Jews in the News: Irving Berlin, Greg Kurstin and Jerry Seinfeld

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve is a time for music, so here are some musical notes spanning many genres.Let’s start with Tony Bennett’s new album, “Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern.” KERN (1885-1945), along with IRVING BERLIN, was a founding founder of “The Great American Songbook Era,” when so many classic tunes, often performed on New Year’s, were written. While Bennett doesn’t cover “Old Man River,”  Kern’s most famous song, the CD does include such Kern classics as “The Way You Look Tonight” (with lyrics by DOROTHY FIELD [1905-1974], oft called the best female lyricist of all-time). By the way, Bennett’s daughter ANTONIA, 41, also a singer, and a convert to Judaism, is expecting her first child with her Israeli husband. They belong to a Los Angeles Orthodox shul. 

A New Year’s L’Chayim to singer GOGI GRANT, who recently turned 91. She’s best known for “The Wayward Wind,” a pop-country monster crossover hit (written by two Jewish guys) that knocked Elvis out of the #1 spot in 1956. A hunch led me check and I found out that Grant, born Myrtle Arinsberg, is Jewish. Grant was long-married to ROBERT RIFKIND, 90, a prominent Beverly Hills attorney and a big donor to Jewish and secular good causes.  She retired in 1967 to raise their two children. Since the late ‘80s, Grant has performed in concerts (at least as recently as 2013) and on PBS oldies specials.

GREG KURSTIN, 46, a top producer and songwriter, must be smiling at the enormous success of Adele’s comeback CD, “25”.  The singer suffered from severe writer’s block from early 2013, when she began work on her third studio album, until she finally sought Kurstin’s help early in 2015. Kurstin, a multi-Grammy nominee, has produced and co-written tunes with many top acts, including Beck and Kelly Clarkson. He and Adele clicked and together they wrote the CD’s big hit single, “Hello”.  “25” is the biggest selling CD of 2015 and Adele’s upcoming North American tour is already sold-out. 

CHARLIE PUTH, 24, also had a good year. Here’s an excerpt from a recent “EW” profile: “A year ago, Charlie Puth didn’t even have a record deal. But since then, he signed the dotted line with Atlantic in January, has been nominated for three Grammys, broke Billboard Hot 100 records with “See You Again,” his Furious 7 collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, and toured with ‘Marvin Gaye’ partner Meghan Trainor. He can now add one more accolade to his name: Golden Globe nominee. ‘See You Again’ was nominated for Best Original Song at the Globes…[He told EW] ‘I always told myself when I was younger if I ever got nominated for a Grammy, I’d call my mother and tell her first and I did that. She’s my Jewish mother, so she was like, ‘I’m not surprised. You worked hard for this!’” (Puth’s father isn’t Jewish).

The ABC musical comedy series, “Galavant,” returns for a second, 10-episode season on Jan. 3 (8-9PM. Two back-to-back episodes run each Sunday for five weeks). The songs are by Oscar-winner ALAN MENKEN, 66 (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin”) and Tony-nominee GLENN SLATER, 47 (“Little Mermaid”- theater version).

Seinfeld and Cars and other Stuff

As you probably heard, Crackle (on web, Roku, etc.) has just (Dec. 30) released a new season of JERRY SEINFELD’s series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and his first guest is President Obama. You might have heard that SEINFELD, 61, played four sold out performances in Tel Aviv on Dec. 20-21. A detailed account by an American audience member has this gem: “He did drop some Israel-related humor, saying in one spot-on joke that Israelis have two answers to any question: ‘no problem' or ‘that’s impossible’.”

Seinfeld grew-up in the town next to my Long Island hometown. While I rode around in my parents’ car, I’d see these billboards with a tag at the bottom: Sign by Kal Seinfeld—and I thought to myself: “Is this a joke?” Yes, KAL was Jerry’s sign manufacturer father and little did I know, then, that it was a Seinfeldian moment---you could just imagine George Constanza, etc., blathering on about what signs by Seinfeld means. 

By the way, Jerry’s father was the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants and his mother, BETTY HOSNI SEINFELD, is the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Aleppo, Syria—a city that now is in ruins because of the Syrian civil war. The state of the ancient Great Synagogue of Aleppo is unclear.


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