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Birth of Adrienne Cooper, Performer and Interpreter of Yiddish Song

September 1, 1946

Adrienne Cooper helped revive Yiddish culture for generations to come through her talent, teaching, spirit, and her popularization of klezmer music.  She guided young performers into the realm of Yiddish music and its underlying culture and provided a powerful performance style that mesmerized audiences around the world.  “She was in a way the mother of the revival,” said her friend Alicia Svigals, a klezmer violinist.

Through her tireless work with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at Columbia University and her position as a cultural executive at the Workmen’s Circle, the Jewish social welfare organization, she kept the Yiddish anthology of traditional songs alive and pushed klezmer music into the mainstream music culture.  Her experience as a student of history placed the songs she sang in the deeper context of a long-lost world.

Ms. Cooper wrote that she and her friends embraced Yiddish for its “hard-to-describe delights, for the rage it brings to injustice, for its wonderful weight on the tongue, for the arc it forms between poles of Jewish identity—from otherworldly to this worldly, from grit to grace—and for the astonishing ushpizin, unexpected guest spirits, who show up and have what to say.”

Though raised in an English-speaking household in Oakland, California, she was nourished on Yiddish music by her mother, who performed in opera and musical theatre, her grandfather, who led synagogue prayers, and her grandmother, who recorded Yiddish folk songs.  After completing her bachelor’s degree at Hebrew University, she went on to earn a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago.

She was a co-founder of KlezKamp in 1985, which grew to become what she called “a flying shtetl” of musicians, connoisseurs of Yiddish language, and amateur anthropologists eager to delve into the extinguished Jewish cultures of Eastern Europe.  She performed at Carnegie Hall, the Holocaust Museum, and throughout Europe.  On an international tour, she performed “Gluckel of Hameln,” a musical piece about the 18th century diarist for which Cooper wrote the music and lyrics.  She was the recipient of Klez Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Yiddish Arts and Culture.

Adrienne Cooper died in New York City on December 25, 2011.

Watch and hear Adrienne Cooper in performance

Read a remembrance of the performer by Michael Wex in We Remember.

Sources: Adrienne Cooper;  “Adrienne Cooper, Yiddish Singer, Dies at 65,” New York Times, December 28, 2011.

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Adrienne Cooper and others at KlezKanada, 2010
Full image

Adrienne Cooper at KlezKanada, 2010.

Left to right: Tine Kinderman, Sarah Mina Gordon, Adrienne, Joanne Borts, Frank London.

Photo by Bob Blacksberg. Used by permission.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Birth of Adrienne Cooper, Performer and Interpreter of Yiddish Song." (Viewed on March 29, 2017) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/01/1946/birth-of-adrienne-cooper-performer-and-interpreter-of-yiddish-song>.

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