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Traveling history exhibit celebrates  legacy of Jewish-American songwriters

The Great American Songbook Foundation is teaming up with Central Indiana community organizations this winter to highlight the cultural contributions of songwriters from Jewish immigrant backgrounds.

A traveling museum-style exhibit titled A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, 1910-1965 uses text and imagery from Broadway musicals, classic films, posters and personal collections to tell the stories of great composers and lyricists. The featured artists include Harold Arlen (“Over the Rainbow,” “Stormy Weather”), Irving Berlin (“God Bless America,” “White Christmas”), George Gershwin (“Rhapsody in Blue,” An American in Paris) and the stage musical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma!).

All came from families that immigrated to America in the 1800s or fled persecution in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Their popularity was fueled by the advent of the radio receiver, the broadcasting microphone, the talking movie, the long-playing record and other inventions that brought music to mass audiences.

“It is truly remarkable how many of the timeless standards of American popular music came from artists of Jewish heritage – even the Christmas songs,” said Chris Lewis, Executive Director of the Great American Songbook Foundation. “In light of the holiday season, and some of the disturbing incidents of bigotry and anti-Semitism we have seen locally and across the country in recent years, we thought this was an important time to celebrate not only the contributions of these immigrant writers but also the shared human values reflected in their work.”

The exhibit, maintained at the Foundation’s Songbook Archives & Library, will be available for viewing free of charge at the following Indianapolis-area partnership sites:

  • Dec. 24-31: Center for Interfaith Cooperation, 1100 W. 42nd St., Suite 125

  • Jan. 3-9: JCC Indianapolis, 6701 Hoover Road

  • Jan. 10-12: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Hilbert Circle Theatre, 45 Monument Circle

  • Jan. 15-21: Indiana Historical Society, 450 W. Ohio St.

  • Jan. 23-31: The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Center Green, Carmel

The project includes a social media component. Visit the Great American Songbook Foundation on Facebook ( for additional information on the songwriters and updates on the exhibit’s journey around Marion and Hamilton counties.

The exhibit initially was curated by writer David Lehman, based on his award-winning 2009 book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. The American Library Association and nonprofit publisher Nextbook Inc. sponsored its development.

For more information on the exhibit and the Songbook Foundation, contact Executive Director Chris Lewis at (317) 844-9446 or visit

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