National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene Concerts to Explore Affinities Between Black and Jewish Folk-Music Traditions

Israeli singer-songwriter Magda Fishman

(NEW YORK, N.Y.) –  Soul to Soul, an innovative concert that explores the intersections between African-American and Yiddish folk music traditions, will be performed on several occasions this winter, beginning Wednesday, January 18, at 7 pm, in commemoration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. Created by Zalmen Mlotek and presented by the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene in association with The Workmen’s Circle, this edition of Soul to Soul kicks off a series of music and educational events planned by Folksbiene culminating the week before Passover.

Soul to Soul features a unique interracial cast – the Israeli-born singer-songwriter and trumpet player Magda Fishman, opera’s Elmore James and the actor Tony Perry – backed by a four-piece klezmer-jazz band led by Mlotek.

For the Soul to Soul project this winter, Folksbiene is inviting a number of organizations, artists and academics to collaborate on a series of cross-cultural, inter-disciplinary events that will take a fresh look at some of the affinities between the Yiddish folk/klezmer and black spirituals, gospel and jazz. Among its plans are a week of concerts in the days before Passover, as well as a music symposium centered on the theme of slavery and the ways spiritual and folk music have historically responded to oppression and persecution.

'Soul to Soul' creator Zalmen Mlotek

According to Mlotek, an internationally recognized conductor, composer and Yiddish music authority, the African-American and Jewish people have many shared traditions, including overcoming persecution and celebrating life through spiritual music. Mlotek received wide praise for his many contributions to the highly acclaimed klezmer musical Shlemiel the First, which Folksbiene co-produced with Theatre for a New Audience, Peak Performances and NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in a limited run that ended last week.

In addition to the as-yet unannounced Passover concerts, Soul to Soul will be performed on Wednesday April 4, at Queens College, as part of Folksbiene’s ongoing outreach series hosted by the City University of New York. The CUNY series, now in its sixth season, is dedicated to bringing the many riches of Yiddish culture to young and underserved audiences in the City.  (April 4 marks the anniversary Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Passover, the holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Jews, begins at sundown on April 6.)

The Israeli-born Magda Fishman is a singer/songwriter and trumpet player who mixes jazz, liturgical and folk music in her varied repertoire. She serves as the cantor at Beth Am synagogue in Los Angeles. Elmore James is a veteran of five Broadway productions and numerous opera stages around the world. Tony Perry, a commanding young singer-actor, has acted bilingually in English and Yiddish with Folksbiene, most notably in the world premiere of Murray Schisgal’s Shpiel! Shpiel! Shpiel!

“On January 18 we launch a true community-building project that will bring together African-American and Jewish academics, musicians and songwriters,” says Bryna Wasserman, Folksbiene’s new executive director. “And like Shlemiel the First, Soul to Soul shows how we can make Yiddish culture alive and relevant for new audiences, a process that we see as central to our ability to thrive as a modern arts organization.” Joining Folksbiene as charter co-sponsors of the Soul to Soul project are The Workmen’s Circle/Arbiter Ring and the City University of New York, with leadership support provided by Paul Bernstein.

Three years shy of its 100th anniversary, the Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world.  Presenting plays, concerts and literary events in English and Yiddish, (with English and Russian supertitles accompanying all performances), Folksbiene’s two-fold mission is to preserve the legacy of the Yiddish theatre — dating back to the late 19th century in Europe — and to add to this legacy by developing inventive, new work.

For more Folksbiene season information, visit National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene, or call 212.213.2120.




  1 comment for “National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene Concerts to Explore Affinities Between Black and Jewish Folk-Music Traditions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.