Several years ago a fan of the multi-instrumentalist Basya Schechter approached her with a copy of a book of Yiddish poems. The verses were by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who arrived in the United States from Europe in 1940, when he was 33 years old. Heschel was born in Poland and gained renown for his theological works and for his role as a Civil Rights activist. He was far less known for his poetry, written when he was in his early 20s, about intimate relationships—both with God and with people. Schechter’s fan asked her to set Heschel’s poems to music. It took some time for Schechter, who was raised in the Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park and who heads the band Pharaoh’s Daughter, to take up that challenge. Yet take it up she did, and the result—a melodic mix of Middle Eastern, African, and lesser-known Hasidic influences—can be heard on Songs of Wonder, a new album out from Tzadik.
Basya Schechter invites Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry into her home in downtown Manhattan to talk about the connections between Heschel’s little-known poetry and his later works, and about her own journey from yeshiva girl to widely acclaimed singer-songwriter. [Running time: 24:06.]