Singer-composers showcased in songwriter event at MJCC

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When singer-composer Michele Brourman performs, people will ask her, `Where did you get that country voice?'

"And I say, `It's my Jewish-Yiddish voice.'"

Brourman, who will appear at the Marin Jewish Community Center's ASCAP Songwriters Showcase Saturday, April 20, has written songs recorded by the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Crystal Gayle and Aretha Franklin, as well as Michael Feinstein.

And while she doesn't usually get a chance to write ethnic "Fiddler on the Roof"-style of music, she says her Jewish upbringing colors many of the songs she composes and sings.

"Strangely enough, there is" a Jewish element, says Brourman, whose best-known song, "My Favorite Year," has been recorded by six artists to date, including Feinstein. "But it's subtle."

Brourman, who has composed music for the Broadway production of Studs Terkel's "Working" and instrumental scores for numerous theater productions, is one of eight singers and songwriters who will appear in the San Rafael show.

Also participating in the JCC's ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) Songwriters Showcase is Babbie Green. The daughter of actress Betty Furness and Jewish composer Johnny Green, she grew up in New York and Los Angeles surrounded by Jewish songwriters and entertainers. Her bicoastal upbringing, she says, drew her into the "social and cultural life" of the secular Jewish community.

Growing up in what she describes as "the enclave of the entertainment world that is from a Jewish heritage," Green says her family's close friends and associates included such musical celebrities as Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein.

A graduate of Smith College, Green enjoys parallel careers as an actor and musician. Winning the first Johnny Mercer Songwriter Award in 1992, she received the Back Stage Bistro Award for outstanding songwriter in 1994.

While the lyrics Green pens are not obviously Jewish, they often reflect "a kind of universal vocabulary about feelings and ideas," she says. "I write about relationships…About how people discover themselves in the world they're living and what they do about their heart."

Green adds, however, that "if I had an assignment to write something that was specifically Jewish in nature, it would be wonderful."

The JCC show also brings veteran performers Lucie Arnaz and jazz great Dave Frishberg together with those billed as the "next generation of Gershwins and Sondheims," including Brourman, Green, Alan Chapman, Karen Benjamin, Sharon McNight and Nancy Dussault.

Brourman, winner of the 1994 Mercer Award and a frequent performer in ASCAP's "New Breed" songwriter concerts, is currently crafting a musical theater piece about Josie Marcus, a brave young Jewish pioneer woman who leaves her San Francisco home to marry Wyatt Earp.

Called "Josie and the Women of Tombstone," it is "great fun" to work on, says Brourman, who is writing the historically based musical in collaboration with a New York friend.

Both Green and Brourman gravitated toward music at an early age. Each was playing the piano by age 4. Both studied classical music but showed a penchant for improvising.

Brourman, raised in the Pittsburgh Jewish community, also played Yiddish and Hebrew folk tunes, which she picked up by ear.

"My Uncle Saul was an active Zionist, always going to Israel," she notes. "I was exposed to a lot of Hebrew and Yiddish music." Her large extended family included her father's 11 brothers and sisters. "Everyone was somewhat observant, but to various degrees."

Both women songwriters, who have performed at the Marin JCC in recent years, look forward to their return engagement.

"The audience is just so welcoming," says Green. "It's sophisticated and open and responsive."

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.