Tag Archives: Grammy Award

Jew of the Week: Michael Bolton

Michael Bolotin (b. 1953) was born in Connecticut. His grandparents were all Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Russia, and kept a strictly kosher home. Bolotin, however, was more like his liberal parents who, fed up with anti-Semitic discrimination, sought to assimilate into American society and kept a Christmas tree alongside their menorah. This may explain why Bolotin was a trouble maker at his Hebrew school, and got kicked out when he was 13. That same year, he tragically lost his father. Music was one way to cope with the loss. At 16, he was signed to a record deal and dropped out of high school. His first songs didn’t go anywhere, so he joined a heavy metal band which opened for Ozzy Osbourne. Still, he struggled to make a living for a decade. It wasn’t until 1983 that Bolotin (now going by Bolton) had his first hit with a song he co-wrote, then released his breakthrough (fifth) album in 1987. By the late 80s’, Bolton was a household name, and in 1989 he won his first Grammy for “How I Am Supposed to Live Without You”, then a second in 1991 for “When a Man Loves a Woman”. All in all, Bolton produced 20 albums (so far) and sold over 75 million records, with 9 singles hitting number one on the Billboard 100. Bolton also wrote hit songs for other artists like Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Kiss; appeared in eight films and television shows; and published an autobiography. In 1993, he established The Michael Bolton Charities, focusing on helping women and children suffering from poverty and sexual abuse, and providing opportunities for underprivileged youth. Over the years, the foundation has donated over $10 million to organizations across America. Bolton is the chairman of Prevent Child Abuse America, and a vocal member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Last year, he opened the Family Justice Center in his hometown, a support clinic for victims of domestic violence. For his charitable work and success in music, Bolton was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and among many other distinctions, has received the Martin Luther King Award for promoting racial equality. His timeless ballads and one-of-a-kind voice have made Bolton a living legend.

Words of the Week

The footsteps of man are directed by God.
– Psalms 37:23

Bolton once shaved off his famous long, golden hair for charity; it was auctioned off for $6000. He has raised even more money by playing charity baseball games with his “Bolton Bombers” team.

Jew of the Week: Shelley Berman

Sheldon Leonard Berman (1925-2017) was born in Chicago. After serving in the navy during the Second World War, he went to study drama and theatre. Berman soon moved to New York in search of his big break, and in the mean time made a living as a taxi driver, dance instructor, speech therapist, and drug store worker. Failing to find success, Berman returned to Chicago and joined the Compass Players actors group. This group would transform into The Second City, an improv troupe that became one of the most influential in the world, eventually spawning Saturday Night Live, and many other hit shows and comedy clubs. In 1957, Berman started doing stand-up comedy and was soon signed to a record deal. His first three albums all went gold, and Berman won the first-ever Grammy for a comedy recording. With this, Berman launched an industry, making comedy albums popular and paving the way for countless future comedians. Berman starred on Broadway, and appeared on multiple TV shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Twilight Zone, and MacGyver; as well as Friends, The King of Queens, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Grey’s Anatomy later in his career. Berman also appeared in 11 films, wrote three books, two plays, and numerous poems and TV scripts. For twenty years, he taught humour writing at the University of Southern California. Berman was famous for his clean, innocent jokes; for making the annoyances of everyday life hilarious. Great comedians like Steve Martin, Woody Allen, and Jerry Seinfeld followed in his footsteps, and credited him with both being an inspiration, and “changing modern stand-up”. Sadly, Berman passed away last month from complications related to Alzheimer’s. Berman left behind a daughter, and a wife to whom he was happily married for an incredible seventy years. This was the achievement he was most proud of, and said: “The love we have and the way it has grown, that’s what I’d like to be remembered for.”

Words of the Week

Humour uplifts the mind from a state of constricted consciousness to a state of expanded consciousness.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

Jew of the Week: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Cohen (Credit: CBC)

Leonard Norman Eliezer Cohen (1934-2016) was born in Montreal, the grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi and a Polish immigrant who founded the Canadian Jewish Congress. Cohen grew up very close to his Jewish community, and attended Montreal’s Jewish Herzliah High School, where he was first inspired to take up poetry by a teacher. While studying at McGill University, he published his first set of award-winning poems. His second book of poetry found even more success, and was seen as an important work in Canadian literature, with one critic calling Cohen “the best young poet in English Canada.” Cohen moved to a small island off the coast of Greece and wrote prolifically, publishing several more books of poetry and novels. One of his later books – a Literary Award winner – was inspired by the Hebrew Bible and consisted of 50 poems that Cohen called “prayers”. Meanwhile, Cohen started recording music in the 1960s as poetry did not bring the income he hoped for. His first album was a big hit in the US and UK. It was his seventh album that had his most famous song, “Hallelujah”, which Cohen went through some 80 drafts writing, and “banging his head on the floor”. The song was inspired by various Biblical scenes, including the stories of Samson and Delilah, and King David and Batsheva. It would be covered by over 200 artists in dozens of languages, and become the subject of a whole book and BBC documentary. In 1994, Cohen entered a period of five years of seclusion during which time he was ordained a Zen Buddhist monk. However, he never abandoned his Jewish roots, and said, “I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.” Cohen was known to keep Shabbat throughout his career, even while on tour. In his 2009 concert in Tel-Aviv, Cohen spoke Hebrew and ended the concert with Birkat Cohanim, the priestly blessing. During the Yom Kippur War, Cohen went to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz before going to the front lines himself to entertain Israeli soldiers, saying he will “stop Egypt’s bullets”. In his 1972 Jerusalem concert he was so emotional that he had to walk off stage at one point. The crowd started singing to bring him back and a teary-eyed Cohen felt like “the entire audience turned into one Jew”. All in all, Cohen produced 15 albums (the last of which was released just three weeks ago), 13 poetry books, and two novels. He won a plethora of awards – including multiple Junos and Grammys, the Order of Canada, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – and inspired countless musicians, poets, and artists. He has been hailed as one of the most influential songwriters and greatest musicians of all time. Sadly, Cohen passed away earlier this week.

Words of the Week

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
– Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.

Leonard Cohen performing for the IDF, with Ariel Sharon looking on.