Jewish Folk Chorus of San Francisco performs at Manny's, December 2019. (Photo/Gail Rubman)
Jewish Folk Chorus of San Francisco performs at Manny's, December 2019. (Photo/Gail Rubman)

Jewish Folk Chorus of S.F. returns with tribute to Oakland klezmer legend Adrienne Cooper

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Adrienne Cooper has been called the mother of the modern revival of klezmer music and Yiddish songwriting.

In the 1980s, when Yiddish was primarily spoken by older Jews or in Hasidic and Orthodox communities, the Oakland-born musician and labor activist helped spur the movement to bring the language back into the mainstream of Jewish secular culture.

The Jewish Folk Chorus of San Francisco will honor Cooper, who died in 2011, with a June 4 performance titled “Another Kind of Mother: A Choral Tribute to Adrienne Cooper.”

Adrienne Cooper
Adrienne Cooper

“She was a bridge between the religious community and the more secular community,” chorus president Renee Enteen said.

“Another Kind of Mother” also marks the first major concert for the 97-year-old chorus since the Covid pandemic began in 2020.

The 20 singers — Jews and non-Jews, Yiddish speakers and not — will perform selections from Cooper’s body of work at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco. They will sing songs from Cooper’s last album, ”Enchanted,” which was released in 2011 and combined traditional klezmer and Yiddish songs with contemporary lyrics. They will also pull from “In Love and In Struggle: The Musical Legacy of the Jewish Labor Bund,” a collection of Yiddish songs from the Jewish labor movement in Russia that Cooper helped to compile.

Between songs, members of the chorus will offer context and insights about the pieces. Translations will be provided.

Founded in 1926 by Petaluma chicken farmers as part of the Jewish Music Alliance, the chorus has deep roots in the labor movement. The Yiddish Workers’ Chorus, as it was first known, promoted the work of the “sweatshop poets,” Enteen, 67, said. They were a group of Jewish writers who focused on activism, workers’ rights and the struggle of the lower class.

The pandemic is not the first time the chorus had to take a break from performing. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, its longtime conductor Zari Gottfried and many members entered military service, Enteen said.

During the pandemic, technology enabled chorus members to stay connected to one another and to the larger Yiddish community. They met every week on Zoom to practice songs, learn Yiddish or simply catch up. “We’re a community and a family,” Enteen said.

The group also hosted four virtual Zingeray, or singalong sessions, to bring together Jewish artists from around the world. “It was a labor of love,” said chorus member Ami Goodman, who organized the Zingeray.

The chorus has slowly begun to return to its regular concert schedule. Since September, parts of the group have been giving small performances and rehearsing together in person. For many audiences, a Jewish Folk Chorus performance may be the first time they’ve heard Yiddish sung in years, if ever, Enteen said.
She recalled a trip to the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, where a man approached her after the chorus finished. “He said, ‘Renee, your chorus songs gave me back 10 years of my life,’” she said. “It’s just such a powerful thing.”

“Another Kind of Mother: A Choral Tribute to Adrienne Cooper”

Jewish Folk Chorus of San Francisco concert, 2 p.m. Sunday, June 4, at Jewish Community High School of the Bay, 1835 Ellis St., San Francisco. $15.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.