The Secret Musical History of Black Jewish Relations

A couple weeks ago we received a call from our distributor letting us know that they will be releasing an album that we will love. The album was being put out by The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation and is called, “Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History of Black Jewish Relations”. We had no idea that Billie Holiday, our favorite artist of all time, recorded a Yiddish song, or that Johnny Mathis got down with traditional Yom Kippur jams.

For you all to really get a sense of it, you will have to read an excerpt from the booklet that accompanies the CD. The following text is written about “Where Can I Go?” a song recorded by the famed Marlena Shaw – here goes: “In the late 40s, Yiddish song king Leo Fuld heard a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto singing “Vu Ahin Zol Ikh Geyn?” in a Paris nightclub. Fuld translated the song’s mournful but defiant post-Holocaust desire for a ”precious promised land” into English and recorded it for Decca. But when the song took hold in the U.S. (Fuld sang it on The Milton Berle Show and The Perry Como Show), it also resonated as a Black civil rights anthem, its questions— Tell me, where can I go? There’s no place I can see, Where to go, where to go? Every door is closed to me—resonant with Black struggles for racial justice. As Fuld quickly learned, “Where Can I Go?’ was not a just a Jewish question, but a Black one, reviving age-old connections between Blacks and Jews as brothers and sisters in exile and Diaspora. “Black is beautiful,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Jewish is Manischewitz wine.” Ray Charles recorded it in the high impact year of 1963, the same year that witnessed the murder of Medgar Evers, the March on Washington, and the bombing of the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, when Black Americans were questioning—with perhaps greater force than ever before—their security in the failed promised land. “No more wanderin’ for me,” the song went, “For at last I am free.” Jazz and soul singer Marlena Shaw brought the song back into circulation six years later on her politically riled up second album for Cadet (the jazz imprint of Chess Records), melting it down into a pool of biting, slow fuzzed-out funk. She completes the song’s journey from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Black ghettoes of the U.S and firmly embeds it in the Black civil rights songbook, singing it alongside “Woman of the Ghetto,” “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free),” “California Soul,” and “Liberation Conversation.”

click to view the full track listing:
My Yiddishe Momme- Billie Holiday
Utt Da Zay-Cab Calloway
That Old Black Magic-Johnny Hartman
Baby Baby- Libby Holman & Josh White
Ich Hob Dich Tzufil Lieba- Alberta Hunter
Sholem- Eartha Kitt
Where Can I Go?- Marlena Shaw
Exodus- Jimmy Scott
Sabbath Prayer- Cannonball Adderley
Swanee- Aretha Franklin
Now!- Lena Horne
Dunkin Bagels- Slim Gaillard
Eretz Zavat Chalav- Nina Simone
Fiddler on the Roof Medley- The Temptations
Kol Nidre- Johnny Mathis


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