Groups conduct series on Jewish songwriters

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 20, 2011

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The “A Fine Romance” exhibit at the Henry and Delia Meyers Library and Media Center at the Jewish Community Center describes the legacy of 20th century Jewish songwriters.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — A program sponsored in part by two local libraries is opening the American songbook as penned by 20th century Jewish songwriters.

The “A Fine Romance” program is running from Sept. 12-Oct. 19 at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s Henry and Delia Meyers Library and Media Center in West Bloomfield, and presentations on Jewish songwriters will be held in the JCC’s Berman Center for the Performing Arts.

Meyers library head librarian Francine Menken said the program marks the first large-scale exhibit to ever appear inside the library. The exhibit includes wall panels, photos, vintage posters and other memorabilia, she said.

Menken said patrons have loved the displays so far. “It brings back many memories or themes,” she said. “It reminds them of a positive feeling when things are tough.”

“A Fine Romance” is not being celebrated by the JCC only. The Jewish Historical Society of Michigan and the West Bloomfield Township Public Library are also partnering in the events.

Mary Killian, the township library’s adult services coordinator, said her facility sought out guest speakers, and it is showcasing films and books that cover the work of Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, and George and Ira Gershwin.

Killian said the events from “A Fine Romance” have been successful so far, and many seniors have attended them.

“You find people humming these tunes,” she said. “They’re a part of the fabric of our musical history.”

The next event of “A Fine Romance” will be a Sept. 25 brunch highlighting “Michigan’s Great Jewish Songwriters, 1920s-1960s,” with commentary by Rudy Simons and musical accompaniment by Jon Milan.

The program’s final stage show will feature performances from Wayne State University professor and poet M.L. Liebler and Peter Lewis Oct. 11.

Liebler said he and Lewis, the son of actress Loretta Young, will offer their perspectives on “The Poetry of Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965.” The event is designed to show how these songs are essentially poems set to music, he said.

Liebler said his event will be more of a performance-based talk, as opposed to a lecture. But he said he plans to discuss and dissect Bob Dylan’s lyrics, as well as the songs “Summertime” and “Over the Rainbow,” adding that he includes those two songs among the world’s best poetry.

“The words are woven into intricate rhymes and wonderfully fresh metaphors and images,” he said in an email.

Liebler said many famous Christmas songs have Jewish authors. “How’s that for good old-fashioned American irony and ingenuity?” he said in an email.

The Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Road, will present “A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965” Sept. 12-Oct. 19. For a list of events and times, visit www.jccdet.org. Call (248) 432-5546 to learn more.

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