take On Jewish Songs for Black Sabbath

The new Black Sabbath CD is not the latest offering from the godfathers of heavy metal, it is the first compilation of black artists covering Jewish songs.

Focusing on the 1930s through the 1960s, it uses popular music to shed light on the historical, political, spiritual, economic, and cultural connections between African Americans and Jewish Americans.

Featuring Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, and many others, Black Sabbath explores the myriad ways that Jews and African-Americans have coalesced and clashed, struggled against each other and struggled alongside each other. This is the soundtrack to a rarely told American story. The CD, produced by the Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation, is set for September 14, 2010 release.

This is the first attempt to gather the U.S. history of Black�Jewish relations into a selective pop musical guide. The relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americans has long been a reliable subject of rigorous attention. Books and articles focusing on the musical landscapes shared by Blacks and Jews have been equally numerous, indeed most general histories of American Popular Music even turn on the synergies of Black-Jewish creativity, influence, and exchange, be it African-American spirituals, Tin Pan Alley, Klezmer, the Yiddish theater, jazz or R&B.

Yet for all this attention there has yet to be a one-stop musical source of evidence and exploration, a single CD release that succinctly and selectively gathers together some of the key songs that speak to the vibrant and often dazzling musical back-and-forth between the two communities. The Black Sabbath collection samples a century's worth of extraordinary and fascinating musical performance that finds African-Americans performing Jewish music and appealing to Jewish audiences.

After hearing the compilation, legendary jazz singer Jimmy Scott, whose version of "Exodus" is featured, had this to say: ""A wonderful musical composition by our Isrealite brotherhood. Well done and all that jazz!"

The CD moves from early black performers like Slim Galliard singing about bagels gefilte fish, and pickled herring (in a self-penned song) and Cab Calloway mixing Yiddish into his hepcat dictionary of jive to Billie Holiday singing "My Yiddishe Momme" and Aretha Franklin doing a '60s take on the early blackface hit for Al Jolson, "Swanee." Indeed, while much scholarly and media ink has been devoted to the Jewish attraction to Black music, this anthology � while surely demonstrating that � focuses instead on the long history of African-American interest in Jewish musical practice, performance, and composition.

The Idelsohn Society was so inspired and astonished by the Johnny Mathis version of "Kol Nidre" that they tracked the crooner down and interviewed him about his motivations for recording one of the most beautiful and sacred pieces of the Jewish canon.

"When I was growing up in San Francisco as a teenager, I would visit temple with some of my Jewish friends and I loved to listen to the cantors," says Johnny Mathis, whose version of "Kol Nidre" is featured on the compilation. "They helped me learn these songs long before I recorded them." Paul Robeson, no stranger to either repertoire, put it this way: "If it had been true that the Jewish people, like so many other national groups for whom I have sung, have warmly understood the loved songs of my people, it has also been true that Negro audiences have been moved by the songs of the Jewish people."

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