New Yiddish singing stars are hard to find these days. Yiddish songs are usually sung by veterans of the old Second Avenue Yiddish theatre circuit and in revivals by theatre groups such as the Folksbiene Playhouse.
Now a new, dynamic opera singer, Anthony Russell, has emerged on the Yiddish singing scene. An African-American from a devout Christian family who became enamored with Judaism, Yiddish, and the work of Sidor Belarsky, the Jewish opera singer and music teacher who was famous in the mid-20th century, Russell has embraced his new religion and the music that gives expression to it.
As Renee Ghert-Zand wrote in The Times of Israel,
If you think you know what a Yiddish singing star looks like, think again. The new, hot name in the world of Yiddish musical performance is Anthony Russell, and he’s a 33-year-old, 6’1’’ African-American hipster from Oakland, California. Russell, whose full stage name is Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell, is a Jew by choice, an opera singer by training, and a Yiddish singer by calling.
Proving that you don’t need to have roots in the shtetls of Eastern Europe to connect deeply with mammeloshen, Russell is quickly gaining notice for his expressive interpretation of Yiddish folk songs and Hassidic niggunim (wordless melodies).In this interview, Russell describes his love of all things Jewish, especially Yiddish song, and gives us a few snippets from his Yiddish repertoire.
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