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October 11th, 2010
10:04 AM ET

Curiosity of Jewish roots inspires indie singer's album

Clare Burson

Three years ago, Clare Burson - a musician by trade and a woman obsessed with Jewish history out of innate curiosity - received a grant from Six Points Fellowship, a non-profit that supports Jewish artists, that was going to enable her to write an album of Jewish music.

She used some of the money to travel from her home in Brooklyn, New York to Eastern Europe to research her family roots.

It struck her during the journey that she couldn't just do a record of Jewish music.

“I thought I was going to spend most of the time exploring a more spiritual aspect of Judaism,” Burson, 34, said recently by phone, “because I really hadn’t spent a lot of my life experiencing that part of my Jewishness. But I ended up delving more into my cultural and historical and ancestral connections.”

So her latest CD, the indie-folk “Silver and Ash,” was ultimately born from a quest to learn more about her family’s attempt to escape the Holocaust.

It was during a trip to Riga, Latvia - where two of her great-grandparents fled to from Germany in late 1938 - that Burson realized the true emotional impact of her family’s story.

By the time she traveled there, she had learned the fate of her great-grandparents, whose letters to her maternal grandmother stopped in 1941. So the trip to Riga was a chance to say goodbye and grieve, not to put a physical stone on a physical grave, but a chance to get some symbolic closure. She thought she would be prepared for the sadness. But it was more than she expected.

She cried for a whole day, she said. And she knew she needed to spend more time discovering the family history.

“It was after that experience that a bulk of the songs for Silver and Ash were written,” she said.

It was the culmination of many years of trying to find out where her family had come from, one that started when she was eight years old and was told not to ask her grandmother about anything to do with the Holocaust. It only made her more curious.

She injects that curiosity into her new songs. “Goodbye My Love” and “The Only Way” were written in part based on chats with her grandmother about life in Germany before she fled for America.

But other parts of the songs reflect Burson’s own feelings and her imagining how someone who has experienced that kind of loss could feel.

The songs also draw from the other half of Burson’s family, inspired by a 117-year-old piece of cheese that was first given by her great-great-grandmother to her son in 1893. The gift came as that son was leaving Lithuania to avoid being forced to join the czar’s army.

He went to South Africa for 10 years then to the United States. It was handed down and now resides with Burson’s parents.

“Symbolically this carries with it the story of my family and beyond that the story of the Jewish Diaspora,” she said. “When I found out about the fellowship grant I thought the cheese was the perfect metaphor for the kind of album I want to make. Something that musically can stand on its own and resonate with people regardless of their backgrounds but also expresses the nuances of my own family history and Jewish history.”

“Silver and Ash” is available on Rounder Records. Burson plays shows in Birmingham, Alabama on Wednesday; Decatur, Georgia on Thursday; Nashville, Tennessee on Friday; and Louisville, Kentucky next Saturday.

- Producer/Writer

Filed under: Culture & Science • Judaism • Music

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Iqbal khan

    Please Listen and read The Quran with translation in many different languages check

    http://www.Quranexplorer.com

    October 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan

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    October 15, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  3. Daisy the non-terrorist

    I can't see why she had to travel all that way just to examine her roots!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  4. Reality

    An update on the "roots" of Judaism can be found at:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    October 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Frank

      Reality, were you a part of that project? Otherwise, I don't see you're point in constantly spamming these articles with the same old NY Times article.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:41 am |
    • Frank

      *your

      October 12, 2010 at 3:41 am |
    • Raison

      @Frank

      OMG! Don't get him started!

      October 12, 2010 at 4:32 am |
    • Reality

      The said New Torah for Modern Minds is right up there with the NT as being one of the important doc-uments ever printed i.e therefore the reason for referencing it to those that might not be aware of it.

      You can buy a copy on-line: http://www.amazon.com/Etz-Hayim-Torah-Commentary-Travel-size/dp/0827608047

      October 12, 2010 at 8:25 am |
    • Frank

      Lol, Raison.

      Reality, I'm not a follower of Conservative Judaism so it doesn't mean a whole lot to me. And if it's so important and amazing, you would think that you wouldn't need to spam it in order for people to know about it.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  5. Frank

    Since her music isn't about Judaism, why the hell is this in the religion blog? Makes more sense to post about Matisyahu.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  6. David Johnson

    Jewish women are always pretty.

    October 11, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Frank

      Yeah, Golda Meir was such a hottie.

      October 11, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Frank

      Hey pal....

      LOL!!! Now... THAT was funny... :-)

      October 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Frank

      Everyone gets old. Here is a picture of her when she was young. I wouldn't have kicked her out of bed.

      http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tabletmag.com/images/features/feature_677_story.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.tabletmag.com/arts-and-culture/books/944/speculative-friction/&h=308&w=300&sz=45&tbnid=Ict-rC8S7ZKc5M:&tbnh=117&tbnw=114&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dpicture%2Bof%2BGolda%2BMeir%2Bwhen%2Bshe%2Bwas%2Byoung&zoom=1&q=picture+of+Golda+Meir+when+she+was+young&hl=en&usg=__dKhKEZ1sp83gyaGB8U4gRdbdWr4=&sa=X&ei=BWezTJbALJKgsQP6uIWcDA&ved=0CBoQ9QEwAg

      October 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @David Johnson

      Yep... You are right.. Nice picture.... She was a 'hottie'...

      October 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • Frank

      Hey, Peace2All. :)

      But, still. Saying that all Jewish women are hot is like saying that all Catholic girls are hot (which they are). :P

      October 12, 2010 at 1:37 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Frank

      Hey Frank!

      Well..... Hmmmmm.

      First, I know a lot of jewish women, and 'all' of them are 'not' hot, in my (subjective opinion.) I would have to disagree with DJ on this one. But, apparently 'he' finds 'all' jewish women 'hot.' Must be a subjective talent of his.

      Second, O.K.... know with the 'all' catholic (girls) are hot. As you noticed David and I used the term (women), and you switched the term in your analogy to (girls). Shoot.... by doing 'that' you are making it harder for me to find counter-examples in my world. I am assuming also, that when you say girls, that you mean over the age of 18 to....what age...?

      Darn you... Frank..!!!!!!!

      Now, on to the beautiful mormon girls, and the muslim girls, at least the ones that I am able to see...

      Darn you again Frank...!!!!! LOL..! :-)

      October 12, 2010 at 3:13 am |
    • Frank

      You overthink things too much, my friend. :P
      (I didn't notice I switched it to 'girls'. How creepy of me.)

      October 12, 2010 at 3:36 am |
    • Frank

      "and the muslim girls, at least the ones that I am able to see... "

      Lol.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:39 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Frank

      No.... I really don't 'over-think' things too much. I just have this sort of annoying ability to make fine discriminations and perceptual distinctions. It drives my family and friends crazy when I call them on their logic, linguistics, presuppositions, etc..
      Didn't mean to catch ya' on that.... It just was obvious to me. That is why i left an 'out' for you, by assuming you meant of legal age.. 18 and over...?

      And as for the muslim women.... thanks... Yeah, I laughed at that one too. :-)

      Heck, it drives me crazy sometimes. And I have to live with myself...! :-)

      October 12, 2010 at 4:01 am |
    • Frank

      I see what you mean, Peace2All. You're just a thinker. :P

      Well, I'm only 21 so everyone my age is a boy or a girl to me. Lol.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Frank

      LOL...!!! :-) Touche..!

      October 12, 2010 at 5:01 pm |

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.