Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Jewish Hall of Fame: Leonard Cohen

Canada’s Cohen is considered by many as one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: June 18th, 2014 in Culture » Music » News

Jewish Hall of Fame: Leonard Cohen

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today’s society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today’s younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Hall of Fame Member: Leonard Norman Cohen

Born: September 21st, 1934 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Died: —

Born in Montreal, Canada, on September 21st in 1934 to a middle-class Jewish family, no one thought that Leonard Norman Cohen would become the music legend that he is today. His family was of Lithuanian and Polish ancestry, and his grandfather was one of the founding members of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Sadly Cohen’s father, Nathan Cohen, who owned a store, passed away when he was only nine years old.

During his teen years, Cohen learned how to play the guitar and began dabbling in creative writing. He formed a garage band with some children from his high school, but then pursued more solo musical endeavours. He had an interest in flamenco and even learned a few chords of it.

He then attended McGill University, from which he was admitted in 1951. He began exploring poetry and won the Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition for both “Sparrows” and “Thoughts of a Landsman.” He also began writing his first book, The Spice-Box of Earth, which would later be published through a Canadian publishing house in 1961. Cohen excelled at poetry and had his work featured in several magazines and publications. Although critically acclaimed for his literary endeavours, Cohen had begun to develop an interest in the life and scene of Greenwich Village. Not long into the 60’s, he up and moved to New York.

During his time in the U.S., Cohen soon began composing his own songs. With a background in both music and literature, it was a natural step for him. In 1966, Judy Collins released a folk album which featured two songs written by the Montreal native. His musical debut was in 1967 at the Newport Folk Festival and it helped launch his career. He began performing regularly in concert and even on television, with an appearance on CBS’s Camera Three.

Deciding he wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts, Cohen released Songs From a Room in 1969 that included his wildly popular song “Bird on a Wire.” Cohen would also produce another five albums before the end of the 70’s, including the famous Songs of Love and Hate. Not long after, Cohen and Lewis Furey would co-write the music for the film Night Magic, but Cohen’s best was yet to come.

In 1984, Cohen would release “Hallelujah” on the album Various Positions. This song, debatably his most popular, would be performed by dozens of artists, such as Bon Jovi, for years to come. A beautiful melody with deep and meaningful lyrics, this song would be critically acclaimed and help make Cohen a household name.

During the 90’s, Cohen continued to produce music and even had several of his pieces featured in films such as Natural Born Killers and Pump Up The Volume helped Cohen to gain traction and relevance with younger generations who’d missed his works from the 70’s. He also continued to write, producing several works of poetry and fiction.

Leonard Cohen’s works have been compared to Bob Dylan for their important lyrics and soulful melodies. He was even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 and was given the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. Cohen continues to write and perform, despite the fact that he will be turning 80 this year, and it’s for his incredible works and vibrant energy that we’re inducting him into this week’s Jewish Hall of Fame.

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