Milken Archive Explores Sephardic American Music

This is a guest post by the Milken Archive. You can listen to music directly on their website.

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Jews sing and chant identical prayers, liturgies, psalms and hymns throughout the world but the tunes and melodies of different Jewish communities vary from one community to the next. Over the millennia Jews in different locations have each developed their own traditions that incorporate the unique sounds and experiences of their host countries into their liturgy.

The Milken Archive has embarked on a project that allows Archive visitors to explore American Jewish history through its music. The American Jewish experience encompasses almost 400 years of history as Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, Mediterranean countries, Western and Eastern European countries and other areas integrated into the American melting pot. Each community brought its own music and melodies that accompanies the ancient Jewish prayers and allows congregants to honor their heritage as they create their homes in the New World.

A significant portion of the material in the Archives is devoted to Sephardic music. Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal established Jewish communities in North America after they fled the Inquisition and settled in the American colonies. Sephardic synagogues, including those in Rhode Island, New York and South Carolina, were comprised of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish refugees who brought their Sephardic liturgy with them to their new home. Later, new Sephardic immigrants from North Africa and Mediterranean countries joined their brethren with their own Sephardic liturgy and musical traditions. The Archives honors Sephardic music in two collections, Jewish Voices of the New World which features the songs and prayers of Colonial and 19th century American Jewry (Sephardic American music) and A Garden Eastward where listeners can hear songs of Sephardic and Near Eastern inspiration.

The Archives also reviews Ladino influences on American Jewish music. Ladino was the dominant language of many Sephardic Jews and the Archive’s inclusion of the Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering album pays homage to the influence of the Ladino language on Sephardic American Jewry.

Founded by Jewish philanthropist Lowell Milken, the Archive’s goal is to preserve American Jewish music from falling into the waste-bin of history.

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