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Popular Music

Ofra Haza

Ofra Haza was born on November 19, 1957 in the Hatikvah quarter of Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated from Yemen with their eight sons and daughters. Her mother, already a singer in Yemen, would often perform at family celebrations. Haza herself sang from an early age and was a soloist in her local school choir.

Eydie Gorme

One of the great stylists of the American popular song, Eydie Gorme has had a loyal following from the 1950s to the present.

Helen Forrest

When Helen Forrest joined the Harry James band in 1941, she broke new ground for American vocalists. She asked that specific arrangements be written just for her and that the band accompany her lead vocal. Harry James agreed, and Forrest went on to record five gold records: “But Not for Me,” “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” “I Cried For You,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “I Had the Craziest Dream.”

Dorothy Fields

A lyricist and librettist whose work embraces the bouncy optimism of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” the brassy seductiveness of “Hey, Big Spender,” and the tender musings of “The Way You Look Tonight,” Dorothy Fields wrote the words to more than four hundred songs in a career that spanned half a century.

Rosa Eskenazi

Roza Eskenazi, arguably the greatest and most renowned Greek diva, was born in Constantinople and named Sarah Skinazi. Roza’s exact date of birth is not known. In her autobiography Auta Pou Thimame (What I Remember) she states that she was born in 1910. Published in 1982, the autobiography is based on interviews Eskenazi gave in 1972. Apart from being forgetful by then, she appears to have deliberately concealed her age, as she probably had done since the 1920s. The Greek musicologist Panayiotis Kounadis is among those who believe that Eskenazi was born between 1883 and 1887, whilst others maintain that she was born between 1890 and 1900.

"Mama" Cass Elliot

Called the Earth Mother of Hippiedom by fellow band member John Phillips, Cass Elliot brought charm and vocal muscle to a stormy and transitional period of American music history. In flowery print dresses of the mid-1960s, made tentlike to accommodate her great size, Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen on February 19, 1941, in Baltimore, grew to fame with the tightly harmonic vocal group the Mamas and the Papas. During their three-year reign at the top of popular music charts, the Mamas and the Papas melded folk and psychedelic styles in a quartet whose half-dozen remembered songs still evoke a time prior to the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, when hippie ideologies of communal living and relaxed standards of dress and demeanor had not yet divided the recording industry or the nation along fierce political lines. In 1966, the Mamas and the Papas made their television debut, singing “California Dreamin’” on the variety show The Hollywood Palace. It was broadcast to American soldiers in Vietnam, and host Arthur Godfrey sent “our boys” a message of hope.

Louise Dresser

Louise Dresser was a celebrated singer in vaudeville and musical comedy, as well as a star in early motion pictures. She adopted the stage name of Louise Dresser after the songwriter Paul Dresser, an acquaintance of her father, encouraged her to use his name as a strategy for her to gain greater recognition on stage. This ruse, along with several of Paul Dresser’s famous songs, indeed improved Dresser’s drawing power in vaudeville, and she was often believed to be the sister both of Paul Dresser and novelist Theodore Dreiser (Paul Dresser’s brother). Known largely for her rendition of Paul Dresser’s song “My Gal Sal,” she also sang his “On the Banks of the Wabash.”

Nora Bayes

Nora Bayes was an international singing star in vaudeville and musical comedy during the first twenty-five years of the twentieth century. Known as a willful and temperamental star, Bayes relied on her own charisma and popularity as she resisted managerial control and ignored the details of legal contracts.

Belle Barth

Singing her way through popular standards and performing imitations of Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, Harry Richman, and Gypsy Rose Lee kept Barth employed on the vaudeville circuit through the 1930s and 1940s. The character of her act changed in the 1950s, when she began to mix her two talents—music and comedy—and added a splash of “red hot mama” for good measure.

Barbara (Monique Andree Serf)

Under her simple stage name “Barbara,” Monique Andrée Serf (b. Paris June 19, 1930, d. Neuilly-sur-Seine November 24–25, 1997) was an immensely popular French singer and composer in the cabaret style.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Popular Music." (Viewed on December 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/topics/popular-music>.

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