By Maxwell Kates
Question: Of the first three Canadians to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 40, two of them were Jewish. Who were they? (Check the answer at the conclusion of this article)
TORONTO, March 10/22 – Inherent to every ethnic identity is a style or genre of music to which its members may identify as ‘their music.’ But in a community so diverse, what is Canadian Jewish music? David Eisenstadt answers that question in his new book, Under the Radar: 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. Based on columns he began to write for cjnonline.com | cjnonline.ca during the pandemic, the book profiles 30 of its voices and is as much about community and identity as it is about the music itself.
The book was written to narrate the history, rather than to critique the music. Eschewing musicians famous on the world stage, such as Leonard Cohen or Drake, he instead focused on “performers who…in my view, [had] become less visible in today’s ever-changing music world.” A native Calgarian, Eisenstadt studied and practiced journalism before settling in a public relations career in Toronto with his family.
The profiles featured cover a multitude of generations, genres, and geographical facets. Jerry Gray who founded The Travellers is included. So is Sophie Millman, a jazz singer born a half-century after Gray. Artists like Samy El Maghribi, Ben Steinberg, and Aviva Chernick, devoted their careers to Jewish music. Others sought their interpretations through secular music. Phil Levitt and Stan Fisher (The Diamonds), Zal Yanovsky (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Danny Marks, and Corey Hart were rock and rollers. Erica Goodman, a classical harpist. Sharon Hampson, Lois Lillenstein, and Bram Morrison joined forces as childrens’ entertainers to influence young minds with folk music from around the world, including some Jewish songs.
Phil Levitt of The Diamonds/Photo EE, Toronto
The Canadian Jewish community is comprised of immigrants and always has been. Lois was born in Chicago and other musicians profiled emigrated from Morocco, Israel, Poland, and Russia. Canadian-born artists are represented from coast to coast. Ben Mink lives in British Columbia; Ofra Harnoy, in Newfoundland. Eisenstadt writes that the book elicited many reactions of “I didn’t know that” adding that “this type of response…has made this work worthwhile.”
One of the columns which generated the most discussion was that of Oscar Brand. Like lyrical patriot Calixa Lavallée before him, Brand was born in Canada and spent the bulk of his life in the United States. In 1963, the Winnipeg native wrote “Something to Sing About” as the theme song for a Canadian television series. By the end of the decade, his song had merited consideration to become Canada’s new national anthem.
Despite the myriad backgrounds and artistic genres, each of the musicians profiled has credited their families and their identity as Jews in the evolution of their music. Implicitly, Eisenstadt acknowledges this himself, as one of the thirty artists profiled is his uncle, composer Morris Eisenstadt.
David Eisenstadt says that a second volume is already in the works. Under the Radar celebrates the songs of the legend of a land now slightly older, still “telling the story of great things to come.”
The answer: Percy Faith (Theme from a Summer Place, 1960) and Lorne Greene (Ringo, 1964)
Maxwell Kates is a Toronto-based chartered accountant and a former columnist with the (Houston) Pecan Park Eagle.
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