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The gate to the village: Shlomo Carlebach and the creation of American Jewish "folk".

"Chassidim believe that in the highest heavens there is a sanctuary that song alone can unlock. Could these songs be the keys to that Gate? Sing them and see." Rachel Anne Rabinowitz, liner notes for Shlomo Carlebach: Live at the Village Gate

"Hevra, let's pretend we're happy."

Shlomo Carlebach, Waban MA, 1995

"Please open the gates for me. Please open the gates." That's how Shlomo Carlebach introduced himself to his audience at The Village Gate, the legendary Greenwich Village club where he performed on a number of occasions during the early 1960s. This beseeching, almost liturgical invitation opens his 1963 album, "Shlomo Carlebach: Live at the Village Gate," and serves as an introduction to his version of Psalm 118: "Open the Gates of Righteousness /I long to enter and give thanks." According to Carlebach, he wrote the melody for the song on his way to the performance, when he may well have been contemplating the connection between his music, its connection to sacred Jewish texts, and the music scene of the moment in New York's Greenwich Village in which he had become an active participant as a singer, performer, composer, and somewhat marginal figure in the Folk Revival. In other words, Carlebach wasn't necessarily talking about the club, but he might as well have been.

Gates, after all, are places of admission and transformation. They open and close, they protect and they make possible. They are liminal places. Literal thresholds. They are places of tricksters and traders, of migrants and paupers and, in the legends of Jewish midrash and folklore, they are where the messiah, appropriately dressed as a vagabond changing the dressing on his wounds, will eventually be found. And, of course, gates, both closed and open, gesture to the Holocaust, a term barely more than decade old in 1962, its survivors trying to reconstitute their broken lives, and something about which was deeply embedded in Carlebach's psyche. (1) As a child, Carlebach barely escaped Belgium as the Nazis entered the country and this unspeakable tragedy inflected almost everything he did. He was a post-Holocaust itinerant and his was surely an immigrant experience. He came from elsewhere.

It is therefore no mistake, as Stephen Petrus and Ronald Cohen have noted in their recent documentary history, Folk City: New York and the American Folk Revival that the phenomenon consisted largely of individuals who were not native New Yorkers but who were themselves immigrants from elsewhere. (2) By the 1940s, New York and Greenwich Village specifically, had become a destination for aspiring bohemians and folkies looking to find a community of like-minded, politically progressive people for whom music played a powerful organizing force. It is also widely known that Jews played a prominent role in this revival. Bob Dylan became the most well-known but others such as Theodore Bikel, Jack Elliott, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul, and Mary), Arlo Guthrie, John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers, and Millard Lampell, lyricist and performer with The Almanac Singers (with a young Pete Seeger) were also Jewish performers, though only Bikel included Jewish material as a regular part of his act. (3) Bikel, who was also already successful on Broadway, became widely known in the folk world through his live radio show on WBAI, "Theodore Bikel at Home," recorded at the folk music club The Bitter End. Bikel's show included folk music, poetry and commentary on the Folk Revival.

On the production side, prominent Jewish figures included Moses (Moe) Asch, the founder of Folkways Records and son of Shalom Asch, the celebrated Yiddish novelist and poet, Maynard and Seymour Solomon, founders of Vanguard Records, Irwin Silber, co-founder of Sing Out! magazine, Israel "Izzy" Young who established and operated the Folklore Center, New York Times columnist and folk music devotee Richard Shelton (nee Shapiro), Jac Holzman founder of Elektra Records, Manny Roth who founded the folk club The Cock and Bull on Bleeker Street (later bought by another Jew, Fred Weintruab and re-named The Bitter End), and Art D'Lugoff, founder of the club Folk City and later, the Village Gate. (4) Also prominent in the folk music scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s was the work of Ruth Rubin, the prodigious collector of Eastern European Jewish folk music, whose collections found a wide audience on Asch's Folkways label. Without extrapolating too far afield, one could add to this list the great concert promoter Bill Graham, who rose to fame during the late 1960s as a promoter of rock concerts, but who was very much a part of the New York scene in the early 1960s. Yet another example would be Michael Lang who produced the Woodstock festival in 1969. (5) All of those mentioned (and there are many others) were largely secular Jews with no direct link to the Jewish musical tradition from Eastern Europe. All but one. (6)

The single exception was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who, for a few short years in the early to mid-1960s, brought the city's Orthodox Jewish community into the New York Folk Revival and brought the sound and ethos of folk to American Jews. His 1963 album "Live at the Village Gate" bridged the older fading aural aesthetics of cantorial music and the more participatory styles of American Jewish prayer that would later become desirable and even normative across the denominational spectrum, with the adoption of music by Carlebach and Debbie Friedman into congregational prayer. (7)

But it would be an historical mistake to conclude that the subsequent popularity of his music demonstrated his prominence or popularity during the Folk Revival of the early 1960s. Below we argue that while Carlebach certainly was present in and benefited from the Folk Revival that helped spark his career, he never made the impression he might have had he been more open to its larger social and cultural agenda. It was largely a utilitarian relationship whose outcome was the creation of "Jewish folk music" as a genre not of lullabies or love songs, but of liturgy. (8) Quite different than the song collecting of Ruth Rubin, which focused largely on secular music, or the more ethnomusicological efforts underway in Israel to document and distribute the music of Jews from Arab lands, Carlebach drew on and played to people who knew something about synagogue life which was and remains the foremost location in which adult Jews gather together to sing. (9)

In this respect, Carlebach's contribution was unusual as a folk singer. He did not sing "folk songs," but rather, he sung his own compositions, written to suit liturgical and biblical passages, in a folk style. But in this way he played a pivotal role in the creation of the genre of "Jewish folk music" that suited the American mid-century emphasis on religious life. Carlebach was instrumental in creating an American Jewish folk music sound, whose popularity manifested, as history would unfold, in synagogues across the denominational spectrum for whom Carelbach's modern sound would come to represent the timbre and modality of "Jewish folk music."

In contrast, he became much more invested in the hippie movement in the Bay Area in the later 1960s and it is there, we argue, where Car lebach really sought to adopt the broader beliefs, attitudes, and strategies of the American counterculture for explicitly Jewish ends. But without a more careful look at his participation in the New York Folk Revival and his exit from that world, one cannot fully apprehend the rise of one of the most important Jewish figures in postwar America, and the most influential composers of American liturgical music in the 20th century.

Contextualizing Carlebach

Though ensconced in the social milieu of the Folk Revival, Carlebach was, in some ways, a marginal figure whose own approach to folk music was something of an anomaly, even among other Jews. (10) Dylan, Jack Elliott, Dave van Ronk and others initially much preferred the folk songs of other ethnic and national traditions, while Asch and the Solomon Brothers invested their efforts, largely, in recording "traditional" music from whatever communities they could, capturing everything from lullabies to work songs, spirituals to chain gang chants. This revival was in large part sparked by the field recordings of John and Alan Lomax in the 1940s and 1950s that brought traditional music to urban New York. (11) Lomax told The Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger's first group, "What you are doing is one of the most important things that could possibly be done in the field of American music. You are introducing folk songs from the countryside to a city audience." (12) Performers such as Clarence Ashley, Muddy Waters, John Hurt, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston, Little Walter, Odetta, Aunt Molly Jackson, Woody Guthrie, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis and many others found their way to New York and other big cities like Philadelphia and Chicago and influenced a whole generation of young musicians looking for what they understood, not unproblematically, to be "authentic" American music. When young musicians like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs began writing their own folk songs it caused an uproar in segments of the folk community that was dedicated at that time to performing and recording only "traditional" songs. It should be noted, however, that Dylan's breakout "Blowin in the Wind" in 1962 was actually adapted from the melody to a Negro spiritual "No More Auction Block" and his famous protest song "Chimes of Freedom" was an adaptation of an Irish ballad "Chimes of Trinity" that he learned from Dave van Ronk (who learned it from his grandmother) so even the original folk music of that period could be understood as a product of adaptation of older folk songs. (13) In addition, political activism which was so much a part of folk music in the 1950s (and played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement) also split the community between the traditionalists and the activists. Carlebach never really found a home in either community. (14)

Carlebach's Chasidic background (he was from an aristocratic German Jewish family but was exposed to Chasidism by his father at an early age in Europe) and his experience as a cantor connected him to a musical tradition that lay a bit beyond the pale of the "folk" as it was emerging on college campuses, in places like Greenwich Village, on labels like Folkways and Vanguard, and in festival settings like Newport, Rhode Island. Nevertheless, the entrance of Carlebach's music into the collective repertoire of American Jews lagged behind his recording debut by decades, but his synthesis of cantorial music and Chasidic melody with the ethos of American folk music would become the template for synagogue-based song of the later 20th century.

Carlebach's early recordings also make audible the tensions between his more traditional approach to music and his burgeoning appreciation for the spirit of the American folk music revival, and they capture his commitment to both. "Live at the Village Gate," his fourth album and the first to capture Carlebach live in performance, has him in musical conversation with his audience in ways that sound quite out of place within the folk revival then underway that was dominated by vocal groups like The Weavers, Peter, Paul and Mary, and songwriters with exceptional voices like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell or lyrical skills such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, or Joni Mitchell. Carlebach appeared in this context largely as a translator, adapting the sonic templates of his youth and his early career for a broader audience of American Jews who, increasingly, found their expressions of Jewishness embedded in religious forms.

Carlebach, as with so many figures in the Folk Revival, came from somewhere else. Born in 1925, he was raised in the Vienna suburb Baden Baden where his father Naftali was a rabbi. There, he likely absorbed Viennese classical music which might explain why some of this early music is written in 3/4 waltz time. In 1938, the Carlebach family escaped the Nazis by traveling through Antwerp and England finally settling in Brooklyn, where the elder Carlebach took the pulpit of Young Israel on Eastern Parkway. A few years later, in 1945, the family moved to the Upper West Side on Manhattan when Rabbi Carlebach established his own congregation, Kehillath Jacob, on West 79th Street, which would eventually come to be known as "The Carlebach Shul."

As a young man, Carlebach studied for a short time at the Lakewood yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey and following his father's heart attack in 1948, Carlebach began to assume some of his father's congregational leadership responsibilities with his twin brother Eli Chaim, which took him away from Lakewood. From Kehillath Jacob, Carlebach organized a learning group he dubbed "T.S.G.G," an acronym for "Taste and See God is Good," a gloss on Psalms 34:9. While running T.S.G.G. out of Kehillath Jacob, Carlebach became acquainted with Chabad Hasidism. According to Carlebach, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Yosef Yizhak Schneersohn, told him that "the world needed more rabbis who could talk to people," and asked him to focus less on learning and more on "talking to people about Judaism." This was a few years before the formal implementation of Chabad's "ufaratzta" campaign which used music and art as a vehicle for Jewish outreach, and it was just at the beginning of the formalization of the role of the "shaliach," the community emissary appointed to do outreach among predominantly young American Jews. (15) Carlebach was young and charismatic and, along with Zalman Shachter, also originally from Vienna, who arrived in the US through Marseilles a few years earlier, became some of the first Chabad emissaries "crashing" a Hanukkah party at Brandeis University in 1948. (16) In a later interview Carlebach recalled, "From 1951 to 1955 I was mamash [really], the Rebbe's right-hand man." (17)

While involved with Chabad, music played a pivotal role in Carlebach's outreach strategies though it would later figure prominently in his break with the organization. (18) T.S.G.G., while not officially a Chabad program, featured music prominently. Participant Chaim Waxman, who later became a sociologist of contemporary Jewry, recalled that the group got together "for singing and inspiration." That group persisted for a number of years, organizing a handful of events both public and private and, according to Izzy Young, helping to record and release an album in 1961. (19) Later, Carlebach recalled, specifically, that Chabad's insistence on gender-segregated seating and the prohibition on men hearing women's voices had become a problem for him.

   "Last night," I told the Rebbe one day, "I had one hundred people
   come to learn and sing with me." But in those days the Rebbe had
   the position that women couldn't sing with men [kol isha, women's
   voices would sexually arouse men according to some Orthodox
   traditions]. So I told the Rebbe, "When I told them that we had to
   sit separately men from women, I lost 90 people, and when I told
   them that women couldn't sing, I lost nine more, and the one person
   who remained was the biggest idiot. So instead of spending two
   hours with people who wanted to know something about Yiddishkeit, I
   wasted my time on one idiot. Let's assume that it's very important
   that men and women shouldn't sit together. Still, this is like a
   manicure for Judaism, making it super-beautiful, but if the person
   is having a heart attack you don't give him a manicure. So I can't
   do outreach this way. (20)

As he parted ways with Chabad, Carlebach began to get more deeply involved with music, largely leaving his piano playing (he almost never played piano publicly although Schachter notes that he composed many of his early songs on piano) and taking up the guitar in 195 5. (21) Carlebach did not start playing guitar until a chance meeting at a bar mitzvah with a student of Lee Strasberg, the influential teacher of Method acting and founder of the Group Theater. (22) The student hired Carlebach to consult on his production of The Dybbuk, which debuted in the fall of 1954 at the Fourth Street Theater in Greenwich Village. Carlebach's contribution is uncredited, save a small mention in the Milwaukee Jewish Chronicle that noted the revival "done by Jenry G. Alsberg with the cooperation of Dr. A. W. Binder, noted composer and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach." (23) Brooks Atkinson's New York Times review noted the music was "adapted ... from Chassidic melodies." (24) At the time, the only recording of Chassidic music widely available in the United States was Modzitzer Melaveh Malke, an LP of music from the Modzitz community, featuring compositions of Benzion Shenker, which was released in 1950. (25)

The show fared well, with good reviews and a run of 103 performances, but it made a more significant impact on Carlebach, as it provided entree into the bohemian world of Greenwich Village. Through his work on The Dybbuk, Carlebach began learning to play guitar and explore the burgeoning folk scene. A year later, as he recalled, he began his break with Chabad. In the mid-50s the folk scene was still very small in New York, just beginning to gain prominence with groups like The Almanac Singers, and shortly thereafter with the Weavers, Burl Ives, and the Kingston Trio whose rendition of the traditional song "Tom Dooley" in 1958 brought the fledging Folk Revival some national attention. In the Village, it was still a world where everyone seemed to know everyone else as there were only a few folk clubs, most musicians performed at private hootenannies and public spaces such as Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

In parting ways with Chabad, Carlebach found in the folk scene a lively and growing network of formal and informal connections that allowed him to continue his work and his music. T.S.G.G. remained active through regular study and song sessions, as well as occasional larger events, such as its 1957 Chanukah festival that featured "group singing Hebrew and chasidic melodies," and two "Purim Song Festivals" the following year. (26) The combination of his background as a cantor, his work as one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's early emissaries, and his fascination with the Greenwich Village music scene made these "festivals" a sensible next step, in which Carlebach brought together Jewish religious observance and contemporary folk sensibilities. The "authenticity" of his music, even though he wrote many of the songs, likely appealed to a folk community still very devoted to a traditional folk genre that would soon expand into more original music in the early 1960s. Moreover, his audiences might not have known his songs were original compositions because the lyrics were drawn almost exclusively from scripture and liturgy.

Explicitly religious and largely in accord with Orthodox Jewish custom in content and purpose, these festivals, described in one publication as "a thrilling demonstration of brotherhood in artistry and song," tapped not into Chabad's religiosity and early program of outreach (in which Carlebach played an integral role,27) but into the informal cultural styles and social networks of the Folk Revival, and likely inspired him to make his first recording shortly thereafter. (28) For example, institutionally, Carlebach sold tickets for T.S.G.G's events through Izzy Young's Folklore Center. (29) Despite its formal title, Young only established the Folklore Center in 1957 in order to sell some of the music books and recordings he had collected. Soon, though, it became a hub of the folk music scene, described by Bob Dylan as having an "antique grace. An ancient chapel, like a shoebox sized institute. The Folklore Center sold and reported on everything that had to do with folk music." (30) Selling tickets for a Purim festival in 1958 at Young's storefront shop, where regulars included Dylan, Pete Seeger, John Hammond, Dave van Ronk, and Joni Mitchell, locates Carlebach at the very center of the Folk Revival during the years of its ascendancy. More significantly, it locates Carlebach within an avowedly, and in some cases aggressively secular cultural milieu within which he composed, performed, and promoted Jewish music with explicitly religious content.

To be sure, a few other Jewish folksongs did make it into the early folk repertoire. For example, in 1950 The Weavers recorded Issachar Miron's "Tzena, Tzena," which reached number two in the national charts in July of 1951. (31) And a bit later, Nina Simone performed "Eretz Zavat Halav u Devash" (in Hebrew) at the Village Gate in 1962 that she likely heard from jazz musicians who played it as well. Paul Robeson had famously included a handful of Yiddish songs in his repertoire, and Harry Belafonte began including renditions of "Hava Nagila" in his act around this time, as well. (32) Unlike Carlebach's repertoire, these drew either on the left-leaning politics of the American performers, or on the emerging fascination with Israeli folk music. (33) The interpellation of these songs into the acts of prominent African-American singers has become something of an object of fascination, but despite their popularity, American performers tended to avoid music from the religious tradition almost entirely. (34)

In a similarly selective move, Carlebach's style appears to be affected by the music he was hearing around him, but he appeared less interested in the larger political agenda of the folk revival. (35) He adopted a handful of songs, a few of which he recorded, ("Goin' Down to Canaan Land" and "Kumbaya" stand out) but he never moved to the village from his Upper West Side home. What seemed to affect him more was the hippie culture that would not emerge until almost a decade later in the Bay Area where he played an instrumental role in establishing the House of Love and Prayer in 1967. (36) Although San Lrancisco's "summer of love" in 1967 had a deeper cultural impact on Carlebach than the more heady and activist folk scene in the village in the early 60s, his folk bona fides facilitated his entry into the West Coast scene, as he first experienced the Bay Area through his participation in the 1966 Berkeley Polk Music Pestival.

The Sound of the Spirit

But before playing Berkeley, Carlebach recorded a number of records that captured his evolution in out and around the Folk Revival and they document his creation of the Jewish Folk Music genre. His ability to create the genre relied, in important ways, on his departure from many of the conventional associations with the "folk music" label. His were not "folk songs" in the global style popularized by the ethnomusicological efforts of song collectors and aficionados like Alan Lomax or curated by influential figures like Harry Smith, whose recordings were released on labels like Moe Asch's Folkways. (37) Neither were Carlebach's recordings part of the growing fascination with the relatively newly formulated genre of Israeli folk music which, by 1959, had both extended beyond the Jewish community and had also become the provenance of a small but lively roster of Israeli performers including Geula Gill, the Dudaim, and Yaffa Yarkoni, who toured extensively in the United States.

Similarly, Carlebach's early contributions departed from those of Theodore Bikel, who followed the growing fascination with Israeli music with his own collection of Israeli folk songs and, by 1959 had added two albums of "Jewish folk songs" almost all of which derived from the Yiddish theater and folk traditions. Likewise, he departed from the song collecting efforts of Ruth Rubin, who recorded songs of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to the United States and Canada during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Rubin made her first recording in the mid-1940s, for Moe Asch, prior to his creation of Folkways Records. (38) More than a decade later, Asch's Folkways Records released a collection of Rubin's recordings under the title Jewish Life: The Old Country, which included Rubin's own performances of a few numbers. The album arrived amidst a flurry of Rubin's other recordings including an album of children's songs she recorded with Pete Seeger, and one of featuring her own versions of some of the songs she collected. Rubin's recordings helped to establish one lineage of Jewish folk music in Eastern Europe and it participated in the production of a sense of folk music as something transmitted as the cultural inheritance from one generation to the next. (39)

Her recordings also fell beyond the realm of Jewish religious life, establishing a kind of secular Yiddish folk tradition, but one that, at the time, largely failed to connect with American Jewish listeners, recently emerging from the immigrant generation and beginning to reckon with the impact of the loss of Eastern European Jewry in the Holocaust. Rubin's recordings appeared just as Carlebach's fame began to extend beyond the narrow communities of Orthodox American Jews. Yet, inasmuch as he could have participated in the tradition of Jewish folk music established by Rubin, he did so from a completely different perspective, drawing more on both Chasidic musical sources and the sonic palate of post-war American vocalists. He knew many Chasidic niggunim (wordless songs) but rarely performed them in concert, preferring his own melodies influenced by those songs. In so doing, he eschewed the folk tradition of Eastern European Jews as documented by Rubin and supplanted it with his own version, informed by Chassidic music as much as by the ethos of the Folk Revival and mid-century American Jewry.

In 1959 Carlebach's released his first album on a small Jewish label, calling it Hanshomo Loch (Songs of My Soul), which includes Carlebach on guitar, "with Choir and Orchestra," as the record jacket advertised. Of the album's twelve tracks, almost all include the support of a choir, and most feature lush musical embellishments, more reminiscent of pop balladry than of anything as fetishized as the delta blues or as romanticized as Child ballads. (40) While the basic melodic structures resemble those of traditional "Chasidic" niggun compositions, the arrangements make the album sound closer to Broadway or the Lower East Side than Greenwich Village, and the album includes some classically cantorial numbers that would not have been out of place in the repertoires of some popular American cantors of the 1940s and 1950s. Even the setting of his "Esa Einai," ("Lift Up My Eyes") which leads off the album and has since become one of his most beloved compositions, is interwoven with choral call-and-response sections and instrumental breaks, giving it a formal, presentational sound rather than a more participatory one, reminiscent of collective song. This record did not attract much attention in the growing folk community and was likely directed toward a more traditional Jewish audience who would have recognized both the liturgy and the cantorial inflections. At the same time, by featuring Carlebach on acoustic guitar, it delicately interpellated elements of American folk musical style into the presentation of formal religious music. In short his first record is more the well-known cantor Yossele Rosenblatt than Pete Seeger. (41)

The album's echoes of late 1950s pop vocal styles can be credited not to Carlebach, but to its arranger, Milt Okun. The Bronx-born son of Jewish immigrant parents, Okun would later go on to produce Peter Paul and Mary and John Denver, but at the time, he was intrigued when he heard about the "singing rabbi" and scattered the album with harps, flutes, clarinets and percussion, to support and dramatize Carlebach's melodies and to augment his spare guitar playing. One of the more arresting songs on this album, "Mi Kamokba," from the Sabbath mussaf liturgy, begins acapella as one would hear it in synagogue and then strings are added to lead up to a falsetto ending. He rarely repeats this style in later recordings, one exception being his 1966 "In the Palace of the King." Okun got his start in music at his parents' resort in Schroon Lake, New York. (42) He recorded six of his own albums but, by his own admission, did not have "anything remotely unique" about his voice. Eventually, he found his place on the production side and made something of a name for himself by arranging "folk songs for symphonies, with guitar leads," that clearly influenced Carlebach's recordings on Haneshomo Loch. (43)

Okun's success at arranging in a way that brought the folk idiom into more lavishly produced settings earned him a place in Harry Belafonte's band, where he sang backup and played piano, eventually becoming one of Belafonte's chief arrangers and conductors. (44) Okun's signature style can be heard all over Belafonte's recordings from the late 1950s and early 1960s, during which time Belafonte solidified his place in American music, and became a driving force in the American folk music scene beyond Greenwich Village. Belafonte embraced the global dimension of folk music, recording songs from around the globe including versions of "Danny Boy," "Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma," and "When the Saints Go Marching In," alongside "Hava Nageela" (sic) on his 1956 Okun-produced album, An Evening with Belafonte. The settings of these songs were classic Okun, elaborately and melodramatically staged for Belafonte to do with as he wished. By 1960, Belafonte had three RIAA certified gold records and two number one albums. His 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, won Grammy for 1961's Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording, a category that appeared for the first time only a year before, reflecting the growing significance of folk music on the American musical scene. The album included a full chorus and dramatic, almost theatrical arrangements of ring shouts and prison songs, all supported by Okun's lush instrumentals. The same could be heard on the first two Belafonte albums to which Okun contributed, An Evening with Belafonte and Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall (1960), albums that coincide with Okun's work with Carlebach.

The connections went a bit deeper than merely historical coincidence. Working on a shoestring, Okun recalled hiring Belafonte's band to play on the album. (45) The presence of Belafonte's band and Okun's hand explains, in part, the lush arrangements and the attention to quasi-orchestral arrangements of Carlebach's original compositions. In spite of his aesthetic and sonic signature, Okun did not recall the recording session as an easy one. "The songs were really very nice, very simple. All religious and the lyrics were all in Hebrew." (46) Okun agreed to produce the record, writing all the arrangements and hiring Belafonte's band to support Carlebach's vocals. Okun recalled, however, that Carlebach "prayed while he sang. It's called 'davenning.' He would rock back and forth, like you see at the Wailing Wall, while singing. He couldn't stop himself." (47) This proved problematic for Okun, as it meant Carlebach kept moving away from the microphone, making it difficult to pick up a consistent vocal signal. Okun recalled it as the "most difficult recording" he ever did.

Despite Okun's presence and Belafonte's influence, Carlebach released Hanshomo Loch on the tiny Zimra records label. In his biography of Carlebach, Natan Ofir explains that the label was set up to produce his [Carlebach's] first two albums, a claim that is supported given the total absence of other artists on the Zimra label. (48) In any event, the label was so small that it saved money on manufacturing record jackets by repurposing those of older albums, turning them inside out and printing album art and track listings on what had formerly been the inside. (49) The following year, Zimra released Carlebach's second album, Borchi Nafshi, which shared a sonic palate with his first album. Also arranged by Okun, the songs echoed with cantorial styles, featuring the backing contributions of a choir along with some strings, clarinets and flutes, and light percussion alongside his gentle guitar strumming. Some of the tracks feature recorder and tambourine, which echo Carlebach's first trip to Israel, in 1959. Borchi Nafshi reveals Carlebach's fascination with Israeli influences and the beginning of his interpellation of the styles of Israeli folk music, a sonic vocabulary that would become increasingly audible on his recordings from the late sixties through the 1980s.

When Carlebach returned from Israel, Izzy Young, who had a column in the Folk Music magazine Sing Out! noted that he had "made as big a hit as Harry Belafonte" while in Israel, observing that Carlebach "writes songs to Chasidic melodies and sings and jumps, while playing the guitar, with great energy." (50) As Sing Out! was one of the most widely read magazines in the folk community, Carlebach drew the attention of slightly more ambitious promoters, slightly larger venues, and a more established record label, Vanguard, whom he joined in 1962, for the release of Shlomo Carlebach Sings.*1 This coincided with the increased popularity of folk music in general and thus increased opportunities for concerts and appearances with more prominent musicians. In some sense, if Carlebach was going to find a musical home outside the traditional Jewish community, which was both small and somewhat unsophisticated in exposure to popular music, the folk scene presented the perfect venue.

The Structures of Folk Music

During the early 1960s, Carlebach maintained an active touring schedule, appearing in Europe on a number of occasions, as well as playing regularly at Jewish institutions and as fundraisers for Jewish organizations. Similarly, he came to represent Jewish music within the Folk Revival, appearing alongside Joan Baez, flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya, African American folk singer Josh White, English Baladeer William Clauson, and two Israeli dance troupes, in a "Folk Song Series" at the 92nd Street YMHA. Promotional materials identified him as "The Hasidic Troubadour," framing him as the representative of Jewish, but not Israeli folk music within an appropriately globally and culturally diverse lineup. (52) It's important to note that during these years New Yorkers were being exposed to artists such as Roscoe Holcolm from Kentucky, John Hurt from Mississippi, Rev Gary Davis from North Carolina, Elizabeth Cotton from Washington D.C. and a host of other "authentic" musicians that carried with them a wide folk tradition. (53) As he fit into the "Jewish" niche in the expansive landscape of American folk music, he was never above playing men's clubs and fundraisers for Jewish organizations, even middle schools and Hebrew schools, and he retained a regular High Holiday pulpit at his father's synagogue, where he continued through 1965. (54) In short, his moderate recognition in the folk community did not efface his commitments either to outreach or to Jewish communal and religious life.

Just the opposite, in fact was true: his growing notoriety on the margins of the folk music scene provided him with a kind of validating framework in which his unique style, facilitated by Okun and contrasted with Israeli folk music in the United States, helped to authenticate his music as a variety of "folk." The requirements of the genre made it possible for him to sing religious music in the "folk" context and to creatively adapt Chassidic styles for a broader audience. This was manifested in his increasing prominence in clubs and venues that were known for featuring folk music. By participating in the material, cultural, and institutional circuits of the Folk Revival, Carlebach increasingly occupied a place of primacy in the emerging genre of "Jewish Folk Music."

New York Times music critic and folk music champion Robert Shelton who was one of the most well-known folk critics during those years reviewed a one of his Town Hall performances, in which he argued that "Mr. Carlebach (sic.) is trying to revive in an American context the tradition of the Chasidim in which music was used as a medium to gain spiritual release. The hand clapping and group singing he elicited from his audience indicate that he had achieved some of his goals." Shelton noted Carlebach's technical limitations, observing kindly that "the merits of Mr. Carlebach's performance were in his warm, communicable manner rather than his musical acumen" noting the shortcomings of his "light baritone" as well as his "hoarseness." Yet, in typical folk music style, musicality did not rule the day, prompting Shelton to grow more philosophical, comparing Carlebach's performance to that of contemporary gospel singers. "The delicate question that often comes up with some Negro gospel singers -Where does piety end and showmanship take over?" Nevertheless, he concluded that Carlebach "may be unorthodox in his orthodoxy, but he was helping to keep the vanishing tradition of Hasidic song alive." (55)

In a review of Carlebach's album, Shelton noted, "the mixture of the sacred and the secular in his Hasidic-like songs reminds one vaguely of the Negro gospel movement which borrows so heavily from jazz and blues." (56) Though Shelton could not quite place Carlebach's music with generic precision, locating him instead at the intersection of religious and secular, of "traditional" and "contemporary." Within this framework, Shelton speculated freely, with echoes of the Holocaust, about what Carlebach was attempting to do. Yet, these questions did not undermine Carlebach's role as a folk singer. They helped to establish it. The combination of performing at Town Hall in a concert produced by folk impresario Art D'Lugoff, and a review by Robert Shelton served to establish his stature as a folk singer and a participant in the Folk Revival. The New York Times solidified his title, as the publication stopped referring to him as a "Chasidic singer" and begin identifying him as a "folk singer," which is how he was identified in a small listing of a concert at the Village Gate on October 22, 1962, only a month after taking the pulpit of his father's congregation to lead High Holiday services. (57)

Despite performances of religious piety, Carlebach excelled at a kind of moderate transgression, singing sacred texts in secular settings, and bringing some of the energy and excitement of the Folk Revival to his Jewish and sometimes liturgical songs. One mention of "Live at the Village Gate" as a Billboard Magazine "Spotlight Pick" cheekily observed that "there is nothing sacred about the artist's dynamic performances." (58) Similarly, a review of a live performance from January 1963 observed the complex formulation of Carlebach's on-stage persona and his multifarious approach to performing. "By calling, Mr. Carlebach is a rabbi. By choice, he is something of a beatnik. By avocation, he is a guitar-strumming minstrel who uses his pleasant baritone voice to belt out songs he 'composed' on Biblical and related sentences." The reviewer continued, "his style is nondescript ... and in no time the audience sings along with Shlomo.... He dispenses a homespun philosophy designed to go straight to the heart of those who have forgotten how to pray. His simple sincerity is sure to revive old feelings and traditions to a degree unattainable before this Elvis Presley of the Torah discovered his mission." (59)

A better comparison than Elvis Presley, however, would be the Rev. Gary Davis. Davis, a blind virtuoso guitar player who was a repository of traditional music and refused to play the blues (known in religious circles as "the devil's music") in public. (60) This significantly curtailed his career and left him somewhat on the margins of the folk scene even as he was probably the most sought-after guitar teacher of his generation. Davis, however, still dabbled on the margins of the Folk Revival, having been recorded by Alan Lomax, "rediscovered" in New York and eventually invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Both men preferred their versions of sacred music, and both also took advantage of the infrastructure of the Folk Revival to forward their own careers.

"Live at the Village Gate" captures Carlebach at the moment of intersection between sacred and secular, between the holy and the profane, between the folk revival and the deeper spiritual one that would define his life and his work. Like other musical acts such as the Grateful Dead (many baalei tesbuva Deadheads are loyal fans of Carlebach) the energy and interactive relationship between performer and audience is a fundamental part of Carlebach's magnetism. (61) In Okun's hands, earlier studio recordings capture a particular formulation of Carlebach's musical vision, but they lack the energy of his live performances. This represented a sonic and stylistic departure from his earlier albums and captured echoes of the Jewish Folk Music genre in formation His album from the year before, Shlomo Carlebach Sings, was recorded in Israel, but still featured Carlebach in quasi-cantorial mode and included a number of tracks with full instrumental and choral backing that bore the heavy influences of both Milt Okun and mid-century cantorial music. The music of that recording could have more readily been translated for the purpose of leading prayer than for the collective song of the folk revival. "Live at the Village Gate," however, sounded different, in line with the changing acoustic style of folk music, away from the heavy orchestral arrangements of Belafonte and others, and toward the more marketable and simpler style that characterizes early recordings of Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Dave Von Ronk, and Peter, Paul, and Mary (whose first few albums were also arranged by Milt Okun). It was just Carlebach on stage with his guitar supported by a percussionist, with the sounds of his audience singing along, frequently responding to his direction ("now just humming," he instructed at one point). With occasional touches of fingerpicking, the sound is solo Carlebach, unadorned by Okun's arrangements and unsupported by a professional choir. On a few numbers (Rachem, V'zocher) Carlebach reaches back to his cantorial roots and offers a stand-alone performance in a decidedly presentational style. Most of the other tracks capture Carlebach engaged with his audience, playing them along with his guitar, and leading them through a rollicking sing-along of original compositions with traditional Jewish lyrics.

The audience's lively participation suggests that these were not necessarily the same people who would otherwise have been at The Village Gate to see the New Lost City Ramblers, Joan Baez, Richie Havens or any other of the folk artists who frequented the stages and clubs of the Village during these years. The inadvertent breaking of a glass between songs resulted in someone yelling "mazel tov" to the applause of the audience. It seems to have been a "Carlebach crowd" who came from Brooklyn, Queens and the Upper West Side rather than the Village. They may not have been familiar with all the melodies, but one or two times through and they eagerly joined Carlebach in song. This suggests at least a passing familiarity with the lyrics, most of which would have been known to people who participated regularly in Jewish religious life. In this way, the other voices on the album reveal how Carlebach marshaled the institutional infrastructure of the Folk Revival to carve out a new space for American Jewish cultural production that both reached back to familiar religious refrains and forward to what would later come to be known as "participatory worship." At The Village Gate, Carlebach occupied one of the central stages of the Folk Revival, but his audience remained largely Jewish, non-chasidic chasidim of a sort, who found in his songs a new voice of traditional Judaism that could transgress without transgression. It was an interesting, and fleeting moment of a meeting of Jews from the Upper West Side, Brooklyn and Queens Jews with beatniks and folkies from Washington Square Park and MacDougal Street.

After the Gate

Carlebach's music formulated a kind of sonic Judaism that harmonized with post-war American Jewish religious commitments, not because of their broad agreement about theology or even about public displays of Jewishness. Rather, they found a common key in the intermingling of prevailing American musical styles with commitments to Jewish religion that was, in large measure, intuitional not theological. American Jewish religion in the immediate post-war period, though it drew on religious institutions and rhetoric, drew primarily on the realignment of Jewish ethnic connections. For Carlebach, this was not evident in the success of a Chabad-style outreach campaign, which was rather meager that that time, but rather, it could be heard the formulation of "Jewish Folk Music" as an ethno-religious category within the broader framework of the Folk Revival. His version of Jewish Folk Music did not rely on traditional religious structures, but rather, it became something legible within the emerging framework of American popular musical culture inflected with historical and stylistic continuities with the Old World. The popular literary expression of this would only come almost a decade later with the publication of the first of three volumes of the Jewish Catalog, which expanded the "do it yourself" ethos of hootenannies and folk music from the aural to the material. (62)

Given the prominent role of music in American youth culture of the 1960s and in the counterculture, more specifically, Carlebach's early 60s place in the Folk Revival can be understood as helping to set the stage for a deeper and more sustained engagement with Judaism and the counter-culture after 1967. The Jewish Catalog explicitly credits Carlebach in its short chapter on music, headlining his contributions in the section on "Jewish Religious music." "New Jewish religious music," the authors write, "owes a great debt to Shlomo Carlebach.... He has a large number of excellent songs to his credit that have been accepted as 'traditional' in many Jewish circles." (63) Importantly, the authors of the Jewish Catalog classify Carlebach's music under a different heading than "Hasidic Music," "Ethnic Jewish Music," and "Israeli Music," connecting his music with instructions for "anyone involved in leading group tefillot." (64)

From another vantage point, Carlebach offers a powerful counterpoint to the mid-century arguments about the ascendancy of religion. This line of argument featured prominently in Will Herberg's 1955 Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Nathan Glazer's 1956 study, American Judaism, both which captured the rise of post-war religion in Jewish life, especially in Glazer's chapter, entitled "The Jewish Revival." (65) Glazer explained that the Jewish religion was ascendant and that "Jewishness as a program for life in America--that is, the idea that the Jews in America could continue as a group defined not primarily by religious but by secular culture and quasi-national feeling--was recognized as impossible" (66) Glazer gleefully extrapolated on Will Herberg's starker vision of shifts in ethnic collective identity and praised "the institutions of Jewish religion" for the ways in which "they contribute to the continued existence of the Jewish people." (67) Nevertheless, Glazer also observed that American Jews do not observe religious ritual and that "few Jews would know what the principles of the Jewish faith are." (68) Yet, the "disintegration of religion ... has left certain residues, some of them valuable." (69) Glazer's image of post-war American Jewish life and its emphasis on a fractured but vibrant Jewish religious commitment fit well with large scale suburbanization, the rise of Conservative Judaism and other mid-century trends in American Jewish life that Jeffrey Gurock has described as the transition from "fluidity to rigidity." (70)

Carlebach's music would, much later, come to transform that rigidity, providing something like a sonic gate to allow some passage and exchange between denominations and in some ways to listen and sing across the opacity between them. As an Orthodox Jew who seemed to feel as comfortable in a Reform synagogue as an Orthodox one, without any resonance of ideology, Carlebach opened a few gates of his own. The subsequent saturation of his music into Orthodox minyanim and Reform temples, into political movements such as Soviet Jewry (which may have launched him into a wider Jewish audience) and religious and cultural rituals across and beyond the denominational spectrum evidences his unique place in post-war American life. (71) The ability of his music to eventually play that role drew on the cultural language of the early 1960s, when he transposed Chasidic song into the popular registers of the Folk Revival and created an opening for the Jewish counter-culture that was in its infant stages. His music was not folk music, per se, and thus it is not surprising that Petrus and Cohen do not include him in their Folk City, but it participated in the broader discourse of "folk music," capitalizing on both New York's significant Jewish population, as well as a just-emerging sense of anxiety about baby boomer Jews and their desire to engage in Jewish life.

Outside the Gate

As the sixties progressed, rock and roll effaced the folk scene and the counter-culture became a popular movement, Carlebach performed promiscuously, appearing famously at the Berkeley Folk Music Festival in 1966 and again in 1968. (72) Tales of his appearances in Berkeley and the Bay Area in the late 1960s are legendary, and they led to his assistance in establishing the House of Love and Prayer, a Jewish urban commune and early outreach center in San Francisco. (73) The Berkeley Folk Festivals gave Carlebach the biggest audiences of his career, but they also marked a turning point of sorts, as he never again occupied the role of "Jewish folksinger" on an otherwise non-sectarian stage. Following his appear ances at Berkeley, he moved back into the Jewish community, albeit mostly with disaffiliated young Jews. (74) The end of the Folk Revival left him with no discernible non-Jewish audience.

His appearance in the Bay Area in 1966 marked a transitional phase for him, although it is not at all clear that he recognized it. Organized by Barry Olivier, the 1966 Berkeley Folk Music Festival featured a mixture of musicians that captured the musical variety of the Bay Area and beyond including Phil Ochs and the Limeliters as well as the Jefferson Airplane and Country Joe and the Fish. Spanning the weekend prior to July 4th, Carlebach's appearances were scheduled so as not to conflict with his observance of the Sabbath, with his four appearances taking place on Friday and Monday. According to the official program, Carlebach facilitated a songwriting workshop with Malvina Reynolds and Phil Ochs(!) on Friday, and led a "Jewish Folk Music" workshop on Sunday. He also performed as part of a Friday afternoon concert called "Songs of Three Worlds" and appeared in the Festival's culmination "Jubilee Concert" which included many of the Festival's marquee performers.

Carlebach's place at the festivals, alongside luminaries of the folk music world like Pete Seeger and John Fahey, and those of San Francisco's emerging psychedelic rock scene like The Jefferson Airplane (its founders Jorma Kaukenen, who is Jewish, and Jack Cassidy were folkies from the DC area before moving west), captured the ways in which he helped frame his particular version of Jewish music within the contemporary discourse of American popular music. In this respect, Carlebach was less a representative of an "authentic" inherited Jewish folk music tradition and more a modern musical innovator. In this role, Carlebach embodied a central theme in the American folk revival of the 1960s, where he, like Mississippi John Hurt and Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, John Fahey and Bob Dylan all helped to invent the "folk" whose music they supposedly transmitted and translated for new audiences. (75) The arguments about the authenticity of Child ballads, prison songs of Leadbelly, or the delta blues of Mississippi John Hurt or Muddy Waters roiled the ranks of folk musicians but they did not extend to Carlebach, whose musical tradition was, in some ways, utterly disconnected from any established folk music tradition. He did not inherit it quite as much as he invented it. He was an outsider who absorbed what one might call a musical "discourse" but no one could challenge his interpretations because no one knew the genre because it did not properly exist. We don't really know what his contemporaries thought of him as a musician or a performer. He could have easily been viewed as a charming anomaly that added charismatic color to a musical community that was moving from the more basic genre of folk to the more musically complex modes of blues, jazz, and bluegrass inflected rock and roll.

For Carlebach, participating in the Folk Revival was as much about strumming his guitar, telling Chasidic stories, and leading people in song as it was about making records or achieving stardom. His performance from the 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival captures him deep in this mode. Backed by a tambourine and a bass, Carlebach tried to lead the audience through a song-story-exhortation about "the great shabbes," a number that bore some melodic resemblance to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." His performance appears to have consisted of his playing that single song for about 20 minutes straight, interwoven with encouragement and teachings about prayer, hope, love and the promise that "the sky is our witness, our tears our our witness, the whole world is our witness that tomorrow will be shabbes." (76)

This was his version and vision of the folk, whose music he helped create. His performances often contained, both in music and outside it, a storytelling component that was just as important as the music. One can hear in his storytelling style Woody Guthrie's early recordings as well as the recordings of Cisco Houston, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. Folk music was essentially stories set to music and it was often the story that was its central component. Woody Guthrie's masterful storytelling and Leadbelly's stories about prison life in the south is replicated and perhaps even parodied in Woody's son Arlo's Alice's Restaurant (1967) and Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody" (1962). Here Carlebach fits right in and it needs to be explored further whether he adapted what became his emblematic style from his exposure to Guthrie, Houston, and others. His concerts were replete with fantastical stories about a prewar Eastern European Jewish world that never existed but one that lived vividly in his mind. He knew that. His audience knew that. But it didn't matter. His friend and colleague Zalman Schachter-Shalomi called Shlomo "The Master of Virtuous Reality." (77) The colorful and fantastical characters in his stories became interchangeable with the teller of those stories. "Black Wolf," "Yossele the Holy Miser," "Moshele the Ganev"--they were all refracted images of Shlomo's own persona. (78) That is one of the reasons why his coalescence of Jewish Folk Music was so convincing. That is why the folk, who did not exist and whose music he invented, seemed so real. Through his imagination he represented a postwar remnant of a lost world of oral culture, of bygone days when inspirational teachers traveled the dirt roads between towns and villages taking small sums of money to preach in synagogues across Eastern Europe. While he took jumbo jets (he often recounted proudly flying on the Concorde), he largely lived and died the life of those lost itinerants, again and again. Night after night.

But Carlebach was more than simply a weaver of "virtuous reality." And even if his contribution to the folk scene was minimal, he gleaned much from it. After the mid 1960s when the Folk Revival collapsed, Carlebach released each of his subsequent records on Jewish labels. "Live at the Village Gate" was a moment in time that was never repeated. His real contribution was how he changed the way many Jews related to their tradition and their world, arguably something that only an itinerant--whose fleeting influence carries its own power--can accomplish. He seemed unable or unwilling to remain in one place; he was lost as easily as discovered, he passionately advocated a strong commitment to tradition just as easily as he advocated a passionate call for change. This fleeting quality also marked the inconsistency of his thought. He was a defender of tradition who was also an iconoclast, someone who took two seemingly disparate worlds (Eastern European Hasidism and the American counter-culture) and made them one, so much so that today many unconsciously view one through the lens of the other. He invented the Jewish folk as much as he conjured them forth in his songs and his stories, and in the musical legacy that has reshaped the oral and aural cultures of American Jewish life.

Carlebach created for his listeners a vision of old-world Hasidism that was unapologetic yet inoffensive, a Hasidism that was as ahistorical as he was, a fantastical world he constructed in his fertile imagination. Carlebach brought many souls back to "traditional" Judaism by making Judaism untraditional. But he also brought Hasidism to many who were not Jewish. Hasidism was, for a short period of time, a rebellious and nonconformist protest movement against rabbinic Judaism in Eastern Europe, but it had long ago conformed to the dictates of rabbinic authority and by the 20th century, it was quite conservative, even reactionary. But Carlebach, himself a product not of Eastern Europe but of German Jewish Orthodoxy, embraced what he believed was Hasidism's rebellious inner voice and linked that to the counter-cultural world of the Folk Revival and later, to student protests and the search for spirituality. He let the American counter-culture serve as the frame and his idiosyncratic vision of Hasidism as the substance of his new American Jewish piety. In short, he turned Judaism inside out. (79)

In this sense, Carlebach entered the folk revival as a musician not knowing the extent to which he was already involved in his own folk revival, which is why his absence from any previous histories of the folk movement is lamentable. From the Hasidic world largely lost in the Holocaust, he rebuilt that lost world through story and song for the imaginations of young Jews who only saw the brokenness but not the light that shone before the darkness descended. In this way, Carlebach's songs and stories parallel Leadbelly's songs of being black in the plantation south, of the hardscrabble life depicted in the songs of Kentucky miner Roscoe Holcomb or Virginia banjo player Doc Boggs, or of the dustbowl years in Guthrie's tales of woe. They also are a kind of precursor to later efforts to recapture, reclaim and ultimately reinvent the Yiddish cultures of Jewish Eastern Europe that spread into literature, film, and theater. (80)

Omitted from most accounts of the Folk Revival, Carlebach's long-lasting effects arguably outstrip his contributions to the scene. Rather, his invention of a genre has had cultural and political ripples far beyond arguments about how "authentic" folk music has to be. Dave van Ronk stayed true to traditional folk, dismissed rock music as a sell-out, and died in relative obscurity. (81) Phil Ochs stayed a political radical, devoting his energies to political revolutions in South America and met a tragic end. Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell became two of the most prominent female voices of the counter-culture. Pete Seeger articulated the moral voice against Vietnam, saved the Hudson River from pollution and became the elder statement of folk music. Bob Dylan became the "voice of a generation" and a cultural icon of rock and roll. Shlomo Carlebach told stories, sang songs, and taught Torah wherever he went. But without the Folk Revival it is unlikely that he would have found his groove. As he himself might have said: "I'm a just a poor schlepper, what can you do?" In the end, he transformed Jewish life by inventing the Jewish folk and pointing to the ways in which mid-century Jewish religious practice could capitalize on the ethos of the Folk Revival. Without it, the world beyond a relatively small cadre of 'seeking' Jews would likely have had no real access to his musical and imaginative creativity. As such, his voice has been largely omitted from accounts of the New York Folk Revival, stuck at the gates, a traveler among travelers, on a borrowed oath he later made his own.


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Sparks, Richard, and Milt Okun. Along the Cherry Lane: Tales from the Life of Music Industry Legend Milton Okun. 1St Edition edition. Beverly Hills, Calif: Classical Music Today, 2011.

Szwed, John. Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World. Reprint edition. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.

Turk, David A. De, and A. Poulin, eds. The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival. New York N.Y.: Dell Publishing Company, 1967.

Weiss, Sam. "Carlebach, Neo-Hasidic Music and Liturgical Practice." Journal of Synagogue Music 34 (Fall 2009).

Zack, Ian. Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis. 1St Edition edition. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2015.

The authors would like to thank Menachem Butler for his help with this essay.

(1.) See, for example, in Shaul Magid "Carlebach's Broken Mirror," Tablet, Nov 1, 2012 at 76/carlebachbroken-mirror.

(2.) See, Petrus and Cohen, Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 29. The Carter Family came to New York in the 1930s as did cowboy singer Gene Autrey, who came to record in 1935. Leadbelly first arrived in New York with Alan Lomax in 1934. Woody Guthrie arrived in 1940. One very significant moment in the folk revival happened after a performance of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" in New York in 1940 when Woody Guthrie first met Pete Seeger. Lomax wrote, "Go back to that night when Pete first met Woody Guthrie. You can date the renaissance of American folk song from that night." See, Pete Seeger in His Own Words, R. Rosenthal and S. Rosenthal eds. (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2012), 13, 14; See also Joe Klein, Woody Guthrie, A Life (New York: Knopf, 1980).

(3.) Petrus and Cohen note, "The expansion of the folk industry also illuminated the growing entrepreneurial presence of Jews in the city ... For the most part second-generation in background, they also reflected a creative and sometimes paradoxical blend of the capitalist economic spirit and progressive political commitment that characterized Jewish culture in the city." Folk City, 71, 72.

(4.) The Yiddish and Hebrew poet and writer Shalom Asch and Carlebach could have travelled in the same immigrant circles in New York in the 50s although we do not have any evidence that they knew one another. There were much younger Jewish musicians who were hanging around these circles at that time, for example, David Bromberg who studied with Rev. Gary Davis in the Bronx and later became an important interpreter of American folk traditions. Another much younger musician, Henry (Hank) Sapoznik was also in these circles. After spending time with Tommy Jarell and other musicians in the Virginia and North Carolina region known as Round Peak and Piedmont, honing his skills as an old-time musician, he later returned to his roots to help generate the Klezmer revival in the 70s and 80s. See Sapoznik, Jewish Music from Old World to Our World (New York: Trade Books, 2006). Cf. in James Randolph Ruchala, "Making Round Peak Music: History, Revitalization, and Community" [PhD dissertation, Brown University, 2011], 210-212. Another name worth mentioning is banjo virtuoso Ken Perlman, originally from Queens, who travelled in these circles and then went on to found the melodic style of clawhammer banjo and become a scholar of the tradition music of the Maritime Provinces in Canada.

(5.) See Michael Lang, The Road to Woodstock (New York: Eco, 2010),

(6.) Interestingly all of the above were profiled in Petrus and Cohen's Folk City except Carlebach. One might say the absence of Carlebach was strange except for that fact that he really was an interloper in the movement, never really identifying with its larger social, political, and even cultural issues. Carlebach found the folk revival a fitting place to launch his career and in many ways it introduced him to the American counter-culture that he later utilized in the Bay Aea with his House of Love and Prayer. But in terms of the folk revival he remained very much on the margins. On his career in the Bay Area see Nathan Ofir, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy (Jerusalem, Urim Books, 2014); Aryae Coopersmith, Holy Beggars (El Granada, CA: One World Lights, 2011), and Chaim Dalfin, The Real Shlomo (Santa Fe, NM: Gaon Books, 2015).

(7.) See Judah Cohen, The Making of a Reform Jewish Cantor: Musical Authority, Cultural Investment (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2009); See also Judah Cohen, "Sing Unto God: Debbie Friedman and the Changing Sound of Jewish Liturgical Music," Contemporary Jewry, 35:1 (April 2015), 13-34.

(8.) This also includes the neo-Hasidic folk revival in Israel in the early 70s where Carlebach played a pivotal role. For a musicological study of Carlebach's role in neo-hassidic music, see Sam Weiss, "Carlebach, Neo-Hasidic Music and Liturgical Practice." Journal of Synagogue Music, 34. (Fall 2009), 101-117.

(9.) Slobin, Mark. Chosen Voices: The Story of the American Cantorate. Reprint edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002) ix

(10.) For some reflection on Jews in the Folk Revival, in general, see Gillian Mitchell. The North American Folk Music Revival: Nation And Identity in the United States And Canada, 1945-1980 (Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub Co, 2007), 62-64.

(11.) See John Szwed, Alan Lomax: The Man who Recorded the World (New York, Penguin Books, 2011). See also Filene, "Our Singing Country": John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past." American Quarterly 43:3 (1991), 602-624; Benjamin Filene, Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

(12.) Cited in Petrus/Cohen, Folk City, 58.

(13.) See Dave van Ronk with Elijah Wood, The Mayor of MacDougal Street (New York: Da Capo Press, 2005), 4. The battle between the traditionalists and the original songwriters in the Folk Revival has its parallel in the jazz scene in the 1940s when Bebop was breaking into the more traditional New Orleans style jazz ensemble. The "hoppers" were considered the progressives and the "mouldy figs" were the traditionalists. See idem. 13, 14.

(14.) See Petrus/Cohen, Folk City, 196-245. Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, and largely forgotten figures such as Guy Carawan played leading roles in the activist branch of the folk revival. For the politics of authenticity in the Folk Revival, see also William G. Roy, Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Ronald Cohen, Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940--1970 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002). See also Neil V. Rosenberg, Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993). For a fascinating document of the time that discusses some of these issues, see David A DeTurk, and A. Poulin, eds. The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival (New York N.Y.: Dell Publishing Company, 1967).

(15.) For more on the rise of Chabad in American life see Adam S. Ferziger, Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2015).

(16.) See Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, My Life in Renewal: A Memoire (New York: Roman and Littlefield, 1012.), 49-64.

(17.) This quotation first appeared in a posthumously published interview with Carlebach. Tikkun. 12:5 (September-October 1997), 53. Quoted in Ofir, Shlomo Carlebach, 70.

(18.) The role of song in Chabad in its communal gathering (farbregens) is well-known. See Ellen Koskoff, Music in Lubavitcher Life (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001) 3--14.

(19.) Young, quoted in Scott S. Barretta (ed.). The Conscience of the Folk Revival: The Writings of Israel "Izzy" Young. (Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md. 2012), 56.

(20.) Carlebach, Tikkun Interview, 1997.

(21.) For his early guitar playing see Ofir, Shlomo Carlebach, 77-83.

(22.) Ofir, Shlomo Carlebach, 77.

(23.) Boris Smolar, "Between You and Me."

(24.) For a detailed archival account of the production, see the entry in "Mapping Yiddish New York," an online archive of Yiddish culture in New York City, https:// See also Ofir, 77.

(25.) Mark Kligman, Jewish Music in America." 2001 American Jewish Yearbook (New York, NY, 2001), 98.

(26.) Advertisement in the Columbia Daily Spectator, vol. CII, number 56. December 2-0, 1957, page 2.

(27.) See Sue Fishkoff, The Rebbe's Army (New York: Shocken Books, 2005). See also M. Avrum Ehrlich, The Messiah of Brooklyn (Jersey City: Ktav Publishing, 2005). Sam Heilman, Defenders fo the Faith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

(28.) Gladys Graham. "IT HAPPENED IN NEW YORK."

(29.) On Young and the Folk Center, See Petrus/Cohen, Folk City, 69-81.

(30.) Bob Dylan, Chronicles (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), 18. Dylan's account of the role of the Folklife Institute and of Izzy Young follows, 18-24.

(31.) Ari Y. Kelman "Hear Israel," Tablet Magazine Online. January 7, 2011.

(32.) Jonathan Karp, "Performing Black-Jewish Symbiosis: The "Hassidic Chant" of Paul Robeson." American Jewish History, 91:1 (2003), 53-81.

(33.) For accounts of the politics of the Folk Revival, Serge Denisoff, R. Serge. Great Day Coming (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1971). See also Robert Cantwell. When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

(34.) For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish songs sung by African American performers, see the collection, Black Sabbath. Ideslohn Society for Musical Preservation (2010). The singular exception to the secular rule was Johnny Mathis' recording of "Kol Nidre," which, oddly, he styled on Perry Como's 1953 recording of the same. The full story is sensationally retold in the liner notes of Black Sabbath

(35.) Alternatively, the producer Moe Asch, who might have been a connection for Carlebach in the early days, was an avid supporter of civil rights and African-American culture, long before most Jews got involved, as early as the late 1940s. See Petrus/Cohen, Folk City, 213.

(36.) Coopersmith, Holy Beggars. Also see Yaakov Ariel, "Hasidism in the Age of Aquarius: The House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, 1967-1977." Religion and American Culture, 13:2 (2003), 139-165.

(37.) Harry Smith's remarkable and influential Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways, 1952) fueled the burgeoning curiosity of the folk scene and served as an inspiration of many young performers. Bob Dylan himself recorded a number of tracks from Smith's anthology during his formative years, many of which are captured on his first album, as well as the Bob Dylan: Bootleg Series box set (1991).

(38.) Peter D. Goldsmith, Making People's Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records (Washington DC: Smithsonian, 1998), 153-154.

(39.) Mitchell, The North American Folk Music Revival, 62-63.

(37.) Harry Smith's remarkable and influential Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways, 1952) fueled the burgeoning curiosity of the folk scene and served as an inspiration of many young performers. Bob Dylan himself recorded a number of tracks from Smith's anthology during his formative years, many of which are captured on his first album, as well as the Bob Dylan: Bootleg Series box set (1991).

(38.) Peter D. Goldsmith, Making People's Music: Moe Asch and Folkways Records (Washington DC: Smithsonian, 1998), 153-154.

(39.) Mitchell, The North American Folk Music Revival, 62-63.

(40.) See Filene, Romancing the Folk, 9-46.

(41.) On Rosenblatt see Samuel Rosenblatt, Yossele Rosenblatt: The Story of His Life as Told by His Son (New York: FS&G, 1954). Samuel Rosenblatt became a well-known scholar of medieval Jewish and Judeo-Arabic philosophy.

(42.) See Richard Sparks and Milt Okun, Along the Cherry Lane: Tales from the Life of Music Industry Legend Milt Okun (Beverly Hills: Classical Music Today, zoii), 31-48.

(43.) A special thank you to Jeremiah Lockwood for his interpretive analysis of these albums.

(44.) Sparks and Okun, Along the Cherry Lane, 37.

(45.) Ofir, citing Carlebach's daughter, Neshama, mentions that the band included a combination of Belafonte's band and singers from the "Baptist choir from the church down the street." (Ofir, 93). While not impossible, this seems unlikely for two reasons. First, this is precisely the kind of luscious detail that Okun would have mentioned in his memoir, and he does not. Second, the voices on the album do not reveal any of the harmonic or timbral signatures associated with mid-century gospel music from the black church. Okun's story about Belafonte's band seems more likely. Neshama Carlebach later recorded a record of her own "Higher and Higher" with the Green Pastures Baptist Church Choir in 2009. See a review in Magid, "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and his Interpreters: A Review Essay of two New Musical Releases, Musica Judaica Online Reviews, September 6, 2010.

(46.) Sparks and Okun, Along the Cherry Lane, 103.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Ophir, Shlomo Carlebach, 94-96. The search for other artists on Zimra found no records in any known library or any specialized database of Jewish music. Those searched include Worldcat, the Freedman Catalog at University of Pennsylvania, the Dartmouth Jewish Sound Archive, and the Judaica Sound Archive at the Florida Atlantic University.

(49.) Hanshomo Loch (Zimra Records, ZR 201-A), 1959. In the collection of the author. In that copy, the recycled record jacket formerly belonged to a release by Edmund Ros and his Orchestra called Perfect for Dancing (Decca LK 4236). The back of the Carlebach jacket features only the song lyrics in English and transliteration, along with the song titles in Hebrew. Ophir reports some descriptive information that was included on later recordings but not on the original. See Ophir, Shlomo Carlebach 95.

(50.) Quoted in Barretta, The Conscience of the Folk Revival, 56. The original column appeared in Sing Out! Vol 11:1, Feb-March 1961, 84, 86.

(51.) Billboard Music Week, September 22, 1962, 6.

(52.) Advertisement, New York Times, 25 Sep 1960: Xio.

(53.) See Petrus/Cohen, Folk City, 181-188.

(54.) Display Advertisement, New York Times, October 1, 1961, 87.

(55.) Robert Shelton, "Rabbi Carlebach Sings Spirituals: Baritone Who Left Pulpit Gives Jewish Program." The New York Times, Oct. 23 1961, 24.

(56.) Robert Shelton, "The Joys of Hasidic Song." The New York Times, Sept 10, 1961. X20.

(57.) Robert Shelton, "The Joys of Hasidic Song" New York Times, September 10, 1961: X20. For Village Gate Performance announcements see "Cabaret Tonight," New York Times June 25, 1962: 23. See also "Cabaret Tonight," New York Times, October 22, 1962.

(58.) Billboard Magazine. March 16, 1963, no page number.

(59.) Walter Arlen, "Rabbi Plays Guitar, Sings." Los Angeles Times, 22 Jan 1963.

(60.) On Davis and his religiosity see Ian Zach, Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

(61.) Carlebach once opened for an all-night Grateful Dead show in San Francisco in the late 60s, booked by Bill Graham whom Carlebach knew from Brooklyn. Cf. Menash Bleiweiss, "The Grateful Yid and the Grateful Dead: How Reb Shlomo Carleh ic Jerry Garcia Serenaded the Jewish Soul."

(62.) Richard. Siegel, Michael. Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld, The Jewish Catalog (Philadelphia, JPS, 1973). See also Ari Y. Kelman, Ari Y. "Reading a Book Like an Object: The Case of 'The Jewish Catalog."' In Thinking Jewish Culture in America, edited by Ken Koltun-Fromm (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013) 109-30.

(63.) Siegel, Strassfeld, and Strassfeld (eds) The Jewish Catalog, 203.

(64.) Ibid.

(65.) Nathan Glazer, American Judaism, 2nd revised edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Will Herberg. Protestant--Catholic--Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1983(1955)).

(66.) Glazer, American Judaism, 108.

(67.) Ibid, 126.

(68.) Ibid. 130.

(69.) Ibid. 134.

(70.) Jeffrey S. Gurock, "From Fluidity to Rigidity: The Religious Worlds of Conservative and Orthodox Jews in Twentieth-Century America." In American Jewish Identity Politics, edited by Deborah Dash Moore (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2009) 159-206.

(71.) See Gal Beckerman, When They Come For Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry (New York: Harcourt Mifflin, 2010). See also, Shaul Kelner, "Ritualized Protest and Redemptive Politics: Cultural Consequences of the American Mobilization to Free Soviet Jewry." Jewish Social Studies 14, no. 3 (2008): 1-37.

(72.) On the history of the Berkeley Folk Music Festival, see Ronald D. Cohen, A History of Folk Music Festivals in the United States: Feasts of Musical Celebration (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 65-68. There are also a number of websites dedicated to the Berkeley Folk Music Festival that include posters, programs and other documents. See "Berkeley Folk Festival--1966" and "Berkeley Folk Music Festival." Also, Michael J. Kramer has undertaken an effort to create an online archive of the Berkeley Folk Music Festivals, drawn from the archives of Barry Olivier, the festival's founder. Some of that effort can be viewed at the "The Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project."

(73.) See Ophir, Shlomo Carlebach 132-173, and Coopersmith, Holy Beggars.

(74.) His press photo for the 1968 Berkeley Folk Music Festival described him as "one of the most famous Jewish folksingers in the world." Photograph in the Berkeley Folk Festival Archive, 1957-1970 (MS63). Special Collections Department, Northwestern University. Box 2, file 8. Special thanks to Michael J. Kramer for connecting us to this material.

(75.) Filene, Romancing the Folk.

(76.) Audio recording. Thursday July 4, 1968 at the UC Berkeley Student Center Plaza. "Country Fair Concert" included Sam Hinton and Jesse Stuart, among others. Berkeley Folk Festival Archive, 1957-1970 (MS63). Special Collections Department, Northwestern University. Special thanks to Michael J. Kramer for connecting us to this material.

(77.) On this see Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Wrapped in a Holy Flame : Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003) 287-296.

(78.) It is difficult to write about the persona of Carlebach without noting the posthumous claims of sexual abuse. See Sarah Blustain. "Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's Shadow Side." Lilith Magazine 2.3:1 (Spring 1998), 12-16. See also Magid, "Carlebach's Broken Mirror."

(79.) See Magid, "Carlebach's Broken Mirror."

(80.) There is no shortage of cultural examples of the fascination with Eastern Europe that have appeared in the late 20th and early 21th century. There are too many to list here, but the phenomenon is worth noting in this context.

(81.) See Dave van Rock and Elijah Wald, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, 211-225.
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Date:Oct 1, 2016
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