Meet the Jewish singer whose music you already know from McDonald’s, MTV ads


You may have never heard of singer-songwriter Cathy Heller, but chances are you’ve heard her music.

At the moment, McDonald’s is featuring her songs in two commercials — one for frappes, the other for the $2.50 double cheeseburger-and-fries combo. They are the latest in a string of high-profile gigs for Heller, an active member of West Los Angeles’ Pico-Robertson Jewish community, one of the city’s epicenters of Jewish life. In addition to the decidedly unkosher fast food chain, Walmart has licensed Heller’s music for one of its summer commercials, and her songs have appeared in commercials for American Airlines, Hasbro, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon, Special K, the Disney Channel and Disneyland.

Some Gen-Xers may scoff at the idea as “selling out,” but in a business that’s been in decline since the dawn of the Internet, it’s a concept that’s irrelevant today.

“Because the margins are so small on selling a record on iTunes, and people aren’t paying $12 for an album to get the single they want, you don’t make money selling albums any more or touring anymore unless you already have a following,” she tells JTA. “The reason you know of the artists Ingrid Michaelson, American Authors, Imagine Dragons and Snow Patrol is because they license their music.”

Licensing her heartfelt music to film, television and commercials forms the core of Heller’s strategy to define success in the music world on her own terms. You won’t find her hustling for a record deal or waiting around for single-digit paychecks from streaming services. Operating with a do-it-yourself model, Heller writes and publishes her own music under her own business, Catch the Moon Music — and, perhaps most important, she nets all the proceeds when she secures a licensing deal.

“I’m the only artist, as far as I know, who has pitched my own work and gotten this far,” she says.

It may be lucrative but her work, Heller says, is also a conscious effort to bring something positive into the world.

“This is why I write songs called ‘Let Your Colors Shine,’ which is all about how each of us has a spark and it’s so important to share it,” she says. “I write songs like ‘This Is It,’ which is all about knowing each moment is all we really have and living it to the fullest. I write songs called ‘Spread a Little Love’ , all about coming together and spreading the love along. All my songs aspire to [express] a message of hope and remind people how special they are and that they’re not alone.”

A native Floridan, Heller, 36, moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago as an aspiring singer-songwriter after spending two years in Israel studying Torah. That experience, which cemented her spiritual connection to Jewish tradition, never left her.

Heller’s Jewish identity and her spiritual practice, which includes observing Shabbat, provide the chorus to her work week.

“It keeps me grounded and I always know where my North Star is,” she says. “I don’t get caught up in the superficial part of the business, which allows me to really just enjoy making music. It reminds me of who I am and what I’m really here to do. It helps give me clarity and purpose, and it impacts every song I write and every interaction I have.”

The married mom sends her two girls, ages 2 and 3 1/2, to a Conservative synagogue preschool to help infuse them with their own sense of spirituality.

“I feel very connected to Hashem and I want so much for my kids to have that connection to God, to know the source of all life and wisdom, and to know the source of their soul,” she says. “I want them to know they carry an infinite spark and they have amazing potential and great responsibility to be a light.”

Being a “light”onto others is something she takes seriously.

“I love being able to use the contacts I’ve built to help other artists launch their careers,” says Heller, who conducts workshops (in person and via Skype) to assist other singer-songwriters in navigating the shifting music industry. She also represents other artists seeking to license their work.

Heller says she began singing as far back as she can remember, with the dream of one day landing her compositions in films and television. She studied piano and voice as a child and performed musical theater before graduating from Florida State University.

Early in her career, Heller received critical advice to maintain a “polite persistence,” and that’s something she estimates accounts for 90 percent of her working strategy.

“You can’t take rejection personally and must just keep going,” she says. “So much happens for the people who keep showing up — and it doesn’t hurt when your motives are really to spread a little goodness.”

Heller’s first licensing deal was with Kodak in 2007. Another big break came in 2009, when NBC licensed her single “Turn the Sunshine On” for a promotional campaign for its comedies, including “The Office.”

“That was pretty fantastic and gave me lots of exposure,” she says.

Over the years, Heller’s music has been part of the soundtrack for poignant and sweet moments on TV programs, including ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” and “Switched at Birth,” and The WB’s  “One Tree Hill.”

“Usually, fans find my music because they’ll hear a song in a show or in an ad and then they’ll come to find the rest of the songs on iTunes,” says Heller, who also performs at local venues around Los Angeles.

Looking forward, Heller aspires to continue writing, licensing and spreading her optimism to a wider audience.

“I want to inspire more and more people and touch more souls to know they have a deep, intrinsic goodness,” she says. “Songwriting and performing give me so much fulfillment. I feel so expressed and I get to lift other people, so it’s such a a win-win.”

Jewish singer/songwriter, performer Debbie Friedman dies


[UPDATE] Debbie Friedman Funeral – Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, 11 am [LIVE VIDEO] – available here.

Debbie Friedman, a popular singer and songwriter who is widely credited with reinvigorating synagogue music, has died.

Friedman died Sunday after being hospitalized in Orange County for several days with pneumonia. She was in her late 50s.  Funeral services, open to the public, will be held Tuesday, Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. at Temple Beth Sholom, 2625 N. Tustin Ave. Santa Ana, CA 92705. Phone: 714-628-4600

“Debbie influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music in a profound way,” read a statement published Sunday on the website of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Her music crossed generational and denominational lines and carved a powerful legacy of authentic Jewish spirituality into our daily lives.”

Friedman brought a more folksy, sing-along style to American congregations. In 2007 she was appointed to the faculty of the Reform movement’s cantorial school in a sign that her style had gained mainstream acceptance.

She is best known for her composition “Mi Shebeirach,” a prayer for healing that is sung in many North American congregations.

MORE INFO

For more on Debbie Friedman, click here

To read Debbie Friedman tributes, click here.

Friedman released more than 20 albums and performed in sold-out concerts around the world at synagogues, churches, schools and prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall. She received dozens of awards and was lauded by critics worldwide.

“Debbie Friedman was an extraordinary treasure of our movement and an individual of great influence,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Twenty-five years ago, North American Jews had forgotten how to sing. Debbie reminded us how to sing, she taught us how to sing. She gave us the vehicles that enabled us to sing. Then she impacted our youth and our camps and, ultimately, from there she impacted our synagogues.

“What happens in the synagogues of Reform Judaism today—the voices of song—are in large measure due to the insight, brilliance and influence of Debbie Friedman.”

Watch videos of Debbie Friedman below.

MUSIC VIDEO: Avigal Cohen –‘ Erev Rosh HaShanah’ (New Year’s Eve)


Israeli singer songwriter Avigail Cohen expresses universal hopes and doubts in ‘Erev Rosh Hashana’:

There’s a last ray of sunlight,
the fading year is disappearing in the dim light.
What will the New Year bring with it?
The darkness spreads a scent of hope.

Stein Scores Grammy


 

In the midst of all of the glamour of the 47th Annual Grammy Awards, one could easily miss the hurrahs of one local cantor. But it was a proud moment for Chazzan Mike Stein of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, one of a group of musicians honored Feb. 13 with an award in the Best Children’s Music category for “”cELLAbration! A Tribute to Ella Jenkins.”

The album honors the work of Jenkins, the Chicago-raised singer-songwriter dubbed by the media as “the first lady of children’s folk music.” Jenkins created such classics as “Miss Mary Mack” and “You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song,” sung on “cELLAbration” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Cathy Fink, respectively. (Fink was also the album’s co-producer, along with performer Marcie Marxer.) Other artists on the album include Pete Seeger, Tom Chapin and the University Park Children’s Ensemble.

A previous Grammy nominee for his 1999 children’s album “Dreamosaurus,” Stein was asked to score the music on “cELLAbration” for Jenkins’ tune “Rushing Around Russia.” Stein noted how Jenkins influenced the careers of many children’s music artists, including his own, from her beginnings as a performer at various Jewish Community Centers in Chicago.

“It wasn’t silly, sing-song rhyme anymore. She [Jenkins] gave credit to children’s intelligence and imagination,” Stein said. “She gave the music real honor, real kavod. I’m very proud to be a part of this album.”

Stein is well-known locally for his devotion to bringing unique forms of music into Jewish celebrations, crafting services for Temple Aliyah centered on folk, jazz, bluegrass and swing music.

Asked what continues to attract so many people to folk music, Stein said “It’s a very honest idiom. It speaks truthfully about experiences and life. It’s centered around rhythm, and children like that, they like to be able to repeat things. You find that rhythm also in hip-hop, but it’s a hard sound, almost scary. Folk music is very warm and nonthreatening, very purely done.”

 

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Entertainment comes at no price today in North Hollywood
and West Hollywood. Take your pick: The NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival offers a
variety of theater performances that includes musicals, kabuki, sketch comedy,
improv, poetry jams and children’s shows. Also on the agenda are dance
performances and fine arts including chocolate portraits by Sid Chidiac and
Jewish-themed art by Dover Abrams. Those in WeHo can partake in the city’s
“Movies in the Park” free screening of Disney’s “Finding Nemo,” which features
the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Alexander Gould. NoHo Festival:
11 a.m.-8 p.m., May 15-16. Lankershim Boulevard, between Chandler and Magnolia,
in North Hollywood. (818) 763-5273. “>www.laemmle.com

.

Tuesday

Debbie Gibson, Larry from “Three’s Company” and Angela from “Who’s the Boss?” all share a special place in our popular cultural nostalgia, and starting tonight, a stage as well. UCLA’s Freud Playhouse presents Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” starring the now-mature Deborah Gibson, Richard Kline and Judith Light. The musical comedy centers on the theme of relationships.
8 p.m. (Tue.-Fri.); 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Sat.); 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sun.). $55-$65. MacGowan Hall, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 825-2101.

Wednesday

Grade school show-and-tell could’ve been more fittingly referred to as show-off-and-tell. But tonight, thankfully, “Show and Tell” the event, is not what you think it is. No need to feel anxious. You’ll be doing the spectating as professional comedy writers, journalists and playwrights take the stage to perform monologues in support of the Westside Food Bank. So leave the Western Barbie with special winking eyelid at home. You won’t need her.
8 p.m. $25-$50. Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 828-6016.

Thursday

Issues of “wardrobe malfunctions” and “The ‘M’ Word: Morality and the Business of Entertainment” become the topic of conversation this evening at Valley Beth Shalom. Does the “Industry” have a moral responsibility to its viewers? L.A. Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg sounds off, along with fellow panelists Jerry Offsay, president of Parkchester Productions; Frank Pierson, president of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; and writer-director Lionel Chetwynd.
7:30 p.m. Free. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

Friday

Singer-songwriter Stephanie Schneiderman’s latest album is titled “Touch Down.” Intimate, at turns bluesy, sexy and a little bit raw, “these new songs are about courage,” she says on her Web site, “not about the absence of fear but the strength to move through it.” She graces you with intimate lyrics and an elastic voice tonight at Genghis Cohen.
8:30 p.m. $7. 740 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 653-0640.

Livin’ La


Singer-songwriter Diex sees himself as an ambassador, a
bridge between the unlikely worlds of the prayer filled synagogues and the
groove-shaking beats of J Lo, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin.

Since he moved to Los Angeles from Buenos Aires 18 months
ago, Diex’s reggae and jazz-tinged Latin melodies like “Desde Aca” (From Here)
and “Cuidad De Nostalgia” (City of Nostalgia) have been stealthily invading
college and noncommercial radio stations across the country. And while the
musical influences of his catchy songs come from Anglo and Latino songwriters
like the Beatles, Oasis, Fito Paez and Charles Garcia, it is also his Jewish
roots and his work as a musical arranger for synagogues in Argentina and Los
Angeles that inspires Diex.

“My mother is a singer who sings tango in Yiddish,” said
Diex, 30, who is known to his mother as Diego Goldfarb. “I have a lot of
melodies in my mind from her singing. I also like the Sephardi stuff — the
rhythm and percussions of Mizrachi music.”

Snatches of synagogue melodies too have insinuated
themselves into  Diex’s music. When he was 20, Diex started a decade long stint
as musical director in different synagogues. In Los Angeles, he worked at
Temple Etz Chayim in Thousand Oaks, but he says the American style of synagogue
music is too conservative for his tastes.

“I was more used to the Latin style with everyone singing,”
he said. “It is more messy, and more happy for my ears.”

Now Diex sees himself as a world citizen, a person whose
roots come from more than one place. His songs have a playful ambiguity about
them that reflect his roving identity and musical tastes, and he is not worried
that he sings in a language that many Americans don’t understand.

“Even if people don’t know what I am saying in the song,
they know that it is a love song or whatever,” he said. “I think there is
something international about music, and even without knowing the lyrics,
people can still feel the music.”

Diex will be performing at the Latin-Alternative Holiday
Party on Dec. 19 at the Alterknit Lounge in The Knitting Factory, 7021
Hollywood Blvd., at 9 p.m. $10. For tickets, call (323) 463-0204. He will also
be performing on Dec. 26 at Fusion at Club Good Hurt, 12249 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles,
at 11 p.m. (310) 390-1076.

For more information go to www.diexmusic.com .

Enrico Suavé


In 1961, a saddened and disheartened 23-year-old Algerian school teacher and musician named Gaston Ghenassia was merely one of the thousands of refugees on a ship bound for France, leaving his homeland in the aftermath of the Algerian Revolution. Little did he know at the time how defining a moment it was to become in his life.

For it was on that very ship ride that Ghenassia wrote “Adieu, Mon Pays” (“Goodbye, My Homeland”), the song that would not only launch his music career, but make him one of France’s hottest singer-songwriters and an international star.

Almost 40 years and more than 500 songs later, the entertainer, now known as Enrico Macias, tours the world playing sizable venues. In fact, his appearance next week at the Universal Amphitheater will complete his current tour of North America, where his loyal fans will appear yet again to see him perform his hits; compositions — such as “Oh Guitare, Guitare” and “Ma Maison, Ma Maison” — which have managed to reflect his Sephardic spirit even as they captured the imagination of France.

Born in Constantine, Enrico Macias lived a pied -noir existence in Algeria, often playing local concerts with his greatest creative influence — his musician father-in-law. But it was following his exile from Algeria that a deep social consciousness began to permeate Macias’ songwriting with tunes like “La Tolerance.”

“Always misunderstanding comes with the silence,” Macias recently told the Journal, “And I hate the silence…my job is to break the silence [through my music]…to build dialogue.”

Macias’ Jewish lineage is also at the heart of many of his signature recordings. He has sung Ashkenazi standards “Kol Nidre” and “Poi Poi Poi” and wrote “Six Millions De Larmes” (“Six Million Tears”) as a reaction to the Holocaust. One of his most popular songs, “Juif Espagnol” (“the Spanish Jew”), synthesizes his twin musical interests — his heritage and global brotherhood — in a simple and vulnerable first-person plea:

“I am a Spanish Jew/

I am a Greek-Armenian/

I am a French Creole/

I am a Jewish Arab/

I am every place where people reach out to each other.”

Over the course of his stellar career, Macias has toured the world many times over. He has recorded tracks in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic. He sang before Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and entertained Israeli troops on the front lines during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1997, Macias was designated a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, alongside Actor Michael Douglas.

But one of the greatest highlights of Macias’ life came in September 1979, when he played a command performance for a very special fan — Anwar Sadat. Meeting the Egyptian president made a great impact on the singer, and when Sadat was assassinated only weeks later, Macias was compelled to write the song “Un Berger Vient De Tomber” (“A Shepherd Just Fell”).

“He was a martyr for peace,” says Macias of Sadat. “He gave us the example and now we follow his example…When Rabin died, they asked me to write a song for Rabin. I said that I already wrote the song – “Un Berger Vient De Tomber.” Unfortunately the song is the same.”

Macias’ latest release, an album dedicated to his father-in-law mentor titled “Hommage au Chef Raymond,” takes the entertainer full circle back to his classic Algerian roots. As for his work as a U.N. emissary, Macias — who has met with refugees all over the world and spoken to the presidents of their countries — says that he finds himself in a privileged position.

“I cannot change the world,” says the singer. “I can only be an example. I am a witness, not a moralist.”

Enrico Macias will culminate his North American tour at the Universal Amphitheater on Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (310) 273-2824.

Director Comes Full Circle with ‘The Envoy’


In 1961, a saddened and disheartened 23-year-old Algerian school teacher and musician named Gaston Ghenassia was merely one of the thousands of refugees on a ship bound for France, leaving his homeland in the aftermath of the Algerian Revolution. Little did he know at the time how defining a moment it was to become in his life.

For it was on that very ship ride that Ghenassia wrote “Adieu, Mon Pays” (“Goodbye, My Homeland”), the song that would not only launch his music career, but make him one of France’s hottest singer-songwriters and an international star.

Almost 40 years and more than 500 songs later, the entertainer, now known as Enrico Macias, tours the world playing sizable venues. In fact, his appearance next week at the Universal Amphitheater will complete his current tour of North America, where his loyal fans will appear yet again to see him perform his hits; compositions — such as “Oh Guitare, Guitare” and “Ma Maison, Ma Maison” — which have managed to reflect his Sephardic spirit even as they captured the imagination of France.

Born in Constantine, Enrico Macias lived a pied -noir existence in Algeria, often playing local concerts with his greatest creative influence — his musician father-in-law. But it was following his exile from Algeria that a deep social consciousness began to permeate Macias’ songwriting with tunes like “La Tolerance.”

“Always misunderstanding comes with the silence,” Macias recently told the Journal, “And I hate the silence…my job is to break the silence [through my music]…to build dialogue.”

Macias’ Jewish lineage is also at the heart of many of his signature recordings. He has sung Ashkenazi standards “Kol Nidre” and “Poi Poi Poi” and wrote “Six Millions De Larmes” (“Six Million Tears”) as a reaction to the Holocaust. One of his most popular songs, “Juif Espagnol” (“the Spanish Jew”), synthesizes his twin musical interests — his heritage and global brotherhood — in a simple and vulnerable first-person plea:

“I am a Spanish Jew/

I am a Greek-Armenian/

I am a French Creole/

I am a Jewish Arab/

I am every place where people reach out to each other.”

Over the course of his stellar career, Macias has toured the world many times over. He has recorded tracks in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic. He sang before Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, and entertained Israeli troops on the front lines during the 1967 Six Day War. In 1997, Macias was designated a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, alongside Actor Michael Douglas.

But one of the greatest highlights of Macias’ life came in September 1979, when he played a command performance for a very special fan — Anwar Sadat. Meeting the Egyptian president made a great impact on the singer, and when Sadat was assassinated only weeks later, Macias was compelled to write the song “Un Berger Vient De Tomber” (“A Shepherd Just Fell”).

“He was a martyr for peace,” says Macias of Sadat. “He gave us the example and now we follow his example…When Rabin died, they asked me to write a song for Rabin. I said that I already wrote the song – “Un Berger Vient De Tomber.” Unfortunately the song is the same.”

Macias’ latest release, an album dedicated to his father-in-law mentor titled “Hommage au Chef Raymond,” takes the entertainer full circle back to his classic Algerian roots. As for his work as a U.N. emissary, Macias — who has met with refugees all over the world and spoken to the presidents of their countries — says that he finds himself in a privileged position.

“I cannot change the world,” says the singer. “I can only be an example. I am a witness, not a moralist.”

Enrico Macias will culminate his North American tour at the Universal Amphitheater on Nov. 4 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, call (310) 273-2824.