Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Different Kind of Black Sabbath...

A different kind of black sabbath! Can't wait to play this cd, esp the Temptations doing fiddler on the roof medley!
My Black Sabbath CD pack!

It's no surprise to my friends that one of my all time favourite museums in San Francisco is the Contemporary Jewish Museum.  I've spoken about my love for their exhibitions and their design on numerous occasions but if you want a recap you can visit some posts here and  here.

Naturally we visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum while we were in San Francisco last time and I just had to share an exhibition that they have on at the moment called Black Sabbath.  The exhibition explores the relationship between Black and Jewish music and the history of it.  I adored the set up of the exhibition with a series of cafe tables and chairs, where you could sit down, read over a menu and then pop some headphones on and enjoy the playlists.  I loved the music so much that I even bought the accompanying CD! I could of spent hours watching videos and listening to music in there.  It was also fun to people watch others grooving along with headphones on too!

Black sabbath exhibition
The set up for the exhibition Black Sabbath in the gallery.

I guess I had never really thought about the relationship between Black and Jewish music so this exhibition was an education with me.  To give you some background, here is some information from the exhibition about the musicians and themes used.

Beginning in the 1930s, the song “Eli Eli”—based on King David’s lament in the 22nd Psalm—became a staple for left-leaning progressives like Paul Robeson and a must-cover for Black artists like Duke Ellington and Ethel Waters. For Waters, the song spoke to a history of shared suffering. “It tells the tragic history of the Jews as much as one song can,” she said, “and that history of their age-old grief and despair is so similar to that of my own people that I felt I was telling the story of my own race too.”

Friendship and working relationships with Jews were the inspiration for several forays by Black artists into Yiddish jive. Cab Calloway was probably the best-known “Afro-Yiddishist,” mixing his own hepcat jive tongue-twisting with a constant flow of swinging Yiddishisms and spoofs on cantorial pyrotechnics with songs like the 1939 “Utt Da Zay.” Calloway’s exposure to both Yiddish and the rhythms of Jewish prayer were a result of his close friendship with his Odessa-born Jewish manager Irving Mills.

By the 60s, artists like jazz and soul singer Marlena Shaw found particular resonance between post-Holocaust Jewish songs that expressed the desire for a promised land and the civil rights movement. Shaw proved that the question posed in Yiddish song king Leo Fuld’s “Where Can I Go?” / “Vu Ahin Zol Ikn Geyn?” (based on a song Fuld heard performed by a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto) was not just a Jewish question, but also a Black one.

The Oscar-winning theme to the movie Exodus about the founding of Israel was covered by scores of Black artists–Jimmy Scott, Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton–who often saw the birth of Israel as a victory for the oppressed. Lena Horne’s incisive 1963 rant against civil rights abuses “Now!” was composed to the otherwise joyous tune of “Hava Nagila.” Old Testament stories were reborn as black spirituals as well.

The eight year (1964-1972) Broadway run of Fiddler on the Roof turned the show’s music into a must-cover songbook for just about everyone with a record deal. The jazz saxophone legend Cannonball Adderley re-imagined the whole Fiddler opus as swinging jazz instrumentals in 1964. The Temptations created a Fiddler medley in 1969 that was part gospel, part funk and part jazz. Songs of shtetl nostalgia had become American pop standards with room for everybody.
(taken from the Contemporary Jewish Museum website)


And I just had to share my all time favourite song from the exhibition and CD, the Temptations performing a medley from Fiddler on the Roof.  There is some footage of this performance on Youtube, however it is not very good quality, so you will just have to sit back and listen!  Or you can always get up and groove along like I do!

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