Jewish American Heritage Month (May) Celebrates Jewish Contributions to American Music

Top Quote About 50 plaques hang in the Jewish-American Hall of Fame exhibit at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, including five that honor American Jews who have made important contributions to American music--Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Isaac Stern, and Barbra Streisand. The article explains why these plaques are exhibited at a Holocaust museum. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) April 10, 2018 - By proclamation of every President since George W. Bush, May will be Jewish American Heritage Month. The theme of this year’s Jewish American Heritage Month is Jewish contributions to American music. So why can you pay tribute to American musical legends at a Holocaust museum?

    When you visit the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, you will see many important exhibits—like the Ipson Saga, sharing the experience of a family of local Holocaust survivors ranging from confinement in the Kovno ghetto to their harried escape to a farm in the Lithuanian countryside; and a full recreation of the Nuremberg Courtroom where major Nazi war criminals were tried. But in contrast with the horrible negativity of the Holocaust, you will also find nearly 50 plaques that comprise the Jewish-American Hall of Fame. The accomplishments of these men and women in all endeavors gives an inkling of what the world has been deprived of had the 6 million Jews and millions more of their descendants lived. Among the plaques are those honoring the following American Jews who have made important contributions to American music:

    George Gershwin (1898-1937) tragically did not live to be 40, but his music will live forever. He was equally at home writing "pop" tunes, such as Swanee, The Man I Love, 'S Wonderful, and I Got Rhythm; musical comedies like Oh Kay, Girl Crazy, and Of Thee I Sing; serious music: Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, and An American in Paris; and he even pioneered in creating a genuine American folk opera: Porgy and Bess. Most of the lyrics for his revues and songs were written by his brother Ira (1896-1983). In less than two decades of productivity, George Gershwin left an indelible impression upon his country's culture.

    Benny Goodman (1909-1966) made history at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles on August 21, 1935, when the crowd of jumping, cheering youngsters surrounded the bandstand during a swinging arrangement of Sugar Foot Stomp ... and the Swing Era was born! Less known is that the Benny Goodman Quartet, featuring Gene Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano, and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, made the first dent in the color barrier that had until then kept bands all white or all black. Hampton has said that "the Benny Goodman Quartet was the forerunner of getting Jackie Robinson into baseball." In 1962, when "The King of Swing" made a successful tour of the Soviet Union, one newspaper reporter quipped that "Khrushev would trade three Sputniks for a Russian Benny Goodman!"

    Isaac Stern (1920 - 2001) was born in Kreminiesz, Russia on July 21, 1920. When just a year old, his family emigrated to the United States and settled in San Francisco. Stern took up the violin at the age of eight, and within three years was a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony. Stern's memorable Carnegie Hall debut was made in 1943. In 1960, thanks largely to his efforts, historic Carnegie Hall (opened May 5, 1891) was saved from demolition ... and he continued to serve as its president for over three decades. In addition, Stern has served as the president of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation, and was appointed in 1965 as a member of the National Council on Arts.

    Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), whose centennial we are celebrating this year, was named music director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958, serving 11 years in this position. Bernstein's classical works include ballets (Fancy Free, Dybbuk), operas (Trouble in Tahiti, A Quite Place), and symphonies (Jeremiah, The Age of Anxiety, Kaddish). And he created American Broadway musicals like Wonderful Town, Candide and West Side Story. One of Leonard Berstein's greatest achievements was as host of the New York Philharmonic's Emmy Award-winning "Young People's Concerts." Leonard Bernstein was widely regarded as the most gifted and versatile American musician of the 20th century.

    Barbra Streisand (born 1942) is the only artist ever to have earned Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, Cable Ace and Peabody Awards! She won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Actress in her motion picture debut ("Funny Girl"), and again in 1976 for composing the song "Evergreen" for her hit film, "A Star is Born." She was awarded a special Tony as "Star of the Decade," and 10 Golden Globes for acting, directing, producing, songwriting, and as World Film Favorite. Barbra has achieved more gold (37), platinum (21), and multi-platinum (10) albums than any other artist. The Streisand Foundation has made grants totaling nearly 10 million dollars to American organizations that promote and support civil rights and race relations, environmental issues, economically disadvantaged youth, and AIDS research.

    If you can’t get to Richmond, you can visit the Jewish-American Hall of Fame's web site.

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