Date: May 19, 2018

Location: West End Synagogue
3810 West End Ave.
Nashville, TN 37205


Judy Klass will teach at WES for Shavuot!
Saturday, May 19
Judy Klass, Senior Lecturer of Jewish Studies and English at Vanderbilt, will teach on 5/19 at 7:30pm. She'll teach about "Jews and American Popular Music." For much of the Twentieth Century, Jewish Americans wrote the majority of America’s popular songs. They were the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley, and they were the ones, for the most part, who invented the Broadway musical. This talk will consider songwriting pioneers. It will touch on the problematic history of Jews and African-Americans in American music. In the early 1900s, Jews were seen as existing somewhere “between” whites and blacks, and some Jewish songwriters took it upon themselves to fuse styles and interpret one world for another. So, Irving Berlin wrote “ragtime” for mainstream audiences, and George Gershwin “made a lady” out of jazz. But this led to charges of exploitation and appropriation – not to mention how so many great early writers wrote songs for minstrel shows, and so many famous Jewish singers, from Al Jolson to Eddie Cantor to Sophie Tucker, started out performing in blackface. Jewish writers of musicals often gave important roles to African-Americans, Latinos and Asians with the goal of demonstrating the folly of prejudice. They felt a kinship with other oppressed minorities. But were shows like Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat, the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and so on progressive – or problematic texts? Issues of Jews and the black community continue to crop up when one considers the sexual and racial politics of the Brill Building, some early rock and roll songwriters, Paul Simon’s Graceland album and other texts. Jews kept on writing political songs throughout the Twentieth Century, sometimes in a folk music context but in others as well . . . this talk will take a fond but critical look back at some fascinating songs, shows and writers.

The evening will begin with Judy’s lecture at 7:30 followed by Ma’ariv at 8:30, a dessert reception at 8:45 p.m., and then a class taught by Rabbi Joshua Kullock at 9:00 p.m.

Sunday, May 20
Shavuot service at 9:30 a.m. followed by lunch

Monday, May 21
Shavuot service at 9:30 a.m. followed by lunch