Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History Of Black-Jewish Relations is one of the oddest and in same ways interesting CDs to come my way in a long time. It was compiled and produced by the Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation.
Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, 1882-1938, was a famed Jewish ethnologist and musicologist who is best remembered today as the composer of “Hava Nagila.” The society which has taken his name is dedicated to telling Jewish history through music. Their projects have included the release of the CD Mazeltov Mis Amigos, filming the stories of Jewish musicians, building a digitally based archive of Jewish music, and curating a traveling museum.
Their latest release is the first CD to chronicle Afro-American artists covering Jewish songs. This first release, in what may be a series, focuses upon the 1930s through the 1960s. I am assuming this is the first release to ever explore the musical relationship between Afro American artists and Jewish composers.
The CD’s music, when taken as a whole, is some of the most eclectic you will ever find in one place. Tracks include “My Yiddish Home” by Billie Holiday, “Utt Da Zay” by Cab Calloway,” “Sholem” by Eartha Kitt, “Sabbath Prayer” by Cannonball Adderley, “Swanee” by Lena Horne, “Eretz Zavet Chalav” by Nina Simone, and “Fiddler On The Roof Medley” by The Temptations. That includes most of the normal stuff.
There are interesting tidbits such as Johnny Mathis’ decision to record the sacred “Kol Nidre.” He ruminates about listening to Jewish cantors when he was a teenager.
It all adds up to an odd yet serious idea that works fairly well. The song list may not provide a smooth listen but taken individually they are each interesting . They not only provide a history of Afro American/Jewish relations but provide some fine listening as well.
It is probably not a release that will find wide spread commercial appeal but if you are in the mood to try something different then Black Sabbath: The Secret Musical History Of Black-Jewish Relations is worth a try.