When Holocaust Ripples Meet the Delta Blues

This profile was first published in The Times of Israel.

ZZ Ward is taking the music world -- and her Jewish identity -- by storm. (photo credit: Andi Elloway/Courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity)

ZZ Ward is taking the music world — and her Jewish identity — by storm. (photo credit: Andi Elloway/Courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity)

ZZ Ward knew she was a musician long before she knew she was Jewish: Had it not been for her exceptional talent, nourished by an immersive education in the Delta blues and hip-hop, she may never have known her true roots.

 Ward has had a lot to take in these past couple of years. She has concurrently gained public recognition for her music while privately learning about her mother’s hidden Jewish past. In the media, she’s been labeled a successor to Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Amy Winehouse and Adele. At home, she’s been discovering from her Holocaust survivor grandmother who her ancestors really were.

“I just found out in the last two years that I’m Jewish,” Ward, 27, tells The Times of Israel in a phone interview from New York, where she is on tour. “I had no religion growing up, so I’m kind of going into this with a clean slate. It’s going to be an amazing journey.”

The Los Angeles-based Ward has exploded onto the American music scene with her smoky, soulful voice and powerful blend of hip-hop, blues and pop, which she calls “Dirty Shine.” Songs from her recently released debut album, “Til the Casket Drops,” some of them collaborations with noted hip-hop and rap artists like Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs, are climbing the charts and being featured on network television shows. Fans have been catching her appearances on Good Morning America and the Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, Carson Daly and Jimmy Kimmel shows.

Influential music critics have been taking notice of her, and not only for her attractive face and figure, long, blond hair, blue eyes and signature fedoras. “I have sixty or more of them,” she says of the hats. “I wear them as an homage to the Delta blues musicians who wore them and to whose music I grew up listening to.” (Ward loves the hats so much that she’s even designed a line of them for Broner Hats, a venerable Detroit-based company.)

Click here to read more and watch a video.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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