Adrienne Cooper Embodied Progressive Spirit

Appreciation

By Jeffrey Shandler

Published December 29, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It is hard to imagine the world without Adrienne Cooper, a friend said to me on learning that she was near death. As she did for so many others, she enriched my life for decades with thrilling song, wise words, and trenchant humor.

Adrienne Cooper
adriennecooper.com
Adrienne Cooper

She is perhaps best known as a concert and recording artist, one of the great interpreters of Yiddish song of her generation, both on her own and in collaboration with leading lights of Yiddish music and theater, including Josh Dolgin, Sara Felder, Beyle Schaechter Gottesman, Marilyn Lerner, David Krakauer, Frank London, Zalmen Mlotek, Jenny Romaine, Joyce Rosenzweig, Henry Sapoznik, Eve Sicular, Lorin Sklamberg, Alicia Svigals, Josh Waletzky, Michael Winograd, among many others. Based in New York, she performed at Carnegie Hall, the Public Theater, and LaMama, among other venues. Adrienne also appeared in concert in Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Deeply informed by traditional Jewish practices of making music, Adrienne pushed the envelope of what Yiddish song might be through a prolific output of recitals, recordings, and music theater pieces.

Beyond her extraordinary artistic accomplishments, Adrienne was a mentor, resource, and role model to so many who have lived, or at least sojourned, in Yiddishland. I first met her, as did many hundreds of other students, when she worked at the YIVO Institute in the 1970s and ’80s, running the Yiddish summer program (then held at Columbia University) and the Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies. She played a pivotal role in guiding us on our way to engaging Yiddish culture as part of our futures, whether as scholars, writers, performers, filmmakers, or activists.

Adrienne also taught us to sing. At the time, I didn’t think it was all that remarkable that someone who was such a gifted musician was also so able a teacher and advisor. Perhaps it was because Adrienne could move from administrator to intellectual to artist so naturally. She taught students around the world that music provided an essential point of entry into Yiddish culture and that the insights of scholars nurture and enrich a musician’s performance. Her many Yiddish musical projects integrated a joyous talent for making music with a deep knowledge of the cultures that engendered these songs and stories. Her passionate performances were rooted in an approach to Jewish culture in which heart and mind are closely coupled.

Adrienne seemed to have inherited a gift for making music; both her mother and her mother’s parents were talented singers. But she did not simply continue a dynasty of Jewish musicians. She charted her own course as an artist, as has her daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a smart and ardent musician very much in her own right. Mindful of the great Jewish cultural past, Adrienne was committed not to its preservation in a narrow sense, but to its animation through intelligent, creative, and sometimes subversive, engagement.

Similarly, as Adrienne worked tirelessly within a number of institutional settings, including Arbeter-Ring, KlezKamp, YIVO, among others, she invested her creative talents in testing their notions of the possible. In her own way, she followed the precedent of the great Yiddish kultur-tuers of yore like Y. L. Peretz, S. Ansky, and Max Weinreich by integrating art, scholarship, institution building, and political action in all phases of her professional life. In concerts such as “Ghetto Tango,” a suite of songs from the Lodz Ghetto or “Lost In the Stars: Jewish Song after World War II in Hebrew, English, and Yiddish,” she delivered emotionally compelling music and at the same time offered original, incisive surveys of cultural creativity at threshold moments in Jewish life.

Adrienne used other performances to champion the Jewish commitment to redressing economic inequality (In Love and Struggle: Songs of Jewish Labor) or celebrated LGBT rights (Queer Wedding). Her feminism informed all her undertakings: her activism, her writing and translating, and her singing. Fittingly, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice recently honored Adrienne with its Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award for her contributions as a performer to movements for social change.

One of the last times I saw Adrienne sing was at an Arbeter-Ring outdoor summer concert, at which she exhorted the audience to make this a besere un shenere velt, or a better, more beautiful world. The words were delivered with the same emotional force as her singing. In a world without Adrienne, without her voice, her wit, her imagination, her intellect, her fervor, her convictions, it will be that much harder to do so.

Jeffrey Shandler is Professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.