Adrienne Cooper (A.M. ’72), klezmer muse, dies at 65

Adrienne Cooper, who helped revitalize America’s Yiddish community, succumbed to adrenal cancer over winter break.

By Benjamin Pokross

Adrienne Cooper (A.M. ’72), a singer whose dual role as a performer and patron of Jewish tradition made her beloved within America’s Yiddish community, died December 25. She was 65.

Cooper dedicated her life to Klezmer, a genre of Yiddish folk music, and was a prominent figure in the cultural revitalization of Yiddish in the 1970s and ’80s among a generation that had not grown up speaking it at home, according to her obituary in The New York Times. She died of adrenal cancer.

After growing up in Oakland and then moving to Jerusalem to attend Hebrew University, Cooper first performed Yiddish music while earning a masters degree from the UChicago. Cooper then studied with Yiddish singers in New York City, immersing herself in the Yiddish music and literary scene.

In an obituary published in The Jewish Daily Forward, Rutgers Professor of Jewish Studies Jeffrey Shandler praised Cooper’s work, saying that although she was “deeply influenced by traditional Jewish practices of making music, Adrienne pushed the envelope of what Yiddish song might be through a prolific output of recitals, recordings, and music theatre pieces.”

In addition to her recordings and compositions, Cooper also held administrative positions with various Jewish organizations, including the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (YIVO) and the Institute for Jewish Research. She was also one of the founders of KlezKamp, a festival celebrating Yiddish and Klezmer culture. At the time of her death she was the director of external affairs at the Workman’s Circle/Arbiter Ring, a Jewish social justice organization.

Cooper is survived by her partner, her daughter, her mother, and two brothers.