Despite the fact that Ben Folds has Jewish family members, got his break as a bar mitzvah singer and named his latest album after a Jewish guy, he swears he is not Jewish.
"Look, let me get this straight, I am not Jewish,” the platinum-selling musician said in an interview with the AJN from Adelaide, where he spends part of the year with his Australian wife, Frally Hynes, who is a photographer, and their two children.
But American-born Folds understands why the misconception about his religious background frequently occurs.
He recently attended his nephew’s bar mitzvah (his brother married a Jewish girl) he has a Jewish aunt and cousins he used to perform at bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings before he started making award-winning records and, most importantly, he knows all the words to Hava Nagillah, even though he does not know what they mean.
“None of my Jewish friends know what the words mean either,” he said, adding that the lyrics just “roll off the tongue”.
Folds even performed a rendition of the famous Jewish song to add a bit of variety to a rock concert in Hamburg.
He has also teamed up with New York City band Klezmatics, whose music is grounded in Jewish spiritualism and Eastern-European tradition, on Stephen’s Last Night in Town, a song he recorded with his former band, Ben Folds Five.
Before disbanding in 2000, the group – who were actually a three-piece ensemble – released popular hits including Brick, Song for the Dumped and Battle of Who Could Care Less.
“I just love Klezmer music. It’s soulful and the best of so many kinds of music,” Folds said.
Abandoning his group to pursue a solo career, Folds named his most recent album, Songs for Silverman (2005), after Ben Goldman, his former A and R representative at Sony BMG.
“I was always sending songs to him (Goldman) for the album, so I wanted to name it after him. But somebody (from Sony) found out and flipped out, so I changed it a bit and turned it in.”
The news that Folds is not a Jew may come as a surprise to many, perhaps even his publicist, who thinks he is.
Deep down, with just a touch of sarcasm, Folds admits: “I always wanted to be Jewish. All my friends are Jewish. Maybe one day I’ll get my honorary Jew degree."
Oh, and for the record: Folds does not practice any form of organized religion.
Reprinted with permission of the Australian Jewish News