This article explores Jewish contributions to, and influence on, the country music and bluegrass genres, arguing that there have been four key phases of Jewish-country interaction and that in recent years country and bluegrass Jews have taken a largely religious and liturgical turn as singer-songwriters in these genres. The first sections of this article identify several important stages of interaction, beginning with a phase between the 1940s and 1960s when Jews challenged antisemitism and sought assimilation and acceptance, a period in the 1970s when iconoclasts such as Kinky Friedman and Shel Silverstein came to the fore and substantially reshaped country music, and a phase from the 1980s to early 2000s when an instrumental-focused klezmer-bluegrass fusionism was central to constructing a Jewish-country identity. A longer, final section explores the more recent, religiously-themed country and bluegrass of performers such as Mare Winningham, Nefesh Mountain, and Joe Buchanan, and argues that Jewish country and bluegrass has taken an important liturgical turn.
The Valley of the Dry Bones: The Presence and Perseverance of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness in Country Music and Bluegrass
Shirli Brautbar is professor of history at Nevada State College and author of From Fashion to Politics: Hadassah and Jewish American Women in the Post World War II Era (2012). She teaches classes in women's studies, the history of religion, and U.S. history.
Peter La Chapelle is professor of history at Nevada State College and is author of Proud to Be an Okie: Cultural Politics, Country Music, and Migration to Southern California (2007) and I'd Fight the World: A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music (University of Chicago Press, 2019). He teaches classes in cultural history, U.S. Western history, and oral history.
Jessica Hutchings has served as cantor of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson, Nevada, since 2014. She holds an M.A. in education from American Jewish University's Fingerhut School of Education and an M.A. in Jewish Sacred Music from the Academy for Jewish Religion. In 2009, she won the national Grinspoon-Steinhardt Excellence in Jewish Education Award and in 2018 she was named Jewish Nevada's Jewish Communal Professional of the Year. At the finale of her cantorial recital, she became the first female cantor to sing alongside hip-hop reggae superstar Matisyahu.
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Shirli Brautbar, Peter La Chapelle, Jessica Hutchings; The Valley of the Dry Bones: The Presence and Perseverance of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness in Country Music and Bluegrass. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 June 2020; 32 (2): 191–213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2020.32.2.191
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