Isaac Rosenberg was just 12 when he sang on Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II. Little did he know then that three years later that project would be nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category.
“I believe I am the youngest Canadian ever to be nominated for a Grammy,” said Rosenberg, who sang three songs on the album. “It’s amazing,”
Rosenberg attended the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles with his father Daniel Rosenberg, who produced Yiddish Glory. “It was a very fun experience. Before the main televised ceremony where they announce the pop, rap and hip hop categories there is a pre-ceremony where they announce 75 categories from various genres –classical, jazz, folk, blue grass, and world music,” said Isaac, full of excitement.
“There were thousands of nominees all packed together in the Microsoft Theatre, where I got to meet a lot of these really cool people who were also nominated for incredible projects,” he said. “Here I am walking beside people that I have admired for so many years! Often times, when people were walking by they would have five to 10 body guards surrounding them stopping other nominees from getting photos with them.
“One person I got to meet was jazz musician Jon Batiste. I am a huge fan of his and I got to take a photo with him. I also got to meet the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve been listening to their music for many years. So many people I never thought I’d meet and I got to see them all in one weekend.”
Rosenberg has been singing and playing piano since the age of five and learned to play the guitar about four years ago.
The collection of the long-lost Yiddish songs, written by orphaned children, women and Soviet Jewish soldiers during the Second World War, tells the stories of abuse, poverty, racism and discrimination. The album didn’t win a Grammy, that honour going to the Soweto Gospel Choir.
“It was such an honour to be nominated because these songs are stories of people who lost their voice and couldn’t tell them,” said Rosenberg. “We are really speaking on their behalf.”
Rosenberg comes from a musical home. “My mom plays music, my dad produces music and all of my three siblings take some sort of music lessons,” Rosenberg explained.
Anna Shternshis, Rosenberg’s mother, a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto, told Isaac they needed a young voice to perform some of the songs that were written by orphans and children similar to Isaac’s age.
Rosenberg worked tirelessly. “I don’t speak any Yiddish, so I memorized the lyrics and learned what they meant so I could really connect with the music and understand. I was so emotional performing My Mother’s Grave,” he said. “The song was written by a 10-year-old child from Ukraine who talks about losing his mother and what life would be like when no one is going to tuck him in at night and wake him up in the morning.”
Rosenberg’s connection to the music is deeply personal. “My great-grandmother lived in a lot of these places where these songs are set. She was one of 12 children and when she was 15 she ran off with a man to get married and left Ukraine for Moscow, and all of her family – 11 siblings and parents—were killed during the Holocaust,” he explained. “The only reason that she survived, and my family is here today, is because of that crazy decision which was definitely seen as immoral at the time.”
Rosenberg credits his mother, who came across the songs in the Ukraine National Library and brought them back to life with the help of a Russian singer-songwriter. “None of this would have happened without my mom. People didn’t even know they were songs,” said Rosenberg. “They were just scribbles on a piece of paper and through her work, and the work of Psoy Korolenko, they took these little scribbles and made them into these incredible songs that tell incredible stories.