What exactly is kosher gospel? Can gospel be kosher? Joshua Nelson, a Black Jew living in New Jersey, sure thinks so--he basically created the genre.
Nelson attended a Black Hebrew synagogue growing up and, at the age of eight, he discovered Mahalia Jackson and the style of music known as gospel. He fell in love with the music and Nelson later became well-known as a gospel singer. At the same time, Nelson continued studying Judaism and also spent some time on a kibbutz in Israel. He came to believe that Judaism has often flourished while embracing the cultural context it's grown in and decided to marry these two parts of his heritage--soul music, and Judaism.
Joshua Nelson and the Kosher Gospel Singers
As a kosher gospel singer, Nelson has performed all over with the world, recently at Beth Shalom Synagogue here in Toronto. The concert was part of a tribute to their chazzan, Cantor Moses, for his 10th anniversary with the synagogue. Nelson had a full audience as he belted out Hine Ma Tov to the tune of The Saints Go Marching In, (and on one occasion in the voice of Louis Armstrong), and Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov with a passion you’ve never heard before. His performance brought so much energy to the room, that in addition to clapping along--on the correct beats 2 and 4, I might add--people were dancing the horah around the room.
Joshua Nelson singing with Cantor Ben Meisner from Holy Blossom
Nelson has also taught Hebrew School for 15 years. I have to say I believed him when he said his students never fall asleep in class!
(Photos courtesy of Henry Campbell)