Press Release: Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah

The Klezmatics: Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah Program

Woody Guthrie wrote Hanukkah songs? Indeed he did, and in a pairing as richly diverse as Guthrie’s life itself — from the plains of tiny Okemah, Oklahoma to the cultural stew of post-war Brooklyn — his evocative lyrics are the perfect match for the music of the Klezmatics, who have recently finished work on an album of newly recorded Hanukkah songs set for release September 5th (JMG). Entitled ‘Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah,’ the set is bound to become an enduring addition to the holiday canon, with tracks penned by the songwriting legend and music from the premiere ambassadors of Yiddish culture.

Guthrie’s Jewish lyrics (previously unknown prior to this release) can be traced to the unusual collaborative relationship he had with his mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, a prominent Yiddish poet and confidant of Guthrie during his tenure in Coney Island. Guthrie’s Jewish lyrics came as a surprise to Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter (and the album’s Executive Producer), who learned of Woody’s Judaism connection in a chance encounter with the Klezmatics and Itzhak Perlman after a concert. Guthrie was introduced to Perlman as “Aliza’s granddaughter.” She recalls, “All my life, I’ve been introduced as Woody’s daughter…but this was the first time I’d ever been introduced as ‘Aliza Greenblatt’s granddaughter!”

On the new release the deft wordcraft, endearing playfulness, and fiery progressive worldview of Guthrie’s lyrics are in good hands with the adventurious and virtuosic playing of the Klezmatics. Trumpeter Frank London says, “The words are all his, but the diversity of musical styles is quintessentially Klezmatic.” London says that some songs lent themselves to overtly Jewish klezmer music, others to more American forms, like classic dust-bowl country tunes. The band’s influences in setting the lyrics to music ranged from sacred (Hasidic nigunim –wordless tunes often used in prayer – and Gospel) to secular (freylekhs – traditional dance music – and hoedowns).”

The release of ‘Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah’ comes on the heels of strong praise for the just released ‘Wonder Wheel,’ the first in the pair of Guthrie projects for the band. In an “A” album review, the Village Voice’s Bob Christgau raves “What a treat” and calls vocalist Lorin Sklamberg one of the age’s signal voices.” The Chicago Sun Times says ‘Wonder Wheel’ “skips merrily out of the speakers and becomes the life of the party.”