Singer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, and scholar Michael Alpert has been a key figure in the renaissance of East European Jewish music and culture worldwide since the 1970s. A native Yiddish speaker, he is one of the only Yiddish singers of his generation adept in the style of pre-WWII generations. Alpert is a celebrated innovator in Yiddish song, whose original compositions have expanded the canon. A leading teacher and scholar, his work has helped spark an international revitalization of the Yiddish cultural arts, from Yiddish folksong and dance to klezmer violin. Alpert’s vision has fostered Yiddish/Jewish cultural creativity as both an ethnic heritage and a contemporary identity.
Alpert was born into a Yiddish-speaking family in Los Angeles, California, in 1954. His father had emigrated from Lithuania, while his mother was born in Boston to an immigrant family from Western Ukraine. Raised in a traditional extended family in California and New England, he learned Yiddish, Russian, and Polish songs at an early age, attending Orthodox synagogues and shule, secular Yiddish school. He grew up immersed in immigrant music and culture, including the “Yiddish boardwalk scenes” of Venice Beach, West Hollywood, and similar locales on the East Coast.
Moving to New York City in 1979, he was co-founder of the pioneering klezmer band Kapelye, and began intensive documentation of traditional East European-born Yiddish performers, including master singer Bronya Sakina, klezmer violinist Leon Schwartz, singer/drummer Ben Bayzler, clarinetist German Goldenshteyn and Yiddish singer, poet and NEA National Heritage Fellow Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, all of whom influenced him profoundly.
Alpert is best known for his performances and recordings as a solo artist, with the ensembles Brave Old World and Kapelye, and collaborations with artists across a broad spectrum of cultures and generations, including Theodore Bikel, Daniel Kahn, and Ukrainian-American singer/bandurist Julian Kytasty. He has performed and taught Yiddish music and culture throughout North America and the world, in venues ranging from Polish village streets to a farmworkers’ school in Florida to Carnegie Hall. As musical director of the PBS Great Performances special Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler's House, he helped bring global attention to Yiddish and klezmer music.
Adept at some 20 languages, Alpert has conducted extensive cultural documentation in Jewish communities throughout the globe. He is an important bridge between older generations and the world klezmer/Yiddish revitalization, has played a central role in the transmission of Ashkenazic music and dance. Alpert has directed Yiddish cultural programs worldwide, taught at Indiana, Oxford, and Columbia universities and authored key scholarly publications. He was longtime co-artistic director of Montreal’s KlezKanada and consultant to the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, Poland, and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at New York City’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance.