Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fall Reading 2015 The Ghetto Singer: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers


The title may actually confuse some readers, because when they hear "ghetto," they think of gangs in New York or similar settings from a movie. The fact that ghettos can actually be in any large city worldwide seems to occur to only a small percentage of people. It wasn't as misleading to me because of all the WWII stories I have read over the past year; many of them mentioned the Jewish ghettos created by the Nazis to contain unwanted citizens. So I decided to read this book based on my interest in history and my love of music. 

It seems that Coco Schumann and I share that love of all things musical. During his long and interesting career he has played almost every type of popular music and had the privilege of meeting or even performing with legends such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Watching through Coco's eyes and seeing the music scene change over the years (some of them long before I was even born), was like seeing a time-lapse movie of pop culture. The book covers the pre-war years of 1930s Germany up to the present day and the songs and styles of the times are his anchors in each decade or era.

For those who have never heard of Coco Schumann, he is a musician born in Germany to an "Aryan" father and Jewish mother after World War I. Even though his father had served in the German army during WWI and his family had a long history of service and loyalty to their country, Coco was sent to a concentration camp along with thousands of others from the Berlin area. He actually spent time in three camps - Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau. As with anyone who survived the horrors of the camps, it is a miracle he lived. But it is an even greater miracle that he has remained as positive and friendly as he is. He credits music with saving him, both literally and figuratively. It saved him physically because the camp officers enjoyed having musicians to play for them and entertain them, so they spared his life. But it also saved his sanity and humanity by giving him something to cling to as an anchor and a connection to better times.

Since Coco never emigrated to America, his name is not well known except among music aficionados. His biography tells of how he first became attracted to the musical scene in Berlin and spans his career in Germany and abroad, with performances on board cruise ships, in jazz clubs, for campaign rallies, TV and radio shows, jazz competitions, and countless other appearances. The book does talk about his time in the ghetto and in the camps, but without going into excruciating detail. Instead, it focuses on the music and its importance to him.

For history buffs this is an interesting addition to the literature about the time period of the Nazi rise to power and its effects on European Jews. For music lovers, it traces the influence of war and culture, as well as technological breakthroughs such as TV and radio, on popular music. This is a book that keeps readers interested and ready to hear more.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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