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Top 5 Jewish Classic Rock Artists

The holiday season is upon us, and with Hanukkah right around the corner, we’ve put together a list of the Top 5 Jewish Classic Rock Stars!

1.  Bob Dylan 

Born Robert Zimmerman in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan comes from a long line of Jewish heritage, and his parents were active in Jewish organizations in their small community.

He changed his name while performing in college, taking the name of the poet, Dylan Thomas and it wasn’t long after college that Dylan made it a point to become a professional musician.  He began performing in New York where he caught the attention of the folk community.  

Dylan would go on to become one of the greatest songwriters of all time, and eventually converted to Christianity in the late ‘70s. He released a trio of Christian albums from 1979-1981, but has since returned to Judaism, and is now regarded by some as a Christian-Jew.

Through his career, Dylan has compiled 10 Grammy Awards, one Academy Award and one Golden Globe Award.  Dylan has five works inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in honor of their historical significance to music and has, himself, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2.  Paul Simon 

Paul Simon was born in 1941 in Newark, New Jersey and by the age of 11, met his eventual musical partner, Art Garfunkel, of Queens, New York. Both Simon and Garfunkel are of Jewish descent.

While in high school, the two began performing at school dances and before long they took the folk world by storm, releasing five immensely popular albums between 1964 and 1970, before they eventually broke up.

Paul Simon continued on, however, and as a solo artist, he has performed in Israel in 1983 and most recently, in 2011 at Ramat Gan Stadium.

Simon is also one of the few people to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice; once as half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel and again as a solo artist.

3.  Lou Reed 

Lou Reed was born Lewis Allen Reed in Brooklyn, New York in 1942, and grew up in a Jewish family, with his father having changed their last name from Rabinowitz.  Reed would later say Rock and Roll was more like a religion to him.

In 1964, Reed formed the Velvet Underground with John Cale and Maureen Tucker.  The band would produce some of the more influential experimental rock music of all time.  By 1973, Velvet Underground had disbanded and Reed went on to pursue a solo career. 

Reed has released 11 solo albums and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Velvet Underground in 1996, cementing his legacy as a pioneer for punk music.  

Sadly, Lou Reed passed away last month at the age of 71.


4.  Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons was born in 1949 in Haifa, Israel as Chaim Witz. 

Simmons’ mother, Flora “Florence” Klein and her brother were of Hungarian decent and  the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust. 

Simmons moved to Brooklyn, New York in the late 1950s with his mother, while his father remained in Israel. He later changed his name to Eugene Klein, adopting his mother’s maiden name.

The future rocker seemed unsure of his future as he trained to become a rabbi, taught grade school and played in a band in his teens. In 1973, he formed KISS, and changed his name to Gene Simmons. His bandmate, Paul Stanley (Stanley Harvey Eisen), is also of Jewish descent. 

The band would become one of the most popular hard rock bands of the decade and later, one of the most popular of all-time.

KISS is currently nominated for a potential induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year.


5.  David Lee Roth

Van Halen frontman, David Lee Roth, was born in 1955 in Bloomington, Indiana. He is half Jewish on his father’s side and was raised in the Jewish religion. It is rumored that the future rocker even began his interest in singing while practicing for his bar mitzvah.

In the early 1970s, Roth moved to Pasadena, California where he met brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen and joined their band, Mammoth.

The trio soon hooked up with bassist Michael Anthony and formed Van Halen.  Roth and his bandmates later began to feud, resulting in Roth’s split from the band.

The singer was not deterred and moved on to release a string of solo records until Van Halen reunited in 2007 following their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

Also, unlike many of his fellow rock stars, Roth chose to stick with his birth name. Perhaps it is for that reason that he gets to "light the menorah" according to Adam Sandler!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Geddy Lee: Rush
  • Joey Ramone: The Ramones
  • Marc Bolan: T-Rex
  • Billy Joel