[by Phyllis Shaikun]
While the old adage goes “Don’t mess with success,” Cantor David Lipp seems to dote on adding new ingredients to Adath Jeshurun’s Annual Music Festival to keep it lively, fresh and exciting – even after 39 years! For this year’s program, aptly titled “Good for the Soul,” his recipe for success included honoring the 50th Anniversary of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights (KCHR) by blending the Jewish Community Adult and Junior Choirs with the West Louisville Boys and Girls Choir and raising the temperature to allow Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Singers to fire everyone up – the audience was dancing in the aisles. That’s entertainment!
The crowd attending the show (estimated to be about 800) rivaled those typically seen during the High Holy Days and from the oldest to the youngest, they were all up on their feet swinging and clapping to the music. The Community Choirs teamed up with the West Louisville group for the first number, Promise Land, a rousing spiritual that got everyone in the mood.
Before introducing Nelson and his group, the cantor deadpanned that he personally has had some difficulty with gospel music because he “couldn’t get over the Jesus thing.” With Nelson, a black Jew from New York who has taught Hebrew school at a Reform temple in New Jersey for 15 years, that obviously is not an issue. Nelson is reported to have sung for presidents and prime ministers and was “discovered” by Oprah Winfrey.
Although his comparisons to Mahalia Jackson seem a bit tenuous, Nelson’s rhythm and talent are clearly in a class by themselves. Dressed in a ceremonial yellow silk sequined robe with matching yarmulke, he took to the stage and made it his own. His several duets with Cantor Lipp, who showed a remarkable ability to rock with the best of them, were particularly noteworthy.
The entire evening felt like a bonding experience – a virtual love-fest between those on the stage and those in the audience – a rare happening that made you oh so glad you put yourself in that setting on that particular evening.
Accompanying himself on an electric keyboard and backed by two musicians, including drummer Noel Sagerman, the great-nephew of Annette Sagerman, and a trio of Kosher Gospel Singers, Nelson belted out a rousing Adon Olam the way they do it at his synagogue. An Aretha Franklin-style Mi Chamocha was followed by a soulful rendition of the old civil right song, Abraham, Martin and John, which was particularly appreciated by the 19 Louisvillians who were recognized by Mayor Jerry Abramson during the evening for their work in helping to make the KCHR a reality and expanding its coverage.
Abramson spoke of the organization’s importance to the community and gave each honoree a distinguished citizen certificate and a Haggadah, the prayer book read during the Passover holiday. He remarked that the holiday celebrates the end of slavery for the Jews in ancient Egypt, and he emphasized the point “Until all people are free, no one is free.”
The honorees, many of whom were in attendance, were Carolyn Miller-Cooper, Raoul Cunningham, Dolores Delahanty, Kevin Dunlap, Kevin Fields, Bani Hines Hudson, Dr. Blaine Hudson, John Johnson, Mattie Jones, Rev. Charles Kirby, Dr. Renee Mapp, Senator Gerald Neal, Sally Newkirk, Darryl Owens, Senator Georgia Davis Powers, Ben Richmond, Sam Watkins, Mary Ann Taylor and Laura Wilkins.
The concert ended with New Orleans’ style Hinei Matov, sung by Nelson and his group along with the various choirs. A lavish dessert reception followed. After each AJ Music Festival, the question always becomes – How can the cantor top this one next year? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s worth circling the date on your calendar when news of the 40th Anniversary concert comes your way.
The Adath Jeshurun Music Festival has been endowed by the Adolf and Sara van der Walde and Israel Rosenbloum Charitable Fund since 2003. Corporate sponsors of the event were Caretenders and Republic Bank and Trust Company.
[Photos by Charles Lipschutz Photography]