Meet the African-American cantors of Harlem

Fascinating story in the Times of Israel.

Musicologist Henry Sapoznik recently spoke with The Times of Israel about the little-known history of Black cantors. Sapoznik related that LaRue was hardly the only Black cantor or Yiddish theater performers of that era. There were at least a dozen, including one woman…

Who knew?

Read on here.

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  • Boy, there’s fodder for a movie of the week that ticks all the boxes that the box-tickers and the “oh, you’re box-ticking” crowd can enjoy equally.

  • Absolutely fascinating! (Be sure to read the full article.)
    And LaRue’s singing is lovely.
    Serious question for you, Norman, or anyone else who cares to answer: how does LaRue’s cantorial singing style differ from that of today? Or DOES it differ?

  • When I started to read this article I jumped to the conclusion that he was of Ethiopian descent but then when Yiddish was mentioned, realised that I was wrong. I’m not Jewish but seem to remember that the black Jewish people from Ethiopia were eventually recognised by Israel. Am I correct Norman?

    • Yes, the Ethiopian Jews are considered the “Lost Tribe” of Israel and some have migrated to Israel where, from what I have read, experience discrimination due to their race.

    • The so called
      African American is the True Jew.

      SO CALLED
      AFRICAN AMERICAN
      NATIVE AMERICAN
      HISP AS MICS
      ARE THE
      NATION OF ISRAEL

  • Which of the following is most true?

    1) Negro spirituals (the term in its full historical context), so steeped in the text of the Old Testament, is essentially singing about the Jewish experience.

    2) Jazz (or Motown) would’ve taken a very different route if Jews were not so intertwined with its history and development, both as musicians and as producers?

    3) Jews got more out of jazz than African-Americans got out of cantorial music? Or to put it positively, Jews were more integrated and integral to jazz than African-Americans were to cantorial music?

  • I did read that AfricanAmerican Jews went to Marcus Garvey to ask him to make Judaism the official religion of Back to Africa.

  • To Elizabeth: Some Ethiopian Jews are recognized by Israel. There is a group called the Falash Mura whose ancestors were forced or felt forced to convert to Christianity around 100 years ago but have Jewish relatives. Many of them are waiting to immigrate to Israel.

    As far as the Times of Israel article is concerned–Black Jewish life continued beyond WWII. At least into the 1990s and as far as I know even today there were/are at least 3 Black Jewish congregations in New York City, one in Harlem, one in Brooklyn and one in Queens.

    In the mid nineties I saw a presentation on the congregation in Queens by the son of the rabbi. The son was taking courses at the Jewish Theological Seminary although they would not allow him into the ordination track
    (because they did not consider him Jewish).

    Many Black Jews are from the Carribbean. American Blacks joined these congregations based on their reading of the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). I had a Black friend who started in a Messianic Jewish (Christian but follow many Jewish customs) congregation and later converted to Judaism by an Orthodox rabbi and immigrated to Israel.

    There are still Blacks who speak Yiddish which they learn through working at “Borscht Belt” (Jewish) hotels or by living and working with Orthodox Yiddish speaking Jews.

  • Thanks for that Sharon, very interesting. I worked at a summer camp for Jewish girls from NY city and Long Island, in New Hampshire, years ago and picked up some Yiddish and also working in theatre in London. Mostly forgotten now. I do hope that they are accepted as truly religious people.

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