Rapper Drake is a melting pot of cultures. He is African-American, Canadian, and Jewish, a wonderful cultural package all rolled into one. When asked by a reporter if he was a better Jew than Harvey Levin, who runs gossip website TMZ, Drake replied, “I don’t know. I’m one of the best Jews ever to do it.” However, is Drake the best musical mogul to hit Hollywood? Let’s take a look at some of the other pop culture sensations over a span of genres in the past few decades that are Jewish. How can we relate Jewish individuals to the wider music world?
To my surprise, it turns out pop-rock sensation Pink is actually Jewish. The singer, whose latest hits include “So What,” was born of a Jewish mother and has a tattoo on her arm in Hebrew. Following in Pink’s punk-influenced tracks is American Idol’s Adam Lambert, who is also Jewish. Apparently, he “never got a bar mitzvah and hated Hebrew school because he got a bloody nose on the first day.” Many Jews may have been bar mitzvah-ed, but I can guarantee that, bloody nose or not, a lot of us similarly disliked being schlepped to Hebrew school several times a week.
Going back a generation, some of the most talented singer-songwriters of the past century have been Jews. Bob Dylan, though born Jewish, converted to Christianity, but, according to Dylan sources, Judaism remains a key part of his identity. Arlo Guthrie, the man behind “Alice’s Restaurant,” recalls growing up as a Jewish kid in Brooklyn and was very close to his grandmother, whom he called “bubbe.” Art Garfunkel of Simon and Garfunkel, too, is Jewish.
Many more Jewish singer-songwriters have contributed to varied music genres in the past decades. What does it mean, though, to have our people contribute such a rich legacy to pop culture? Should we value the songs more because they were written or performed by Jews? Should we take it for granted that Jews made a contribution to music?
For me, a song is a song and a singer is a singer. Their ethnicity, gender, or religion doesn’t matter. If I like the song, that’s great. If not, that’s fine. Still, I don’t think that we should exaggerate the influence Jews have had on the music industry, though they have done great things for it, which I do value greatly. Yes, many talented singers have been Jewish. But, at the same time, many others of different religions have had equally significant impacts. Great songs have been written both by Jews and by non-Jews. If a singer is talented, that talent is what makes them valuable to the music industry, not necessarily their religion.
Music has been an integral part of the Jewish religion for millennia. We’ve given back to the genre of pop music in many ways, but must remember that we are part of a bigger whole, not only in the world, but even within the music itself. It’s not just the efforts of Jewish people, but the collaborations between individuals of all religions, races, and creeds that make the industry what it is today. No one wants to see a one-sided music business. When Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other faiths, ethnicities, and ways of life come together with a common love of song, that’s where the magic starts.