This article first appeared in The Times of Israel.
If you think you know what a Yiddish singing star looks like, think again. The new, hot name in the world of Yiddish musical performance is Anthony Russell, and he’s a 33-year-old, 6’1’’ African-American hipster from Oakland, California.
Russell, whose full stage name is Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, is a Jew by choice, an opera singer by training, and a Yiddish singer by calling. Proving that you don’t need to have roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe to connect deeply with mammeloshen, Russell is quickly gaining notice for his expressive interpretation of Yiddish folk songs and Hassidic niggunim (wordless melodies).
In a conversation with The Times of Israel at a San Francisco café, Russell good-naturedly admitted to a few drawbacks to his lack of an Ashkenazi background. For instance, his patter with audiences ends up a bit atypical. He can throw around a few Yiddish phrases, but “I won’t be getting up on stage and telling stories about my bubbe,” he said. “She didn’t speak Yiddish.”
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.