Posts Tagged ‘Jewish musicians’

When Holocaust Ripples Meet the Delta Blues

July 11, 2013

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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Before There Was Matisyahu, There Was Peter Himmelman

July 4, 2013

This profile was first published in The Times of Israel.

The multi-talented Peter Himmelman wears more hats than just this favorite porkpie. (photo credit: Courtesy of Peter Himmelman/AJ Martinson)

The multi-talented Peter Himmelman wears more hats than just this favorite porkpie. (photo credit: Courtesy of Peter Himmelman/AJ Martinson)

Standing 6’1” and wearing a porkpie hat, Peter Himmelman, cuts a noticeable figure. If you were to see him at a party, for instance, you might be drawn to introduce yourself to him. Just don’t try to engage this natural communicator in small talk by asking him what he does. For Himmelman, the question is fraught with complexity.

“I try to not to get into a position where I’d be asked that,” he says half jokingly. “It depends on who’s asking the question, but I guess I’d just say that I’m a creative-type.”

The truth is that Peter Himmelman wears — by virtue of both calling and necessity —  many more hats than just his signature porkpie. He is a rock star, a visual artist, a composer for movies and television, a children’s entertainer, and a web series variety show host. Most recently, he’s been focused on his new Big Muse project, by which he works as a creativity and communication mentor for non-profit organizations and for-profit corporations.

The singer-songwriter is also a husband, a father of four grown children ages 17 to 23, and an observant Jew (before there was Matisyahu, there was Peter Himmelman). Last but not least, he’s the son-in-law of the legendary Bob Dylan.

Himmelman is willing to talk about all of these things, except for the last one. Acknowledging only that, “it’s interesting to have close proximity, a front row seat, so to speak, to something so large,” he is reticent to speak about his wife’s father, whose privacy he respects. “The commandment to honor your mother and father extends to your in-laws, as well,” he notes in a phone interview with The Times of Israel from his home in Santa Monica, California.

Click here to read more and watch a video.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Chana Rothman Shines

January 9, 2012

This review was first published on The Arty Semite blog at the Forward.

Chana Rothman (photo by Elise Warshavsky)

Not every singer-songwriter can sing lyrics like, “You got a big heart, sweet like a Pop-Tart, bigger than Walmart” and hope to be taken seriously. But Chana Rothman can, and she does so on the bouncy first track of her new album, “Beautiful Land.” That track, somewhat reminiscent of Kimya Dawson (whose songs were featured in Jason Reitman’s powerful film “Juno”), is called “Shine.” The object of Rothman’s complimentary lyrics is a young person whom the singer is encouraging to grow up strong and proud of her individuality.

The Rothman we hear on “Beautiful Land” is clearly recognizable from her debut album, “We Can Rise,” but here she goes in new musical and lyrical directions. Her earlier music, though accomplished, was heavy-handed politically and religiously (there was no mistaking her left-leaning opinions), while her new songs leave more to the listener’s interpretation. If the former was a form of musical activism, the latter is a show of increasing artistry.

Listen to ‘Shine’:

Click here to read more and listen to two tracks off Rothman’s new album.

© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.