Denied by the Daughters of the American Revolution the opportunity to sing at their Constitution Hall in segregated Washington, D.C., Marian Anderson gave an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial on this date in 1939. The event was arranged by her Jewish manager, Sol Hurok, with the backing of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who resigned from the DAR in protest), Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and Walter White, president of the NAACP. An audience of 75,000 (including 10-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr.) attended, and the concert was nationally broadcast. Anderson, by then a world-renowned contralto, had previously been subjected to racial discrimination, including in Princeton, New Jersey, where she was turned away from hotel accommodations during a concert tour in 1937 — and ended up being hosted by Albert Einstein, who became her fast friend. To see her singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (after an introduction by Harold Ickes), see below.
Hurok “understood that booking Constitution Hall was a matter of toppling centuries of oppression in Washington, DC, and he enlisted the help of the city’s two most experienced civil rights leaders: NAACP President Walter White and Howard University professor Charles Cohen. While Hurok gradually created inroads with the DAR, White and Cohen planned the Anderson camp’s response to the eventual refusal, from courting alternative concert venues to contacting Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes about the concert. In January 1939, Hurok finally revealed to the DAR his goal for Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, but the management of the hall denied the booking.” —Persephone Magazine
Serge Gainsbourg (Lucien Ginsburg), a singer, songwriter, and actor/director with an international following, was born to Ukrainian refugee Jews in Paris on this date in 1928. His family survived the Nazi occupation of France in Limoges, an unoccupied city (administered by the Vichy government). Gainsbourg made his mark as a bad-boy/dirty old man songwriter in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, working in many musical genres. His songs were often filled with sexual innuendo, and were recorded by, among others, Brigitte Bardot, Petula Clark, Catherine Deneuve, Marianne Faithful, and his long-time lover, Jane Birkin, with whom he had a daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. The 1975 album, Rock Around the Bunker, focused on the Nazism of Gainsbourg’s childhood. He also wrote soundtracks for forty films and directed four. His reputation became exalted in France as well as the English-speaking world after his death in 1991. To see him singing his song about Brigitte Bardot, click below.
“He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire . . . He elevated the song to the level of art.” —President François Mitterand
Israeli pop star Dana International was born on this date in 1972. She released her first album in 1993, the year in which she had sex reassignment surgery and transitioned from being Yaron Cohen to being Sharon Cohen. Of Yemenite and Romanian Jewish ancestry, Dana International has recorded eight albums and three compilation recordings and was the winner of the 1998 Eurovision song competition — though her victory horrified ultra-Orthodox authorities in Israel. Before her sex change, Cohen earned a living as Israel’s first famous drag queen, parodying well-known divas. To see her singing an English version of her best-known song, “Viva la Diva,” click below.
“I’m standing for a liberal Israel, an Israel which accepts the human being no matter how you are, no matter how you look like and no matter what sex or race you are.” —Dana International
Simon & Garfunkel released their second album, Sounds of Silence, on this date in 1966, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on this date in 1990. The duo grew up in Kew Gardens, Queens, and met in an elementary school production of Alice in Wonderland (Paul Simon played the White Rabbit, Art Garfunkel the Cheshire Cat). They had been performing together on and off since 1955. The album included their hit song, “The Sound of Silence,” as well as “Richard Corey” and “I Am a Rock” — a total of 11 songs in all, 10 of which were written by Paul Simon. As a duo, they brought elements of folk music, whimsy, and pop rock into soul-searching, literary, original songs that skirted “bubblegum music” and sold millions of records. Paul Simon’s musical genius, however, ultimately eclipsed Art Garfunkel’s vocal and arranging contributions and burst into a solo career after their acclaimed 1970 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water. “Many songs, I was a silvery edge around Paul Simon’s coffee-brown lead front part,” Garfunkel told Esquire in 2011. “. . . I don’t care if it’s seven-eighths Paul and one-eighth Arthur. Look how the silvery edge makes the record work.”
“Many people portray the Sixties in a caricatured way. They don’t get how healthy the Sixties were. What a bust-out of spirit in America. How vital! How wonderfully questioning! They don’t get that. They just go to the daisies.”—Art Garfunkel
JEWDAYO ROCKS! Susanna Hoffs, guitarist and vocalist with the Bangles, born on this date in 1959. To see them performing Simon & Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter (she’s at the center microphone), see below.
Music composer, educator and writer Elie Siegmeister was born in Harlem on this date in 1909. The creator of nine operas and nine symphonies, as well as ballets, chamber works, and over 100 songs, Siegmeister was also the inspiring teacher of numerous composers at Hofstra University, where he was composer-in-residence for a decade and organized [...]
This past weekend, I went to the Taste of Limmud event at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I went to school in Park Slope from kindergarten through 12th grade, and Beth Elohim even hosted my high school graduation — not because I went to a Jewish school, but because it is one of [...]
Louis Gottlieb, bass player and comic lead of the Limelighters, a folk trio that included Alex Hassilev on banjo and Glen Yarbrough on guitar, was born on this date in 1923. Gottlieb was a Ph.D. musicologist (he studied with Arnold Schoenberg) working as an arranger for the Kingston Trio when he met his bandmates in [...]
British musician Amy Winehouse, whose fast-rising career was derailed by alcohol abuse and mental disorder that culminated in her death at 28 in 2011, was born in London on this date in 1983. Winehouse had a powerful contralto voice, a knack for mixing rhythm and blues, jazz, soul-singing, and girl-group music, a tattooed body and [...]
A stroke on this date in 1996 abruptly ended the 65-year singing career of Mel Torme, whose Russian Jewish immigrant parents had their name changed from Torma to Torme, missing only the accent, at Ellis Island. Born in 1925, Tormé was a musical prodigy: he first sang professionally at age 4, played drums in his [...]
One of the most original vocalists and songwriters of the 1970s, Phoebe Snow (Phoebe Ann Laub), was born in New York on this date in 1950. Her 1974 eponymous album sold over a million copies, but her career was sidelined by the birth of a severely disabled daughter the following year, whom she valiantly kept [...]