There are tributes to Theodore Bikel that are far more eloquent than this will be, from people who knew him far closer than I could ever claim. Mine is a simple one.
Without Theodore Bikel, there would be no Klezmer Conservatory Band or Klezmatics or Daniel Kahn. There would be no Boston Jewish Music Festival, no Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, and no Ashkenaz in Toronto. There would be no Newport Folk Festival, which Theo cofounded. There would be no picture of Bob Dylan singing to civil rights workers in Mississippi because Theo bought his bus ticket and dragged him along. The song Edelweiss may never have blossomed and grown since it was written especially for Theo when he premiered as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Soviet Jews could still be trapped in Russia without Theo's advocacy and artistry.
Theo was our source. America had Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to preserve and evolve our country's rich folk music. Without Theo's early records of Jewish folk music, the great Jewish music revival that started in the 1970's may have had nothing to revive. Just ask Hankus Netsky or Frank London or Josh 'Socalled' Dolgin or any other contemporary artists making Jewish music.
The tribute I can offer is a song he left us. It was his final encore at his concert at the 2014 Boston Jewish Music Festival. It's a plea, both personal and political, written by Phil Ochs, to all of us to not just remember him but to continue to sing out, stand strong, a fight on for a better world.
Today, we can listen to it and cry. But tomorrow, there is much work to be done.
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