Adrienne Cooper

Performer, Interpreter of Yiddish Song
1946 – 2011
by Michael Wex

Adrienne Cooper performing with Mikveh.

Photo: © Lloyd Wolf /

Used by permission.

I first met Adrienne on erev Nitl, Christmas Eve, 1987, and saw her for the last time on khamishi shel khanike, the night of December 24 of the calendar year just ended. Jeffrey Shandler has written in an obituary that he published last week that “Adrienne taught us all to sing.” I was one of her less successful experiments. I don’t sing, I could speak Yiddish long before I met her. What Adrienne and I did was hang out—as long and as often as possible—quite often at events like this, where, if neither of us had to be up front, we’d be sitting in the back, making smart remarks and rolling our eyes. The difference is that everybody expected me to be doing so; no one would have believed it of Adrienne. We watched zombie movies on television with Sarah. We’d go to Yiddish-themed events and speak to each other in Hebrew just so the Yiddishists couldn’t understand us. And mostly, though, we spent most of our time laughing, sometimes with pleasure and as often as not in dismay at the growing amaratses, the growing ignorance, that has besieged the Jewish world.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t learn from Adrienne, but I think she might have given me something different from what she gave many other people—of course, she gave everybody something different. In my case, it was to remind me that maybe, just maybe I don’t really know it all. You can get an idea of what I mean from one of her signature pieces—we’ll be singing it together in a few minutes—Ven ikh volt gehat koyekh, If I only had the strength. This was a song that for probably a century or so had been the sole possession of the same people who like to throw rocks at cars that have the chutzpah to drive by them on Saturdays in certain places. The words mean: if I only had the strength, I’d run through the streets and yell shabbes, Sabbath, at the top of my voice. What did Adrienne do with this song? She saw that the word shabbes, the Sabbath, which is supposed to connote peace and harmony and unity had become a slogan in the service of hatred and division. A song that we should all be singing had been taken away from us, and Adrienne—whose life was defined by her inability to tolerate lies and injustice—was determined to get it back.

And what she did, so far as I’m concerned, is the essence of who Adrienne is. She only needed one Hebrew syllable to turn hatred into love, to take division back to unity. By changing shabbes to sholem, to peace, she didn’t change the song, she repaired it, she gave it its tikn—its tikkun, its repair—by bringing it back to what it was supposed to be.

I grew up in the stone-throwing part of this world, on the other side of this cultural and religious divide. I grew up with this stuff; it was Adrienne who taught me to like it. She had a talent for subversion along with an innate sense of decorum that let her reverse a tradition, turn it inside out, before any of its guardians had actually noticed.

When a woman passes away, one of the things you say in Hebrew is tihye nafsha tsruro bi-tsror ha-khayim, which is usually translated, rather lazily, as “May her soul be bound up in the bond of life.” Those of you who know Hebrew, though, know that the word nefesh, which is often translated as soul, is more accurately rendered as élan vital, vital spirit, what we’d call in colloquial English “energy.” And it’s her spirit, her energy, that keeps Adrienne always present.

There’s a formula that is sometimes used on occasions like this in the non-Jewish world. It’s from the Odes of the great Roman poet Horace, who says, Non omnis moriar, I won’t die completely, multaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam, but the greater part of me will avoid the grave. If Rashi had written a commentary on Hoyrace in addition to writing one on the Toyre, he’d have told us that this phrase refers to the legacy of anybody who has changed the thoughts or behaviour of large numbers of other people. Klezkamp, Klezkanada, the Yiddish music camps and workshops in Europe and everywhere else in the world don’t really owe anything to Adrienne—insofar as they are successful, they are Adrienne.

I keep thinking about the first time that Adrienne hired me to work at Circle Lodge, the camp for adults that she was responsible for as part of her duties at the Workmen’s Circle. One of the other teachers whom she’d hired, our friend Steve Weintraub, who couldn’t be here today, is well-known in these circles for having a phobia about leaving his house without a martini kit. Up until this time, I’d never seen Adrienne drink more than an occasional glass of red wine or maybe a sloe gin. But after a couple of hours in the bungalow where Steve and his partner Paul were mixing martinis, Adrienne—Adrienne was shit-faced. She leaves to go back to her own cabin. Twenty minutes or half an hour later, she’s back at Steve and Paul’s bungalow. “I’m lost,” she said, but we already knew that. “Mike”—and I should say here that no one in the Yiddish world ever addresses me as anything but Wex. My older friends, though, people from school and yeshiva, from university and grad school all call me Mike. Adrienne was the only person in this world who called me Mike, and she did so from the moment we met, as if we’d known each other all our lives. “Mike,” she said, “take me home.” And I did.

We’re here to see Adrienne home one last time. They say in Hebrew, khaval al de-ovdin ve-lo mishtakhkin, Alas for those are gone and cannot be replaced. Adrienne will never be really gone. Vi nor a mentsh—makht nisht oys tsi a yid, tsi a goy—vi nor a ben-oder bas-odom efnt oyf a pisk un se falt fin dortn aroop a yidish vort, a posheter traf mame-loshn afile, iz ir nefesh, der leybediker mehus fin Khane Cooper, nokh faran. Adrienne can be anything; what she can’t be is replaced.


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В 1999 году я впервые приеала на Клезфест в Санкт-Петербурге и увидела, услышала и почувствовала энергию Адрианны. Мы мало знали тогда в бывшем СССР про песни на идиш. Наше понимание Идишкайта было практически равно нулю. Но встретив Адрианну, я оценила глубину, духовность, музыкальность, силу этой культуры и приняла решение всей последующей жизни (по крайней мере до сегодняшнего дня!) стать носителем и творцом песни на идиш. Привлекательная сила Адрианны как Настоящего Человека была потрясающей, я не могла устоять.
Мы виделись из года в год, сначала как учитель и ученик, а потом как коллеги. Стали обмениваться материалом, брать друг у друга репертуар, обмениваться книгами по профессиональным темам и потом просто о жизни...
Адриана очень тепло отнесласть к моему первому проекту "Вокальный квартет Ашкеназим" и не только написала статью о нас, но и организовала совместно с Залменом Млотеком для нас концерт в Arbeter Ring, заказала нам гостиницу, приняла нас, четверых сумасшедших "русских", у себя дома и... я так чувствую, просто любила нас. Вот короткий фрагмент из её статьи о нас: "As a Yiddish singer myself, and a teacher of singers, these four are a gift to me as well - first students, then, grown into colleagues that I never dreamed I would discover, half a world away, and as close as my own thoughts, my own breath. I remember hearing Polina for the first time, a number of years ago, in St. Petersburg, where I had gone to teach musicians from the former Soviet Union - and I can still conjure the shock of recognition. This is what Yiddishland sounded like - what I imagine it sounded like... "
Она плакала, когда слышала новую песню на текст её любимого стихотворения Fun Yener Zayt Lid. Она давала тончайшие советы и слышала каждую извилину наших музыкальных мозгов телепатически... И недавно она польстила меня записью моей песни на своём диске... исполнив её ну совсем по-своему!
Чем я могу ответить теперь?

Мы продолжали видеться в городах и странах: Питер, Евпатория, Киев, Москва, KlezKamp, Ashkenaz... Самое важное общение случалось за сценой. Мы обсуждали отношение заказчиков и работодателей в музыкальной индустрии, мы говорили про еврейство и ментальность таковых в разных странах, она немножко пыталась говорить по-русски и вдохновляла нас на идиш, мы деконструировали культуры и мыслительные процссы, мы боролись за права музыкантов и вместе обожали интересную еду, фильмы, книги, анекдоты... Каким потрясающим, прекрасным и великодушным человеком она была!!!!!

Адрианна была огромной частью моей жизни. Кажется, просто была важной частью меня, потому что я пока не могу заполнить пустоту.

Но вот ещё что. Я получила известие о её смерти, будучи одним из презентеров на еврейской конференции. 2000 человек евреев... Двое из них поняли, о ком я говорю. Больше никто не знал. Меня поразило не это. Меня просто подкосило не просто прохладное отношение к идишу, идишкайту и всему, что Адрианна открыла для меня и сотен других. Эти евреи не только не выражали интереса, но и просто невежетвенно и негативно отзывались об идшкайте. Культура смерти? Ничего не имеющая общего с еврейским звучанием? Чего только я не наслушалась за эти дни. Я попросила организаыию включить строчку про Адрианну в ежедневный листок с обновлениями программы семинара. Отказали. Мой идишский хор не был включен в программу гала-концерта. Среди выступающих в течение 5-ти дней были певцы на ладино, госпел-бэнд, разнообразные англоязычные барды, израильские классические и поп-музыканты, кабаре на смеси языком... НИЧЕГО от идишкайта!!!

Могу ли я плыть против течения и продолжать убеждать народ, что эта культура достойна любви, уважения и интереса? Могу ли я дальше делать то, чему Адрианна посвятила всё свою жизнь? I can't call it revival anymore, it is just survival.

Огромный поклон моим российским, украинским, молдовским, эстонским, латвийским, татарстанским и другим коллегам-клезфестовцам. Они продолжают наше "возрождение". Могу ли я сделать что-то тут в Великобритании? Буду думать.
Мира и спокойствия душе твоей, милый мой близкий человек, дорогая Адрианна, Спасибо тебе.

There was a wonderful concert his past Saturday night in New York in Adrienne's memory, and also raising money for a foundation to continue her work.

I was especially moved by the breadth of the community onstage, ranging from younger singers such as Basya Schechter (best, perhaps, known as the force behind "Pharaoh's Daughter") to more established singers such as Dutch singer Shura Lipovsky (I could swear that I first heard Adrienne's voice on a very old Shura Lipovsky cassette, but can't find the recording any more!).

It was also important to hang out with everyone after the concert. Nobody wanted to go home. We enjoyed how an event in her honor brought so many old friends from so many walks of life together for a continuing evening of joy and comfort.

There was a wonderful concert his past Saturday night in New York in Adrienne's memory, and also raising money for a foundation to continue her work.

I was especially moved by the breadth of the community onstage, ranging from younger singers such as Basya Schechter (best, perhaps, known as the force behind "Pharaoh's Daughter") to more established singers such as Dutch singer Shura Lipovsky (I could swear that I first heard Adrienne's voice on a very old Shura Lipovsky cassette, but can't find the recording any more!).

It was also important to hang out with everyone after the concert. Nobody wanted to go home. We enjoyed how an event in her honor brought so many old friends from so many walks of life together for a continuing evening of joy and comfort.

Please find videos from Adrienne Cooper's song class at KlezKamp 2003, with Beyla Shechter-Gottesman, Susan Leviton, Sarah Gordon, Michael Winograd, Frank London, Zalmen Mlotek, and Joanne H Borts at Fortunately, I made (and kept) a DVD of these. We will always have her voice. It is our challenge to keep the sparks fully alive. I have also included my collection of pictures of Adrienne as video, along with a recording of Rayzele that Adrienne sange for me at KlezKamp 2010.

In reply to by Bob Blacksberg

Many thanks for putting that material online, Bob.

Adrienne was a true pioneer in so many ways. Reviving Yiddish culture and leading a variety of musical and artistic scenes. Please check out the Israeli pioneer song she recorded for our Pioneers For A Cure - Songs To Fight Cancer project. Now she has become the first of our artists to succumb to the very deseise we've been fighting. Ironically, the song is in Hebrew, not Yiddish. Enjoy this fitting tribute, proceeds from which go to the charity Adrienne chose, namely the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Adrienne and Zalmen were among the first "foreign" teachers who participated in the first KlezFest in Russia in Leningrad, and then later in Ukraine. As soon as I received the shocking news I contacted Alex Frenkel in Petersburg and Yana Yanover in Kiev who responded with personal messages and promised to spread the word to her many,many friends,students,colleagues. She and Zalmen not only "taught"; they brought these talented performers into the international world of klezmer music and Yiddish song. Some of them became not only performers,but also wrote songs, empowered by Adrienne's responses, even adding some of them to her own repertory. For me as then Director of the Jewish Community Development Fund (at AJWS)she and Zalmen and later Marilyn were a major force in bringing at least four generations of Jewish performers into the international world of Yiddish music and song. A sheynem dank tsum "We Remember" for making these reminiscences available. Martin Horwit, formerly Director of JCDF in Russia and Ukraine

Am still at a loss as to how Adrienne could just - could just not be here. The few times we shared a stage and I was hesitant to sing in Yiddish intead of just my usual Judeo-Spanish, Adrienne said, of course, sing the Yiddish version - it'll be great.I first met Adrienne at KlezKamp in '88, and, although I kept learning from her whenever possible, most of what I now know in Yiddish was learned from her at those intense classes, when she just seemed able to go on singing and giving and encouraging indefinitely. Listening to the memorial, I heard Lisa say "my 'hobn' is perfect because of Adrienne. Me too. That inimitable combination of far-ranging ideas, and the soaring voice, and the smallest details - the hobn's - ...... miss you, Adrienne, always will.

In reply to by Lorin Sklamberg

Such a perfect good example of how she made Yiddish clear to non-Yiddish speakers. Have also listed it in the "Elsewhere on the Web" section, above.

About fifteen years ago, I sought out Adrienne after having heard her Yiddish song interpretations on the Partisans of Vilna CD. I was not a Yiddish speaker and had only recently become interested in learning more about the genre. I began to search for someone to study with. Shortly thereafter, I received an Artist Fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts to study Yiddish song with Adrienne. I was her Apprentice; she, my Mentor. We studied together formally for two years. That began a deeply enriching long-term relationship with a woman I considered not only my mentor, but my friend. And Adrienne always made me feel valued as a musicologist and composer. Our encounters often were less about actual singing and more about shmoozing. We laughed a lot. Adrienne encouraged me to pursue my interest in Yiddish and Yiddish song in a number of ways. I studied language at the Workmen's Circle; I attended the Columbia Winreich program; I began to perform Yiddish songs as part of my pulpit job and general Jewish music performance repertoire. Ultimately I began to research the Yiddish Art Songs of Lazar Weiner, as well as his poets, as a musicologist. All of this was completely inspired by this single amazing woman, Adrienne Cooper. I am feeling a complete void in my heart having only today heard of Adrienne's passing. I'd been away from New York and out of touch with folks since last summer. I did not know about Adrienne's illness. And I only learned of her passing today. Thus, I did not have the privilege of being present at the event at Anshe Chesed and feel sorely cheated. I thank all of you who have written so eloquently about Adrienne, her life, and your own relationships with her. It has deepened my own understanding of what a truly exceptional and remarkable human being - a woman's woman - we have lost. Zichrona l'veracha.

Adrienne Cooper, inspiring singer, teacher, and deal maker

I had never heard such a voice when I first heard Adrienne sing at the opening of the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst some 15 years ago. She expressed all the emotion of the occasion! Since then I attended several Yiddish cultural programs, on both the East and West coasts (Circle Lodge, KlezKalifornia, KlezKanada), where she was a dear teacher both for me and for my younger son, Zach. Her professional support was also critical to several years of our former program Mame Loshn NW, as well as for a pilot project here in Seattle funded through Workmen's Circle, for teaching Yiddish language and culture to preschoolers. The online outpouring of grief from around the world and throughout "Yiddishland" has been truly amazing. Our sincere condolences to her entire family. In unity will be our strength when remembering Adrienne together.

A Workmen's Circle Yortsayt

Mir freyen zikh mit undzer yerusheh vos hot undz gegebn di traditsiye fun ontsindn a yortzayt likht. We rejoice in our heritage which has given us the tradition of lighting the yortsayt candle.

Mir veln eybik gedenkn Khane-freyde z''l. We will always remember (our friend) Adrienne.

Zol di sheynkeyt fun ir lebn balykhtn di doyres, un zol undzer lebn shtendik ir opgebn koved. May the beauty of her life shine from generation to generation, and may our lives always bring honor to her memory.

Joan Rudd, Joe Felsenstein, Zach Rudd Felsenstein

As one of the founding members of KlezKanada and supporters, it has taken me this long to put in writing how shocked I was of her death. Adrienne's passion for Yiddishkeit and her ability to translate the yiddish words she was about to sing were magical. She entertained in our home and brought back the nostalgia of what it must have been like in the old country. I will miss her and so will KlezKanada. May her family know no more sorrow and that her daughter Sarah continue her legacy. irwin

I still can't believe she's gone. Last time I've met her was in September, 2011, with Sarah, at a show Jeff Dolgin played in the Lower East Side; I went there with my son who knew Adrienne since he was a very small boy -- in 1994. She told me the treatment had been a success.

I had been completely taken by her personality, voice and interpretation the first time I'd seen her performing (which must have been in 1992 or 1993). Working with her on "Dreaming in Yiddish" in Berlin had been my first experience in producing music. When I called her in 1994 to ask her to sing at the premiÌÄå©re performance of Michael Wex's and my production of "God in Paris" at Harbourfront Theatre in Toronto and started to explain the play, she interrupted me and said, "You can explain this to me later. I'll do anything he writes." When we were working on the German version of her Chagall show I found out how deeply connected she felt to theatre; she was absolutely professional and knew exactly how she wanted the show including lights, sound and the actor who did the German part. And the rarest: everybody who worked with her loved her. She included them into her heart and made them a part of the family. When she loved, she loved completely.

Writing about her is hard because it's like admitting that she's gone and won't be back. It's a privilege to know her but it makes it hard to be without her -- the misery of the living. My condolences to the people who loved her!

I was greatly saddened to learn of Adrienne's passing. I STILL have the post card I received from La MaMa announcing this performance that I consider one of the best of all time! She was amazing in it and I was always hoping that it would be revived. Now is the time to do that. I also had the pleasure of hearing her perform in many other places.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Marion Stein

I can only echo these beautiful tributes to beautiful, kind, exquisitely talented Adrienne. Marilyn Hassid has said how important she and her music were to all of us Houstonians who love Yiddish and Yiddishkayt. I met Adrienne in 1987, the first summer I attended the YIVO program at Columbia and loved our sessions singing with her on the grass, talking with her afterwards; someone (I'm sorry I can't remember who it was)wrote that she had the voice of a diva and the soul of a Bundist, and we all recognized it. We spent time together years later on her trips to Houston for the JCC Book & Arts Fair and at Texas' First Jewish Feminist Conference, where she sang, for the first time before an audience, "A gutn ovnt Brayne." But we also had fun: the evening before performing ESN, we went out for Mexican food, one of her favorites, she said, and a must-have in Texas. I suppose I idolized (and idealized her). One summer at YIVO I stopped by her office and the door had a sign on it, "nisht reykherin." When she welcomed me, smiling, she said she had been practicing a speech she had to give in Yiddish. I was shocked--that she would have to practice--because to me she always sounded perfect. Here in Houston I've spent most of the week end listening to her songs, remembering her grace and reverence for all people, and feeling the loss. I send my deepest sympathy to her beloved friends and family, and especially Sarah Mina.

I met Adrienne in 1997, when she was working at the Museum of Chinese in America. I will always remember her passion for Chinese America history and advocacy for the Chinatown community. Adrienne helped me with a grant proposal. I felt she cared about my music and dreams. Adrienne was a deep soul, a genuine artist. I'm so sad she is no longer with us. I will always remember her as a wonderful person.

First met Adrienne at KlezKamp in 1989. Her warmth, generosity, and teaching helped me find my voice in Yiddishland.

It was a joy to perform with Adrienne Cooper. No matter how glorious or simply heymish the venue, it was a pleasure to make music with her, and to just be around her. In addition to being a great, powerful singer, she had a deeply kind heart and a quick wit too. She truly did make the world a better place as a musician, a mentor, an activist, and a mentsch. Goodbye, Adrienne, gone too soon. I will miss you.

I met Adrienne Cooper in a masterclass at the Paramount KlezKamp back in 1995. She was supportive, insightful and knew exactly how to nurture deeper commitment and understanding in a performance. The first time we sang together was a multilingual version of Brother Can You spare a Dime/ Brider Gib Mir Khotsh ayn Daym at a Workmen's Circle concert titled "An evening of Yiddish Divas" at Lincoln Center's Damrosch park in NY city in 2001. What a revelation it was for both of us to have that much fun singing together and in the taxi uptown we talked like two excited little girls about looking for more oppourtunities to do the same. It wasn't until Ashkenaz 2004 when Mitch Smolkin asked us to perform the first ever Three Yiddish Diva's concert adding Joanne Borts as the third DIVA that our dream came true. The rest as they say is herstory. The Yiddish Divas joyfully sang in San Francisco, Houston Texas, Warsaw Poland, Vienna Austria, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and all over New York and Long Island... We spent the next 7 years rehearsing new arrangements, styling our wardrobes and photo shoots, creating concerts and even theatrical pieces. Adrienne was the heart of the Three Yiddish Divas. Each of the divas have different skills we brought to the table but besides being a brilliant singer Adrienne was our social consciousness, our political barometer and even at times our final harbinger of taste. She was a deal maker... She suggested us for gigs around the world. She made a shidekh and we went... like when we spent a week at circle lodge performing for the adult campers in order to buy us the time to rehearse a new show for Poland. She embraced life and projects with the intelligence and artistry of a shining star. She distilled approaches to songs as she did approaches to problems... always with a positive attitude, grace and humility. The last time we were to sing together at Klezkanada 2011 she was already fighting her courageous battle. Her vision and plans for a future CD project has made her untimely death all the more unbelievable. Adrienne was so strong and a fighter.. She deserved to have the gift of time to finish her work.

She loved her daughter and her friends in such a complete way... I am at a loss as to how to make sense of any of this.

With respect and deep sadness.

Theresa Tova one of the lucky ones

Keep her dream alive. Learn Yiddish speak Yiddish. Sings Yiddish songs. A shenere und beseere velt.

There have been so many eloquent and heartfelt tributes to Adrienne. Though I am neither a singer nor musician, I have my personal memories of her. I remember the many Ashkenaz Festivals where she performed and was an inspiration and a mentor to so many. She was always there at the IAYC (International Association Of Yiddish Clubs) Conferences - heading the Arbeter Ring Evenings and helping us all envision the possibility of a "shenere un besere velt". And she was in Winnipeg as one of the 3 Yiddish Divas at the first Mameloshen Festival. So my tribute to Adrienne is a program of her music. My challenge was really which songs to choose. Some I picked for personal reasons - I remember her singing them with such expression and "gefeel" and "libshaft", some because I feel that in some way they represent what Adrienne was about and some because they are just wonderful Yiddish songs that people should hear. I always hesitate when I think of playing "A Gutn Ovnt Brayne" since it is so grim and graphic - but I get the sense that it was important to Adrienne for just that reason.

Playlist all by Adrienne Cooper

A Gutn Ovnt Brayne Dos Elnt Kind Der Komitetshik Sorele's Bas Mitzveh - with Mikveh Di Tsufunft A Gute Vokh Harbstlid Borsht Volt Ikh Gehat Koyakh - with Sarah Mina Gordon

Listen from archive File of Program

Adrienne's life, in so many ways, offered and must continue to offer a model for our commitment to Yiddishkeit and to Jewish life generally. She studied, seized and embraced her heritage, then shared it with family and stranger, in indistinguishable measure. Her work across generations, connecting our parents and grandparents to our children, in ways that informed and bonded, through common understanding and cause, can be felt constantly. For us, as a community, and for me, as parent of Daniel and Aaron, this now seems natural.

Yet, if it ever was a natural part of family and communal life to share in these ways, it is no longer. The greater world seems ever more insular and self-centered, living in a present unconnected to history, community, even our greater families.

We who have created and work to sustain programs such as KlezKanada can take pride that we have created a tiny hothouse committed to the programs central to Adrienne's work. Our generations connected, and, especially, our new generation engaged and committed, give life to Adrienne's vision.

Though we remain in shock at the loss of Adrienne, and will come together in the coming days in grief, let us find the renewed strength so that our work will be an essential part of keeping Adrienne's soul present among us.

Adrienne touched the souls of so many in her multiple appearances on the Kaplan Theatre Stage at the Jewish Community Center of Houston. Five, I believe, over the years....with a sixth scheduled for the closing day of this past November's Annual Jewish Book & Arts Fair. We so looked forward to celebrating her wonderful new CD... with her at the mic and Marilyn Lerner at the piano. When she called in October to cancel, we ended with the promise to re-schedule when all was well. She told me that Houston was special for her. She was special for us! Her Houston fans join me in tears for an incredible woman lost far too soon. Her voice will continue to be heard in our Theatre.

As so many countless others, I was always thrilled to hear Adrienne perform, either as a solo performer or as part of a group.If she was performing anywhere near where I was living, I wanted to be in the audience. When I was helping program Yiddishkayt LA, she was one of the artists I tried my hardest to bring to L.A. whenever possible. I was a fan, no other way to describe it. But I knew Adrienne best as a generous and skilled vocal teacher and coach. Not only at festivals and music camps, but also privately. A great diva and performer of amazing depth and renown who was willing to spend time helping a stumble-tongued beginning student of Yiddish, Adrienne was even willing to coach me by long-distance phone as I prepared for performances in Los Angeles. She was generous with her time and her insights, warm and encouraging as I learned the repertoire and discovered my performance style. I still remember the time I came to her for a private coaching session in Oakland. After several years of working with a classical vocal teacher, I was having a hard time controlling my vibrato and not tightening up, strangling my voice. 5 minutes of AdrienneÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s direct instruction and suggestion Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ you take deep breaths, thatÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s good Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ stand tall, think of it as a continuous column of air coming from your diaphragm straight out, no pause Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ made all the difference. My voice came out, clear and strong, but never, never as nuanced and beautiful as AdrienneÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s. May all of us who were the beneficiaries of her knowledge and love of yiddishkayt, carry her memory forward by performing, teaching and sharing the songs and stories that we learned from her. Koved ir likhtikn ondenk Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ all honor to her bright memory.

Boston Workmen's Circle joins those countless others, in this country and abroad, who are grieving the loss of Adrienne Cooper. Adrienne was our friend, our colleague, our comrade. Many of us were privileged to work with her, together finding ways to build secular Jewish community rich with culture -- and especially Yiddish culture -- and motivated by progressive Jewish values. Many of us were privileged to learn from her, soaking in her warmth and wry humor and infectious enthusiasm. And many of us sang with her -- and here we include A Besere Velt, the Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle -- at 100-strong, what we humbly believe is the largest Yiddish chorus in the known universe. We all owe Adrienne an enormous debt of gratitude for inspiring us to dig deep into the endlessly rich repertoire of Yiddish song -- songs from the shtetls, the camps, the sweatshops, songs of love and struggle and survival -- and then sharing this luminous culture with the broader world.

We will remember Adrienne as an indomitable force of nature and passion and principle who left us too early. We're deeply grateful for the vibrant legacy she's left for us, and that we fully intend to keep alive.

Michael Felsen President, BWC, on behalf of our community in Greater Boston

I remember her laughing and cooking on stage in Amsterdam. Her voice is part of us.

My memories of Adrienne go back to the days when she worked at YIVO, which is were we met many a decade ago, before KlezKamp and Sara and all that followed and made her the voice of a musical generation and inspiration to all. Always gracious and graceful, with an unerring musical sensibility that brought such dignity to the music she brought into our lives, she will live on through all those she touched, performers and listeners alike.

It is with great sadness that I write this. I met Adrienne at KlezKamp back in 1990 when I moved to New York City. Along with many other musicians and artists, I was inspired and taken in by her passion and strength. nearly 20 years later, I began working with Frank London and others on some new work and I called Adrienne to reconnect about some work I was doing about new immigrant and refugee kids. In January 2010 she organized a benefit concert for Haiti Relief right after the 2010 earthquake and she asked me to MC. I was honored to reconnect in that way. We immediately began talking about how to do a concert featuring her songs of Women and War for an audience of kids who have come from conflict zones and war-zones. We never got a chance to produce that event but I did ask her to help me with a particular show and I began working with Adrienne as a vocal coach back in 2009-2010. Her insights, skills, power, and critical ear helped me through a very difficult time and she showed me an expansiveness. Her openness to being engaged where ever a human need revealed itself is a rare trait and I hope I can emulate that passion and wisdom. She leaves a legacy of her art, her voice, her music, and her love.

My world was enriched when I became exposed to the musical talents of Adrienne Cooper. I also had the priviledge of working with Adrienne as her Assistant as The Workmen's Circle. I will miss her professional talents as well as our friendship. Good-bye dear friend.

My english is so bad that recentlly I have read many times the Frank London email about Adrienne. Just I want to say that I will remember and keep for ever her smile, humor and artistic humanitie. Thanks a lot dear dear Adrienne My heart with you. Marcelo Moguilevsky

It has taken a few days for me to digest the sudden loss of Adrienne. I realize even much more the necessity of keeping Yiddishkeit alive through KlezKanada and other similar organizations. We have lost our share of wonder Yiddishists in our KlezKanada community, some of whom reached a twilight time in their lives but others escpecially Adrienne who has been taken from us too early. She was one of the key jewels in the KlezKanada crown, a person of supreme love and advocate of Yiddish expressing herself in so many ways. How could you not love and admire Adreinne, what she stood for and what she will be remembered for forever.

"Gefilte Fish, Gefilte Fish"!!!! Yes Adrienne I would like another piece, can you pass me the tray please?????

With all Helen's amd my regard for and rememberance of Adrienne.......always loved and never forgotten.

Bob and Helen Smolkin

For decades now, whenever anyone asked me what was happening in the world of Yiddish or if there was a future for Yiddish, I would invoke Adrienne's name. SHE is the one who is always happening in all the worlds she touched all over the world. It was impossible to listen to her teach, sing, laugh and not be moved. Whatever knowledge or sensitivity I have to music is owing to Adrienne. Her generosity and kindness were legion. She insisted that everyone was capable of singing and, despite my awful voice, only she could make me begin to believe it. Her voice resonates in song, in the values of Yiddishkeyt, in the struggle for social justice, for peace, for humanitarian and feminist causes. The blessings she has bestowed on us are the threads that bind her in the bonds of life.

I didn't know Adrienne well, but the several times we performed at the same event, I could always feel the deep true Beauty, Love, Inspired Melody, and sense of commitment radiating from her Kind and Intense Soul. With all the Lives she touched and changed, Adrienne surely Lives On!

In reply to by Pam Fleming

This news is so absolutely SAD!

I wish I had known Adrienne better... Yes, it is a Crazy time of year to have a Memorial and Shiva, especially New Year's Eve, and Noon on New Year's Day... But Death doesn't care about things that Humans find "important"... Time is a Mystery, and Life and Death, even more so... What a Spirit of Beauty...

It is not that the World now has a hole in it, with Adrienne's departure, it is still full of all the Wondrous deeds she did...

Blessings to her Flying Soul!

Love, -Pam

Sandy and I have been devastated by the premature loss of not only one of KlezKanada's original family members but also our own dear and personal friend. Since KlezKanada's inception in 1996 Adrienne had been one of the central powerful influences in our development and her presence each year immeasurably enhanced our long term objectives of maintaining and expanding Yiddish in all its dimensions. She is irreplaceable and her absence will be felt for many years to come. It is our intention at KlezKanada to assure that her name and contributions will not be forgotten. Our hearts go out to Sarah Mina at this difficult period.

Hy and Sandy Goldman KlezKanada

Adrienne was indeed part of the magic and music of Yiddishkeit. Her expressive voice supported her intellectual insistence that in interweaving the mining and replication of the past she was working to bring it into a somewhat different sensibility, one that could move from being stuck endlessly in a world of "revival." As the pitch perfect heir to that yerusha (inheritance), she chose to use it to inform a variety of interpretative arts and moments. So though these comments and others focus on her contributions to world of Yiddish, I'd like on a personal note to mention some of the other worlds that she'd richly interpreted for me as well such as that of Ladino.

I'm pretty sure the first time I heard Adrienne sing was in the 70s at YIVO doing a short concert which included Ladino romanceros (love songs). For me, listening to her in that genre was as powerful as hearing anything else she sang throughout the years in which she was known primarily for Yiddish. And some years later during the siege of Sarajevo with an audience crying in response to Michael Alpert's singing in Ladino/Judesmo at the Knitting Factory, it was Adrienne's voice that I recalled along with those of the more traditional singers that Michael was invoking. And then there was the time I caught a gig accidentally at Mo Pickins, in which she was singing Eishas Chiyal and tenderly inverting it into a Hebrew song sung by a woman to other women. Or her making a fuss on stage over Glikl of Hameln's tiny puppet children at LaMama in bringing that woman back to life. Or in 1998 at the "maiden" debut of Mikveh at Tonic. I remember a Chasidic guy standing on a car in the next door parking lot seemingly puzzled and curious as to how this amazing klezmer music was coming out of that barred window he was surreptitiously peeking into; a funny visual metaphor and tribute to a group intentionally devoted to making female musical voices heard (

But Adrienne was well known in the world of museum studies as a powerful interpreter of immigrant voices and the stories they tell. I remember exhibits at MOCA, the Museum of the Chinese in America where she worked. I remember Adrienne's abiding interest in and appreciation for the NYC and other places described by the storytellers that CityLore champions. For Adrienne the richness of performance was deeply contextualized in an ethos that required telling and transmitting stories responsibly through music and other interpretative arts. Adrienne's powerful interpretations added not just grace but wit and humor, (sometimes wickedly pointed at that)--and through them, she moved and challenged others to see themselves differently.

Rest in peace, dear Adrienne. I feel blessed that I knew you and had the opportunity to learn from you. Thank you so much for the trust you had in me and thank you alike that you encouraged me to finding my own way into yiddish song. I'll do my very best to carry on the seeds you planted. You will be missed.

Do velt is nisht mer di zelbe velt. Faryosemt gevorn. In likhitikn ondenk fun Adrienne, zol zi zikh mien, veln mir, a grupe frayt, zikh lernen zingen a por lider vos zi flegt zingen ("Drey, derydl", "Dos bisle borscht").

In reply to by Khane-Hodl

S'vet forkumen in Varshe, in der tsayt fun shive.

Khane-Hodl Cialowicz

I had the honor of releasing Adrienne's last album. I was introduced to her and her work by Josh Horowitz. It turned out to be that she was also from San Francisco Bay Area where I met her while she was visiting her family. From the moment I saw her, I knew that I was in the presence of a wonderful person. She was so warm with a captivating smile.

Over the coming months, we had long conversations about the album, talking about the songs, artwork, text, photographs, press release and all other details that go into an album production. She taught me a lot about Yiddish culture. Adrienne and my graphic artist Matt built a wonderful working relationship quickly and they were on the phone often, working on the details. Adrienne was very happy with the layout which was enriched by Lloyd Wolf's photographs and Mor Erlich's collage work. She wanted to make sure that the new CD would be available by the time of Ashkenaz Festival and we did it. I was very happy when I called her to let her know that she would have CDs before she left for the festival.

I am still in shock of her passing away. In late October, she wrote to me about her upcoming European tours in 2012 and I was looking for additional venues.

Life is so fragile. Like all her friends, I will miss Adrienne a lot. Thank you Adrienne for your friendship and giving me the honor of releasing Enchanted.

I last saw Adrienne in May when our paths crossed at the Toronto centre city airport. Our conversation moved to a subject of mutual interest: our daughters. Ì¢‰âÒHow lucky are we,Ì¢‰âÂå Adrienne said, acknowledging not their accomplishments but their passion for life and their engagement in the things that mattered to them.

Adrienne could have graced the most famous stages of the world as a diva of popular music. But she chose instead to devote herself to what mattered to her: Yiddishkiet and Yiddish song. AdrienneÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s greatest talent was not in her virtuosity, which was unmatched, but in her unique ability to connect with her audience. Unfailingly delighted by her performances, I was transported to another time, another place, another dimension.

How lucky were we.

May the bundle of souls that are bound up like flowers receive our sister, our friend Adrienne, adding a flower to add to the luster. ÌÑå»ÌÑåÊÌÑå_ÌщÛ÷"Ìщ۝

Adrienne was a baskol. Because of her, we now know there are such things.

The smile on her face was a reflection of her huge neshama. She will always be remembered.

Adrienne Cooper was an incredible performer. In her rendition of Yiddish song, one could not only hear a melodious voice but one could actually hear the joy, the pathos, the pain and a whole range of deeply felt emotion. Adrienne Cooper was also a profound thinker, highly intelligent, her profound understanding of the lyrics came through in her song. In the brief time I knew her, I could discern that Adrienne was not only a gifted singer, a gifted instructor but also a total mensch. May her memory be ever blessed.

Oh Songbird. Adrienne.

Death is unfair. Death is never easy. Death collapses onto our heads without a warning; and breaks our hearts in two or more unrepair-able parts. There is no substance to put us back together again; no kingÌ¢‰â‰ã¢s men or super gorilla glue to mend our pain. My mother died also (ironically?) on Christmas Day, 10 years ago. When death comes to our house, we remember all of those who died, those who touched our lives. Where can we look for soothing words of comfort and soft caresses? There is no hand large enough to pat our back; or soft enough to hold us without taking our breath away.

Say it. Tell me that she died peacefully, ready and willing. Tell me a lie so I can lose this anger and try to live my own life fully, without looking back. Death makes us look Forward Back Around us to see the love among our friends.

As a producer and manager, I enter the lives of artists, as a support system. Watching and prodding and encouraging them to be the best that they can be. Offering a critical eye, when asked; and protecting them from misunderstandings.

Adrienne was an artist who I could never get enough of. Her voice charmed me every time I heard it. I had no corrections, or prodding. It was not necessary to encourage her to go beyond herself. She was the prodder and the comfort and the assurance. Onstage, she glowed and drew me to her. Adrienne, songbird, sing to the stars and the ether. Forever in our hearts.

Adrienne, You were the heart and soul of yiddish song. Thank you for teaching me Yiddish music. I will miss you. Nicki Parrott.

To say that Adrienne was the klezmer and Yiddish world's definitive Earth Mother wouldn't be inaccurate, but it wouldn't be all. Adrienne's spirit, her legendary research and scholarship and that voice hovered over all of us, as much an "Air Mother" as her lovely, generous nature and the serious intensity of her work and commitment to human rights rooted her to the ground. I met her in 1995 at an outdoor music festival. It was one of my first professional appearances as a Yiddish singer, and I was uncertain, nervous... and then suddenly this amazing, glowing, warm Yiddish star appeared in front of me, smiled encouragingly and said, "You're the best thing here." Adrienne's generosity, her intuition, were as unexpected as the compliment. And over the years, her warmth, her encouragement sustained many of us -- especially when I'd get a call from someone and they would introduce themselves with these words: "Adrienne Cooper recommended you." It's hard to imagine a klezmer or Yiddish world without her. I know many of us will sing for her.

When I first came to the Yiddish world, I was on the brink of turning 30, had just moved back to New York after many years away and was in the process of redifining my life. Adrienne was among the first people I met from the Workmen's Circle / Arbeter Ring. I was just beginning classes at the YIVO summer program when the WC/AR presented the annual Yiddishfest concert at Damrosch Park. I introduced myself to Adrienne after the concert as a budding Yiddishist theater artist and she whisked me back stage to introduce me around. It was one of those seminal moments, the warm and welcoming environment led me down the path in which I found my home.

Over the years, I had the pleasure of working with Adrienne both at the WC/AR and the Folksbiene. We were often at Circle Lodge together in the summer. One of my fondest memories was being in the kitchen of the JCC in Manhattan cooking together in preparation for ESN.

Adrienne's personality epitomized the Yiddish experience. A little sweet, a little salty. I'd never known her to be less than completely honest. While always encouraging, she offered no polite praise for work that she thought had not earned it. But when she did compliment something, it meant so much more.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Adrienne Cooper, 1946 - 2011." (Viewed on May 25, 2024) <>.