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'Kosher gospel' singer to visit

Published April 6, 2007


Fans say his singing is a cross between Mahalia Jackson and, well, your local rabbi.

Joshua Nelson, known as the "Prince of Kosher Gospel Music," will bring his distinctive style to Carrollwood on April 14 in a performance of Jewish liturgy, gospel and spirituals.

It's a show that's unforgettable, said Cantor Jodi Sered-Lever of Congregation Kol Ami, who has seen Nelson perform twice.

"His genre is so different, given that it's of the gospel variety and it's very different from what you hear from other Jewish artists," she said. "Even if it's music you don't normally listen to, it's an opportunity not to be missed."

In fact "gospel-style" Jewish music goes back to the 1800s and became popularized at the Commandment Keeper's Synagogue in Harlem, still an active temple, at the turn of the century.

Nelson, an African-American who was born Jewish, has been singing since his early teens, landing gigs with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stephanie Mills and the Klezmatics. He has been on Oprah and sang for President Bill Clinton.

Erma Ruffkess, chairwoman of the fundraising event for Kol Ami, said her initial mission was to find someone different, yet someone who would command a large audience. Once Nelson was chosen, Ruffkess made plans to have the concert coincide with Passover, the holiday when Jews recount their time as slaves in Egypt and their subsequent road to freedom. Noting that many religious groups have gone through some sort of suffering, Ruffkess said members of Kol Ami felt that because of his background and his unique talent, Nelson would be the perfect entertainer to reach out to the entire community.

"One of our board portfolios is community service, so sharing the humanity of the world we are living in today is an important responsibility that we feel in our congregation," she said.

To encourage other congregations of all faiths, and other nonprofit groups of 10 or more people, Ruffkess said organizers will donate a portion of those group sales back to the organizations, along with two complimentary tickets to the show.

"The theme of this concert is A Celebration of Freedom," she said. "Freedom is a dream for everyone."

Rather than hold the concert at Kol Ami, where only 500 to 1,000 people could be accommodated comfortably, the performance will be held in the auditorium of the Carrollwood Day School, which is the former worship hall for Idlewild Baptist Church. That venue, which has outstanding acoustics, seats almost 2,000 people. Hundreds of tickets have been sold, but there are "plenty" of tickets still available, said Ruffkess. All are general seating.

"Wear some comfortable shoes," Ruffkess said, "because you're going to be tapping your toes and up on your feet most of the night."

Contact reporter Sheryl Kay at or call 813 230-8788.




The Joshua Nelson concert begins at 8:45 p.m. April 14 at Carrollwood Day School, 1515 W Bearss Ave. Tickets, $36 for adults and $18 for students with ID, can be purchased online at or with a check to Kol Ami, 3919 Moran Road, Tampa, FL 33618. For more information, call the synagogue at 962-6338. To learn more about Nelson, see his Web page at


[Last modified April 5, 2007, 08:05:59]

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