Project Reflections

KLEZMER WOMEN’S ARTISTRY AND ACHIEVEMENTS

Emily Socolov

The eleven women of Soul Songs: Inspiring Women of Klezmer grew up traveling along the complex routes of discrete musical careers and, in the process, each has left an indelible mark upon contemporary Klezmer music. 

Each one has her own personal mix of family history: the great uncle who left home with his trumpet, the second cousin who taught piano, the mother who played drums. In households from Kansas City to New York City, from Philly to Montreal to Akron, from Avon, Connecticut to East Montpelier, Vermont, their parents sought the resources -- teachers, instruments, and financial wherewithal -- to nurture their little flames. Family schedules were adjusted. There was practicing and recitals and grown-up concerts to attend. Girl-children sitting upright in polished Mary Jane shoes. 

Many followed the classic arc: pre-schooled in classical, grade-schooled in band, high schooled in jazz… Then branching off: maybe a conservatory, maybe busking on a sidewalk. Eventually they discovered and became devotees of a Jewish musical style called Klezmer after introductions to old musical neighbors (Eastern-European, Balkan, Greek, Turkish…) and hot dates with new neighbors (Latin, Soul, Bluegrass…). They have traveled to ports-of-call from Ireland to India, cleaving to traditions, innovating new hybrids, time-traveling from the Baroque to 21st-century experimental. These are eleven women of and in the world!

But are women new to Klezmer? Well…no! However, with Klezmer, as with so much else, women have been largely excluded from musical performance by religious dictate and notions of modesty. Soul Songs, an exploration of the artistry and achievements of women in Klezmer, is a fresh beginning in a centuries-long insistence to be heard. This project comes with an understanding that this rising tide of feminism in which we all swim will lift all boats, uncovering heroines of our shared musical past and giving models and hopes to new girl-children embarking on their own musical sojourns. 

These eleven women are not strangers to each other, and many have repeatedly collaborated in the past. All are energized by the prospect of this shared work. They are connected through the exuberance, soulfulness and heritage of Klezmer as catalyst and Klezmer as community.

This project couldn’t exist without our crusading and dedicated foremothers of blessed memory. We remember Elaine Hoffman Watts, a doer, our majorette, who led by example. Yes, Girls Can Drum! 

Dr. Emily Socolov, Project Scholar
 

Emily is a folklorist, visual artist and activist interested in life history, cultural imaginaries and social justice. She was founding Executive Director of Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, serving the Mexican immigrant community of New York, Communications Director at the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, Project Director at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, and presenter/researcher at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She has advanced degrees in Museography (INAH/Mexico), Performance Studies (NYU), and Folklore and Folklife (UPenn). She originated and teaches in KlezKanada’s visual arts program. Emily works with immigrants and asylum-seekers in Austin, where she is Visiting Scholar at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT-Austin. She currently researches the Left and the early Cold War.