The Jewish Tailors of Country Music
Most of us don’t think of country music as being diverse. Most of us would be wrong.
At times, the traditional music that has morphed into what we now call country music seems to be all white and mostly male. In fact, the music has roots in many cultures and traditions: the African banjo, the Hawaiian steel guitar, European and Latin American folk music, the blues and work songs of formerly enslaved Black people.
Surely the whitest, slickest, most Anglo element of country music is the sparkly “rhinestone cowboy” look of the 1940s and 1950s, made famous by country and western stars such as Porter Wagoner, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Elvis Presley.
That look was largely created by a trio of Eastern European Jewish immigrant tailors: Bernard Lichtenstein and Nathan Turk (Poland) and Nudie Cohn (Ukraine), shown here. Watch a fascinating video about these tailors and their work, produced by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in cooperation with the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History.
Speaking of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, people often are surprised at the breadth and depth of its collection and special exhibits, which in my experience have all been superb. It is in fact a wonderful museum of acoustic music, among many other things.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum puts on regular programs of interviews and music, called Live at the Hall. My favorite series is Poets and Prophets, in which songwriters in a variety of genres, not just country, discuss their careers and sing the songs they wrote. All these programs are posted at the Hall’s website, for free.
Sample some of the programs, and the next time you come to Nashville, be sure to visit the museum.