Monday, January 10, 2011

Debbie Friedman of Blessed Memory

Debbie Friedman changed the world of Jewish music, providing the soundtrack for much of the Jewish world, particularly among American Jews. Even if you don't recognize her name, if you've been in a temple or synagogue, Jewish summer camp or any service or event aimed at young families during the past 3 or 4 decades, you've heard and can probably sing some of her songs. While much of her work was for the Reform movement (she began as a song leader at NIFTY camps), she has performed, or had her music performed, just about everywhere in the American Jewish world.

Debbie's style of playing and composition could best be described as coming out of the great urban folk music revival of the 60's. Her music always reminded me of Peter, Paul and Mary. This notion changed into a certainty when I was privileged to hear her jam with Peter Yarrow during the 1990 CAGE conference at Ohio State. She used modern, urban folk music as settings for prayers and other expressions of spirituality that form the soundtrack of many lives. Other than Levandovsky (whose liturgical music has been a mainstay of Ashkenazic Judaism for almost 200 years) and Carlbach (whose Hassidic-inspired melodies are the only body of work to rival Debbie's during the last half of the 20th century), I can't name anyone whose music has permeated the spritual lives of so many Jews, including me and my family.

Debbie Friedman suffered from complex ailments which ate away at her body but never dampened her spirit. She went on with her life and her life's work in spite of the physical toll it took. I guess her body had finally had enough, long before she or any of the multitude she has inspired, had had enough.

May her memory be for a blessing.

1 comment:

Marilynn Jacobs said...

Beautifully said, David. I learned Not By Might, Not By Power from Debbie as a 15-year old during a JFTY conclave. I had the surreal experience of watching my daughters sing the same song with her onstage during a Hazamir concert 30 years later. It is hard to think of an artist in any sphere that has had such enduring and personal influence.