What do “White Christmas,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” all have in common? They were all written by Jews. According to musician Ben Sidran, Jews helped shape the iconic American songbook, from George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, to Bob Dylan (aka Bob Zimmerman). The longtime jazz keyboard player and former NPR music host talks about his book, “There Was a Fire,” and the roots of American music.

Ben Sidran, jazz musician, singer, producer and composer; author of "There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream;" and former host of NPR's "Sidran on Record" and "Jazz Alive"

  • Rufio

    Was it religion that caused all of this great music to be written? No of course not, in most cases. Referring to these musicians as Jewish first is brutish and offensive. They are or were merely talented people who happen to be or have been of Semitic or more likely Khazar origin, in the latter case whose ancestors in Eastern Europe chose to become Jewish in the 8th century. But that isn’t why they have or had talent and no belief in a nonexistent invisible man in the sky can instill talent, no matter what the brochures say. KQED, try to be more open-minded please.

    • thucy

      Mr. Rufio:

      You are apparently unaware that Louis “The Matzoh” Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Ella “Yenta” Fitzgerald and Ragtime pioneer Scott “Fershlugginer” Joplin were all Jewish.

      They were part of a Reform Synagogue. The, uh, very Reform Synagogue.

    • GreenEagle

      People should be aware that any reference to Khazars identifies the writer to be a hard core antisemite. This claim is closely associated with Christian identity adherents, who are without exception white supremacists.

  • thucy

    “from George Gerschwin and…”

    Forum Staff:
    I think you mean “Gershwin”.

    • Amanda Stupi

      Yes, we did. We’ve fixed. Thank you for pointing out and please forgive the typo.

  • thucy

    Nice take on “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” but the lyricist, Norwood, was Episcopalian. Tilzer wrote the melody. And the lyrics have nothing to do with what Sidran claims. So much for his Ph.D.
    Great music from Sidran, though, thanks!

  • thucy

    whoa, whoa, whoa… is Sidran claiming Jewish people contributed 80% of pop music, or made sure what they wrote was copyrighted? Plenty of black artists robbed by white managers and rival composers… many of them Jewish.

  • Livegreen

    I think Jewish contribution to American (& other!) musics are fantastic and to be commended. But with two programs JUST this week about Jewish culture and contributions to American culture, I must ask: where is the equal coverage of African American, Latino, even Arab & Anglo/Irish/ Italian/ European contributions to American culture? Did they not contribute or are they just not worthy of KQED coverage?

    • thucy

      African Americans, Latinos, Asians, etc don’t constitute a significant part of the KQED donor base.

      • menloman

        And all along I thought Jews favored multi-culturalism. Just goes to show how wrong a man can be.

    • boso bohso bosso Bozo

      Yeah why should a people with only six thousand years of history, culture, and language have such an outsized disproportionate influence on anything, it just don’t make any sense, know what i mean jelly bean.

  • thucy

    OMG, a discussion of ragtime that elides Scott Joplin to focus on Berlin? WTF!!! I can’t believe the nuts on this guest!

  • I thought the line ” …Swanee River played in rag time…” referred to the song Swanee (how I love ya). As in, if you want to hear an old song updated to rag.I’m afraid I agree with Thucy that the background is not well researched!

  • thucy

    Whoa – “without blacks and Jews there would not be popular culture”? Uh… then how did 19th century Paris have popular culture?

  • thucy

    I’m sorry, Forum, but any first-year fact-checker at The New Yorker Magazine with only a bachelor’s degree would rip this Ph.D.’s book to shreds.

  • happagirl

    I think the reason there is tension between the black and jewish communities is because of the American Dream, which the speaker mentions, has come true for many Jews, while not so much for Black Americans. While Blacks continue to contribute culturally, there is still a lot of poverty and struggle for them.

    • thucy

      Let’s not forget the tension that accrues among any set of groups. In this country, white people, including Jews, were allowed to buy and rent property in places where blacks were not. Thus blacks were forced into tenancy, while whites reaped the profits. It was with rents as it was with industry:black labor; white profit.

      This was mirrored in sports and music. White managers sometimes Jewish, there you have it.

      I noticed that Sidran is not getting book appearances in New York – and I think I know why. His book would be ill-received by a lot of Jewish New Yorkers due to its factual misrepresentations and its overreach.

      I cannot believe he tried to invoke affirmative action as the cause of Jewish-black tension.

    • X

      Why was my previous comment deleted?

  • S Blakely

    I really enjoyed the show. Thanks Dave & Ben!

  • rick d.

    Livegreen ,thucy et al …..

    Go back over the last year and count how many times KQED has focused on Jewish cultural topics vs. Afro-American & Latino culture – I
    exclude programs on Israel/Palestine. I think you’ll find programs on
    Jewish culture and heritage pale in comparison – maybe Forum staff can
    enlighten us.

    Why is it that if/when there is a Jewish subject all the prejudice spills out? Sadly we still live in a society where anti-Semitism and Jewish prejudice is the unspoken bias; moreover those who voice it cannot recognize, nevermind acknowledge it!

    • thucy

      I challenge you to point out a single anti-semitic statement made by me. In fact, I have often argued against comments that I felt were anti-semitic.
      But making a legitimate complaint about any of Sidran’s MULTIPLE FACTUAL ERRORS does not in any way constitute anti-semitism, nor does questioning the weighting of topic themes on Forum.
      Let me remind you, Mr. Rick, that this city is 35% Asian. That’s THIRTY-FIVE percent. But Asian-American topics don’t show up on Forum 35% of the time. Why? Because even a non-profit has to fluff its donor base. Perhaps Asians would prefer classical to Krasny, but the reality is that they don’t donate at the rate of Jewish-Americans to KQED. That’s why the topic weighting doesn’t reflect the city’s ACTUAL population.

      • Spencer

        Thucy: What is the factual basis of your claim that Jews donate to KQED disproportionately? Have you also conducted a thorough analysis of KQED’s programming to support your claims regarding the proportion of shows covering certain topics?

        You are correct that merely pointing out factual errors does not constitute antisemitism. Connecting those factual errors to baseless accusations is.

        • thucy

          First, let’s acknowledge that pointing out that Jewish donors make up a disproportionate amount of KQED’s funding, and that issues of funding ALWAYS influence programming is not anti-semitic. In any way. If you run a non-profit, you need to fluff your donors. That is not anti-semitism; that is life.

          I have also criticized KQED for softballing a Google executive and Rose Pak in their interviews – Google is a donor and Rose Pak is, well, the 500 pound gorilla in this town. Does that make me anti-tech or anti-Chinese?

          How do I know this? I worked for one of the leading Jewish philanthropies in San Francisco. I know where the money comes from, and where it gets paid out.
          But you shouldn’t take my word for it. Ask KQED how much money they get from Jewish philanthropies. Let’s take a look at the major funders over the last three decades. How about Osher? How about Haas?
          Don’t take my word for it, ask KQED. The lists aren’t “top-secret”. And taking money from well-meaning Jewish donors is perfectly honorable. And so is asking how donors influence programming.

          • Spencer


            a) You still have not provided any facts to support your contention that “jews” or Jewish philanthropies make up a disproportionate amount of KQED’s funding. You have none, but for your anecdotes. I don’t take your word for it, and if you are going to state it as fact YOU should ask KQED. The KQED budget is over $60M per year.

            b) The Osher Foundation (for example) is not a Jewish philanthropy, even if it was started by someone who is Jewish. The fact that a foundation is started by someone who happens to be Jewish does not make it a Jewish foundation. Your assertion to the contrary is telling.

            c) I disagree and do not acknowledge that donor funding always influences programming decision. It does not. You state a false premise, leading to a false conclusion. It would be a violation of journalistic ethics for KQED to take money under those circumstances. They do not, as I am certain KQED points out to every funder and underwriter. Funders have no say in editorial decisions.

            So, as I stated before, connecting factual errors to baseless accusations (when further combined with some of your other specious statements about Jews), smacks of anti-semitism. You may not recognize it, but there it is.

    • Livegreen

      I said the last week, not the entire year. & specifically on cultural issues I have not heard any coverage about many minority contributions to our culture. Pointing this out is not racist…it’s factual.

      • rick d.

        nice try, @livegreen – yourrefers to the two programs this week (btw, what was the other one?), but sure doesn’t place the whole comment in that context.
        if we went week-by-week, where would be during the week of MLK’s birthday w.r.t. afro-american programming.
        If you meant just over one week – your original comment doesn’t carry much weight.
        Again – we don’t realize what we say ……

        • Livegreen

          Rick D., For the other program I’ll leave you to look it up on the schedule. You’ve got a point about MLK’s birthday, although much of that is about both existing & historical racism. Not the same as cultural contributions.

          As to those about the contributions of other ethnicities & minorities on American culture, from latinos to asians, arabs, native americans, anglos, italians, other europeans, etc., I’m sorry but there has simply not been as much coverage.

          Pointing out unequal coverage of other ethnicities is not implying racism. You’re making a default argument to try to deny my point at face value without even considering the point itself much less addressing it.

          I will re-acknowledge part of my original point: “I think Jewish contribution to American (& other!) musics are fantastic and to be commended.”. I mean that. I also commend the contributions of other ethnicities & would like to see more coverage about these from KQED & FORUM.

          • thucy

            “I will re-acknowledge part of my original point: “I think Jewish contribution to American (& other!) musics are fantastic and to be commended.”. I mean that. I also commend the contributions of other ethnicities & would like to see more coverage about these from KQED & FORUM.”

            Thanks, I couldn’t agree more. From Philip Roth to Woody Allen to Billy Wilder … I am so grateful. But that doesn’t mean I ONLY want to hear about Jewish Culture:

  • rick d.

    @thlucy – do you have the facts to support your donor observations?

    …… just the allegation that jews contribute more than asians, and are a larger donor base, is anti-semitic profiling and a slur – like most, bud – you don’t realize and don’t get it – sadly, anti-semitisim is that institutionalized. like I said – no one realizes it, never mind owns up to it. quit whilst you’re ahead!!

    PS …. and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts there are more KQED programs re. asian-american than jewish culture. …..

    • thucy

      see my reply to Spencer above.
      And please don’t bet me “dollars to donuts” – I don’t eat donuts.
      Put some real money up, and we’ll do a show-by-show analysis that SF’s 35% Asian-American population gets less voice here than Jewish culture – on per capita representation you’ve already lost that bet.

      • rick d.

        My money is there – but where are your facts?. If you can substantiate, I’ll eat the donuts – and I don’t eat them either; I doubt you8 can.

        As with @Livergreen, I respectfully suggest you are speaking without facts to substantiate your argument. When you make a statement like that you have no evidence for, the it is an opinion & does have a connotation of prejudice.

        Let me point out the problem with these statements by both @thlucy & @Livergreen – As you say, there are far more Asian-American’s in the Bay Area than Jews, but you suggest the Jews contribute more and influence the editorial choice through their dollars. This is inherently and anti-semitic statement – just one step away from Jews controlling the media, and The Protocol;s of Zion.;I hope you see this.

        Expressing an opinion that Jewish money influences KQED content IS an anti-semitic statement unless backed up with fact – even if you did not intend it as such, or did not realize you were making that inference.

        This is why I call anti-Semitism a hidden bias.

        • menloman

          We live in an upside down world where words are made to mean other than what they were defined as.

          Ashkenazi Jews (the vast majority) who don’t speak any semitic languages, or have the semitic culture, and who never lived in the Middle East are the real semites.

          Whereas those who speak one of the semitic languages, have a semitic culture and never left the Middle East are anti-semitic.

  • Sheree

    To Thucy: Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics for Take Me Out to the Ballgame and he was Jewish as Ben said. You may or may not be anti-Semitic but you seem to not like Jews very much.

  • fluttrby

    Amidst all the prejudices and personal opinions that we all have, let’s not loose sight of the fact that the music speaks to us all. It brings us together in ways that we cannot otherwise achieve. The Jewish influence in American music is a good one and a treasure.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor