September 21, 2018

Music star Hedva Amrani reborn at 72 with Israeli hit

An incredible thing happened to 72-year-old singer Hedva Amrani this past summer. Her new single, “Just Be,” became a hit in Israel — 45 years after she left the promised land for the promising land of Beverly Hills.

Amrani is no stranger to the big time. She recorded numerous albums as part of the duo “Hedva and David” — winning the first Yamaha Song Festival in Tokyo with the song “I Dream of Naomi” and selling more than a million copies of it in Japanese — and she had a number of hits as a solo artist, including “Salam Aleikum” (In One Heart) and “Shneinu Yachdav” (The Two of Us). Yet those were some 40 years ago — before she left Israel in the early 1970s and gave up her status as one of the nation’s leading singers. 

Sitting in her Beverly Hills home, which she shares with her husband, urologist Dudley Danoff, Amrani sounded excited as she talked about her new song that marked her return to the spotlight. 

“What happened is pretty incredible,” a youthful-looking Amrani said. “The song keeps playing on all the radio stations. … This is quite a miracle, as singers who are very well known in Israel and are working all the time struggle to be played on the radio. I’m thrilled.”

Ten years after the release of her most recent album, Amrani decided that it was time to create a new album and show. She started a collaboration with singer and fashion designer Yuval Caspin and Eyal Mezig and Merav Simantov, who wrote “Just Be.”

 “I was looking for new writers who are familiar with what the young generation in Israel love, and it worked wonderfully,” Amrani said. “Last February, I flew to Israel and recorded the song. It was released in August and immediately became a big hit.”

Early this month, Amrani flew to Israel to record another new song and give a few performances. This time, she was recognized not only by an older generation of Israelis but also people who were not yet born when she had left her homeland. What a difference a decade can make.

 “I remember a few years ago, I was sitting by myself, eating a salad bowl in the 7 Stars Mall in Herzliya and suddenly they started playing my song ‘I Dream of Naomi.’ The music filled the mall and people were walking just by me, not realizing that the singer is sitting right there. It was quite strange,” she said.

Today, there is little chance Amrani would go unnoticed in the mall or on the street in Israel. Her comeback was well documented by the Israeli press and her song is played often on the radio, bringing her recognition by a younger generation of Israelis.

Sitting in her living room, overlooking an outdoor fish pond, Amrani talked about what it was like giving up a successful career and becoming a wife and a mother. 

 “Dudley knew I had sacrificed my career when I left Israel and came to live here, so he decided to bring my parents over so I won’t feel alone. My parents lived with us for 18 years, and I cherish those years with them. When they’d arrived here, they were already older and not too healthy, but they helped me with the kids and thanks to them, my children, Doron and Orel, speak Hebrew fluently.

“Dudley loved them a lot,” she continued. “We took them with us on vacations all over the United States. Sometimes, he used to say to me, ‘You can leave, but your mom is staying right here.’ ”

Amrani admitted she sometimes missed her career, but what she gained was well worth it. 

“There is regret in the sense of the career I’d given up, but on the other hand, I gained a family. How many singers do you know that are married to the same man for 45 years? There are also female singers who never have children because their career was more important for them.”

Still, Amrani didn’t stop performing entirely after getting married.

 “It helped that my parents were living with me because they helped watch the kids while I was performing,” she said. “I’m still being invited to Japan to perform and I also perform in Israel from time to time. I was invited to perform at former president Shimon Peres’ 87th birthday celebration. It’s a huge compliment for me because it’s not easy for singers who have left their country. If they are not there, performing and releasing new songs on a regular basis, people forget them. They become passé.”

Amrani comes from a traditional Yemenite family. Her mother was a gifted singer herself and performed in different choirs, and her father was a cantor. But a shadow hangs over the family — her mother was told that one of Amrani’s four brothers, who was born around 1947 or 1948,  died at childbirth. The family fears, however, that he might have been one of the kidnapped Yemenite babies who were, many suspect, given up for adoption by the government, a scandal that continues to be investigated to this day.

“There were many babies of Yemenite families that were given for adoption between the years ’48 and ’54. Their families were told the child was dead, but they never saw the body,” Amrani said. “The belief was that the Yemenites had enough children of their own and wouldn’t miss another child. The Yemenites were so naïve back then and it took years for them to discover what had really happened to their babies.”

Amrani said her mother kept talking about her lost child for years. “It bothered her a lot. I know several Yemenite families who had the same experience and are still looking for their missing children. It’s quite shocking. I still hope that one day we’ll be able to find him.”

Although Amrani kept recording and performing in Israel throughout the years, most of her time was dedicated to her children and her husband, author of the book “Penis Power: The Ultimate Guide to Male Sexual Health.” 

Now, Amrani has big plans to hit the road again and resume her work.

 “I’m going to Israel for three months now, to record a new song and work on my new album” she said. “I will come back for Thanksgiving to celebrate with the family and then go back. I have several performances scheduled. Dudley will come, too, and spend a couple of weeks with me there. He is very supportive.”

Amrani’s son, Doron, is a musician who lives in Nashville. His mother hopes to collaborate with him one day. 

 “I had one duet with him on my latest album called, ‘Israel,’ and he also performed with me on a show I had in Los Angeles,” she said. “He is a great pianist and composer. I told him it’s about time we release an album together. He promised he’ll think about it. I’m still waiting.”