San Francisco singer Judy Frankel championed the musical traditions of the Sephardic Jews, performing and preserving songs dating back more than five centuries. Born in Boston in 1943 to a family of Ashkenazi descent, Frankel first began performing at family seders, and by 13 she was singing and playing guitar at local weddings and bar mitzvahs. While studying at Boston University she turned to rock and jazz, but her clear, lovely tenor was better suited to folk music, and after a few years in Hawaii she settled in San Francisco, quickly emerging as a fixture on the Bay Area coffeehouse circuit while working a day job as an elementary schoolteacher. In time Frankel began interviewing older members of the Northern California Jewish community in an effort to collect the traditional folk songs of the Sephardim, Spanish Jews expelled from their home on the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. While performing the songs in their original Ladino tongue, Frankel would also favor audiences with English translations of the lyrics, in addition crediting the individual who passed the material down to her. During a long tenure as vocal soloist for the San Francisco Consort -- a chamber ensemble dedicated to researching and performing Medieval and Renaissance music -- she journeyed to destinations including Jerusalem, Portugal, and Macao in search of traditional Jewish music, over time collecting songs spanning 20 different languages, and eventually recorded a series of LPs, including Sephardic Songs of Love & Hope, Stairway of Gold: Songs of the Sephardim, and Tresoros Sephardis. Frankel was also featured on the 1997 Rounder Records collection Divine Divas: A World of Women's Voices alongside artists including Ani DiFranco and Cassandra Wilson, and also appeared in the documentary Trees Cry for Rain: A Sephardic Journey, which featured her music on its soundtrack. After a long battle with cancer, Frankel died March 20, 2008.
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