10 Top Jewish Musicians

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By Michele Amira, staff writer, @nicejewishswag

With the 2015 Washington Jewish Music Festival underway, now is the ideal time to celebrate the Jewish musicians who have had an impact on the history of music.

Much like the music festival, which offers an array of ska, hip hop, gypsy folk and klezmer music, the artists are a mesh of traditional and new grooves. That is, after all, one of the most beautiful aspects of Judaism — being able to give and take traditions while maintaining a sense of Jewish continuity.

Jewish musicologist Curt Sachs wrote that Jewish is music created “by Jews, as Jews, for Jews.” In honor of this year’s Jewish music fest, here are our favorite tribe members who have kept the beat going on.

1.   Beastie Boys

"Beastie Boys Compo" by WikiLaurent - Composition based on File:Adam Horovitz.jpg, File:Adam Yauch 2.jpg and File:Michael Diamond 1.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beastie_Boys_Compo.jpg#/media/File:Beastie_Boys_Compo.jpg
The Beastie Boys performing live in 2007, Adam Horowitz on left, Adam Yauch in the middle, and Michael Diamond on the right. WikiLaurent/Creative Commons.

All three members of the Beastie Boys — Mike Diamond, Adam Yauch (d. 2012) and Adam Horovitz saw hip hop as a part of a post-punk musical underground, and they fused together the aesthetics of hip-hop and punk. This trio of Jewish hip-hop heavy hitters has referenced kugel, matzah and pizza bagels on their To The 5 Boroughs album. Ad-Rock said in a 2004 interview with Heeb magazine they’re embracing the “funky-ass Jew” in the album. In April 2012, the hip-hop trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2.   Carole King

"CaroleKingHWOFDec2012" by Angela George. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CaroleKingHWOFDec2012.jpg#/media/File:CaroleKingHWOFDec2012.jpg
Carole King smiling at a December 2012 ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Angela George/Creative Commons.

Carole King, a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn, became a feminist icon with her album Tapestry, which evoked the soul and folk of the 1970s hippie era. She has written songs for bands like The Beatles. She said it was her “Bubbie’s” love of music that inspired her to pursue a career in the industry. In 1987, King was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

3.   Drake

"Drake Bluesfest" by Brennan Schnell - http://www.flickr.com/photos/eastscene/4801558615/in/photostream/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drake_Bluesfest.jpg#/media/File:Drake_Bluesfest.jpg
Drake performing at 2011 Ottawa Bluefest. Brennan Schnell/Creative Commons.

The top-charting Grammy winning Jewish emcee has dazzled the music world with his emo introspective verses and soulful flow. His downbeat mixtape, which dropped in early 2015, debuted at No. 1 on the hip hop charts. In 2014, he guest starred on Saturday Night Live and rapped about his love of being both Jewish and black through verses about Manischewitz.

4.   The Alchemist

"TheAlchemist2014" by Carl Pocket - http://www.flickr.com/photos/pocketphotography/13495232995. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TheAlchemist2014.jpg#/media/File:TheAlchemist2014.jpg
The Alchemist performing during March 2014. Carl Pocket/Creative Commons.

The Alchemist (born to an Israeli family) is your favorite beat maker. He’s worked with everyone in the game from Cypress Hill, Mobb Deep to Kanye West. In 2012, he dropped an album based entirely in sampling Russian music, titled Russian Roulette.

5. Ofra Haza

"HazaOfra01". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:HazaOfra01.JPG#/media/File:HazaOfra01.JPG
A picture of Haza from a promotional series in 1997. Fair Use.

This Israeli songstress drew on the poetry of Shalom Shabazi and traditional Mizrahi instrumentals, fused together with Israeli techno dance music. In 1993, Haza became the first Israeli singer to be nominated for a Grammy. She was also essential in the vocals on the soundtrack of the The  Prince of Egypt.  Although she sadly died of complications caused by AIDS in 2000, her funky vocals have become a staple in hip hop. Her famous yemenite vocals have been remembered, thanks to the sampling by Madonna, Public Enemy and Kanye West.

6. Janis Ian

"Janis Ian 2" by Eddie - originally posted to Flickr as Janis Ian. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Janis_Ian_2.jpg#/media/File:Janis_Ian_2.jpg
Janis Ian performing with a guitar in 1981 concert in Dublin.

A Jewish New Jersey born feminist folk/spoken word singer of the 1970s, Janis Ian went on to inspire generations of feminists such as Tina Fey, who based one of the characters in Mean Girls on her. The actual Janis Ian was one of the first guests on Saturday Night Live. She is also considered next to Joan Baez and Odetta as one of the essential voices in folk music. In 2001, she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

7.  Miri Ben-Ari

"Miri Ben-Ari with Violin 47b" by User:Miri Ben-Ari - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miri_Ben-Ari_with_Violin_47b.jpeg#/media/File:Miri_Ben-Ari_with_Violin_47b.jpeg
Miri Ben-Ari with her violin in 2004. Miri Ben-Ari/Creative Commons.

Miri Ben-Ari the Grammy A award-winning, Israeli-born violin virtuoso went from the background to the foreground of the hip hop industry. Her blend of classical, jazz and hip hop fusion made her in high demand with artists including Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean.  Kanye West hired Ben-Ari to arrange and produce all the strings on his hip hop hit album College Dropout. Ben-Ari has made it her mission to prove that the violin isn’t just for accompaniment. In 2004 she released “Hip-Hop violinist,” which had features from West and Akon. When she is not making hit music in America, she is working with Israeli emcees in her beloved Israel.

8. Amy Winehouse

"Amy Winehouse in 2007" by petercruise - amy winehouse. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amy_Winehouse_in_2007.jpg#/media/File:Amy_Winehouse_in_2007.jpg
Amy Winehouse performing at the Avalon in Boston in 2007. Peter Cruise/Creative Commons.

The Jewish soulful songstress in her heyday dressed like a mixture of Fran Drescher and the cast of Jersey Shore but sang with the soul of a Motown diva. Her partnership with U.S. hip-hop producer Salaam Remi added to her funky instrumentation and funky vocal stylings.

9. Balkan Beat Box

"Balkan Beat Box-3" by Timothy Lloyd - http://www.flickr.com/photos/timusan/967457328/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Balkan_Beat_Box-3.jpg#/media/File:Balkan_Beat_Box-3.jpg
Balkan Beat box performing live. Timothy Floyd/Creative Commons.

Balkan Beat Box fuses together klezmer, gypsy, hip hop and rasta music to create its own brand of falafel funk. It is one of the most popular bands in Israel and a favorite for sampling among hip hop artists. The band’s music is like a desert adventure of different beats, bringing funk to the forefront of Jewish music.

10. Hillel Slovak of Red Hot Chili Peppers

"SlovakChiliPeppersUplift87" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SlovakChiliPeppersUplift87.jpg#/media/File:SlovakChiliPeppersUplift87.jpg
Slovak (right) with Red Hot Chili Peppers bandmates Anthony Kiedis (middle) and Flea (top left) in 1987. Red Hot Chili Peppers/Creative Commons.

Hillel Slovak, the original guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers, was born to Holocaust survivors in Israel. Slovak’s funk sound added to the autonomy of Red Hot Chili Peppers, which would add to their fame. In 2012, 14 years after his death, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

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