Tag Archives: Music

Jew of the Week: Jerry Wexler

The King of R&B

Gerald Wexler (1917-2008) was born in The Bronx to an immigrant family of German-Jewish and Polish-Jewish background. He graduated from high school by age 15, but there was little to do in the difficult days of the Great Depression. Wexler spent much of his time with a small circle of friends listening to music and discussing literature. It was only after returning from World War II military service that he finally pursued a career in journalism and music. He got a job as a reporter for Billboard Magazine, and soon became its editor. At the time, the magazine had a separate music chart for “black music”, called “Race Records”. Wexler took a stand against racism and came up with a new title, renaming the chart “Rhythm & Blues”. He thus coined the now popular term “R&B”. In 1953, the president of the start-up Atlantic Records (a fellow Jew named Herb Abramson) was drafted to the US Army. Wexler was offered to take his place. Under Wexler’s leadership, Atlantic Records became one of the world’s most successful music labels, and produced some of the biggest names in music, including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. For bringing the latter to the world, Wexler was named Record Executive of the Year in 1967. (Franklin had struggled to find success in music until Wexler convinced her to join him at Atlantic, and produced her breakout hit song, “Respect”.) The following year, he signed a young group called Led Zeppelin. Wexler would go on to work with other big stars, including Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees, Richard Pryor, Carlos Santana, and George Michael. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Wexler played a central role in ending the era of “race music” (and stopping the practice of white musicians covering songs of black musicians and raking in all the fame and fortune for themselves). He opened the door for more “black music” to enter the once all-white Billboard charts, and has been credited with bringing “black music to the masses”. Not surprisingly, Wexler has been called “a prophet of roots and rhythm” and “the Jewish king of black music”.

Words of the Week

Music is the pen of the soul.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadifounder of Chabad

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.