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Posted at 3:59 PM ET, 01/ 9/2011

Jewish folk singer Debbie Friedman dies

By Emma Brown
Emma Brown

This post has been updated.

Debbie Friedman, who combined American folk music with Hebrew liturgical texts to create a popular contemporary form of Jewish music, died today at a hospital in Orange County, Calif.

She had been hospitalized for pneumonia, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. Ms. Friedman was in her late 50s.

Her career began when she was a young woman during the Vietnam War era, when music by the likes of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan was popular.

At the time, Ms. Friedman, who played the acoustic guitar, was attending a Minnesota synagogue. She found services there "dull and passive," she told the New York Times in 1998.

"It infuriated me," she said, "and I wanted to do something about it, provide an avenue of expression that was meaningful. And it came so easily, as if the music was already there, waiting to come out."

Her first song was a melody set to a prayer, "V'Ahavta," about loving God. She went on to record more than 20 albums and to perform widely, including at New York's Carnegie Hall.

One of her best known songs is "Mi Shebeirach," a prayer for healing that she performs in the soundtrack of the YouTube video below. The camera is a bit shaky in places, but the sound is good.

By Emma Brown  | January 9, 2011; 3:59 PM ET
Categories:  Emma Brown, Musicians  
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May her memory be a blessing

Posted by: silverspring25 | January 9, 2011 4:53 PM | Report abuse

This is a great loss and such a tragedy. Debbie suffered for many years from an unknown illness and was getting better. I am so saddened that she has passed away. For baby boomers, she broadened Jewish music and spirituality. May her memory be for a blessing.

Posted by: alanecaro | January 9, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

CORRECTION : the voice on the YouTube video you post is not Debbie. Try the Limmud LA video for Debbie's sweet voice.

Posted by: sm46 | January 9, 2011 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I really loved her music. She had an absolutely beautiful voice. She just had a tremendous gift and brought Jewish texts to life like few others. I have most of her CDs. I first heard her music in a Jewish store in Brookline, MA and I was so struck by it, I asked who was singing and the storekeeper said "Debbie Friedman." I immediately bought the CD and listened to it many times since then. Years later, I led a Shabbat service on Friday night at a local nursing home in DC and I used some of her music for the service. Shalom, Debbie Friedman. You will be greatly missed.

Posted by: andrew41 | January 9, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

YouTube link to see and hear Debbie:

Posted by: sm46 | January 9, 2011 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, sm46. The Limmud LA video is now up.

Posted by: Emma Brown | January 9, 2011 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Debbie Friedman played an integral role in the development of my Jewish identity. Her music added so much to my experiences in youth group when I was in high school ages ago. She touched so many lives and she will truly be missed. May her memory be for a blessing.

Posted by: apsunshine | January 9, 2011 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Watch Debbie Friedman's classic videos

Posted by: boston18 | January 9, 2011 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I actually think that is the beautiful voice of our cantor, Aviva Katzman, of Temple Sholom, Chicago.

Anyone know for sure who it is?

Posted by: hyperlexis | January 9, 2011 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I sang with Debbie. Before she was famous she was the song leader at Camp Harlem, a Reform Jewish camp in PA. Debbie was funny, irreverant, passionate. She will be greatly missed.

Posted by: whsamet | January 9, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

You can hear her here singing perhaps her most beautiful song, "L'chi Lach."

Posted by: The-Empress | January 9, 2011 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Memorial service at Manhattan JCC Sunday night 8 pm

Posted by: esthermiriam | January 9, 2011 8:29 PM | Report abuse

She meant a great deal to me in my Jewish identity as a teen and adult -- I'm also very struck by the timing:

Posted by: carynmirriamgoldberg | January 9, 2011 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Debbie has been part of my life since I was very young. She would look after me, my sisters and my 2 cousins (they lived across the street from Debbie). She was proud of my love of Jewish music, and I will miss her.

Posted by: hughsterg | January 10, 2011 7:05 PM | Report abuse

And don't give short shrift to DF's lighter fare, such as The Latke Song, which brought joy to millions.

Posted by: universityandpark | January 11, 2011 7:16 AM | Report abuse

As I had spent a number of summers at the URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) during my high school years (1975 -- 1978), spent a NFTY "Summer in Israel", and was very active in my Temple Youth Group, I grew up with Debbie Friedman's music. It feels like a large part of my youth just died. L'Chi Lach, Debbie!! YOU are a blessing!!

Posted by: RSS_78_82_84_96_08 | January 12, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Although we never played in the same circles, her name was everywhere. She touched many souls.

Posted by: musicperson75 | January 15, 2011 10:15 PM | Report abuse

Although we never played in the same circles, her name was everywhere. She touched many

Posted by: musicperson75 | January 15, 2011 10:16 PM | Report abuse

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