Weitzman Museum shines a light on Jewish stars of country music

Weitzman Museum
Weitzman Museum

The Weitzman Museum of Jewish American History might be based in the city, but its latest exhibit will take Philadelphians to the county — through music that is.

Kicking off next month, the Weitzman has set its sights on a four-part virtual music series held on Tuesday nights in February and March. According to a news release, while here, country music takes center stage in digital events that highlight contemporary and historic Jewish musicians, “rodeo tailors,” and other experts to audiences everywhere.

Weitzman Museum
Weitzman MuseumProvided

The first installment will take place Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. and it will put the spotlight on those Jewish tailors who helped create the look for many notable musicians, all in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. For “Suiting the Sound – Jewish Rodeo Tailors of Country Music,” think all things rhinestones, pops of color and sequins when it comes to the custom-designed Western wear that has been around since the 1940s.

Those with the skills to create all of the looks were known as “rodeo tailors,” and most of them were Jewish. The description reads: “In this program, we’ll explore the lives and work of three Eastern European immigrants who became the most influential of the pioneering rodeo tailors: Nudie Cohn (the colorful man behind the ‘Nudie suit’ and notably, Elvis’ iconic gold lamé suit), Nathan Turk (who often dressed Gene Autry and Roy Rogers), and Bernard ‘Rodeo Ben’ Lichtenstein (whose flagship store was located at 6240 N. Broad Street right in Philadelphia).”

Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum debuted an online exhibition about the garments, and the museum’s curatorial director, Mick Buck, and the Weitzman’s curator, Josh Perelman, will lead this program from their respective exhibit halls. On top of it all, Ray Benson, a Jewish nine-time Grammy winner, Philadelphia native, and frontman of the western swing group Asleep at the Wheel, will provide tunes and insights.

Weitzman Museum
The Nudie Suit from Hank Snow at the Weitzman MuseumProvided

Next up on Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. will be “Mark Rubin: Jew of Oklahoma.” The description reads: “Oklahoma-born, Texas-reared and New Orleans residing multi-instrumentalist Mark Rubin is an unabashed Southern Jew, known equally for his muscular musicianship and larger-than-life persona. In this interactive program, Rubin will share music from and insights into his new album ‘The Triumph of Assimilation.’ Rubin is known to straddle numerous musical genres, including country, Western swing, bluegrass, Tex-Mex, Polka, Klezmer and Roma.”

Another collaboration will kick off the first event in March, which is set for the 1st of the month at 8 p.m. “Torah of Country Music” follows Jewish Americana musician and Texas native Joe Buchanan, who has spent the last nine years finding his voice in the history, Torah and values of the Jewish people. Buchanan has spent the larger part of the last decade leading an original Shabbat service, playing concerts and facilitating a workshop called “Choosing to be Chosen” which is about his conversion to Judaism and “the reasons why so many are coming home.”

In this online program, Rabbi Sandra Lawson will chat with Buchanan about their shared love for Judaism and country music. The release also states that Rabbi Sandra will ask Buchanan about his music, his work as a spiritual leader, the challenges he’s faced along the way, and more. The program will also feature several musical demonstrations and live performances from Buchanan himself.

Finally, on March 8 at 8 p.m., the program will wind down with the fourth and final addition to the series. Co-leaders of the band Nefesh Mountain, Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg, will be performing live from their studio in New Jersey. They are fresh off their debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Weitzman Museum
Nefesh Mountain at the Weitzman MuseumProvided

Known as a “boundary-pushing bluegrass/Americana band,” Nefesh Mountain is the only group on the scene that openly represents Jewish American culture, tradition, values and spirituality. Zasloff and Lindberg choose to play music rooted at the crossroads of Jewish spirituality and American roots, and the duo will also talk about what it’s like being Jewish on the American Roots music scene today.

For more information on these programs and the Weitzman Museum of Jewish American History visit nmajh.org.