Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011): Queen of Yiddish Song


The mother of the Yiddish song and language revival, Adrienne Cooper, has left us suddenly and entirely too soon. I knew her slightly, seeing her sometimes at social events, organizational meetings and performances. On occasion I’d see her on the street or even in a parking garage.
She was always cordial, even when an article of mine angered some colleagues, and she went out of her way to reassure me that I was still welcome. She even thanked me for the “free publicity.”
And then there was her voice, her scholarship and her activism, perhaps more cultural than political. She made a choice to devote her professional life to Yiddish and Yiddish song, rather than American history, in which she nearly completed a doctorate. Highlights of her career included about a decade each in important executive positions at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, and in the Workmens Circle/Arbeiter Ring, a longstanding cultural and fraternal organization with a legacy of social democratic and labor union activism. I last saw her at a Passover “model seder” she presided over for the Workmens Circle, a traditional event that I used to attend with my retired parents in the South Florida chapter years ago. We had no inkling of her illness, a rare and vicious cancer that was difficult to diagnose–a diagnosis she didn’t receive until July.
Among her achievements was the founding of KlezKamp, a week-long celebration of Klezmer music, dance and the Yiddish language. Poignantly, she passed away on the first day of this past December’s KlezKamp.
This Forward podcast compiled by Jon Kalish provides highlights of the very moving memorial service at New York’s Ansche Chesed synagogue (where I am a member). Listen to the pulsating beat of “Volt ikh gehat koyekh,” and especially the refrain, “Sholem, sholem, sholem,” translated as:

If my voice was louder
If my body stronger
I would tear to the streets
Shouting “peace, peace, peace.”

This links to a number of her performances captured on YouTube, including a version of the song above.
These remembrances published in recent days describe her achievements and the course of her life:

  1. Joseph Berger in The New York Times
  2. Jeffrey Shandler in The Forward
  3. George Robinson in the NY Jewish Week
  4. Jon Kalish at WNYC Radio (both in podcast and in print)

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