The US is a world powerhouse of pop and rock music and many of the most prominent US musicians in these genres have connections to the Eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, is an American singer-songwriter, author and visual artist who is often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. In 2016, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. He is the only musician to have been awarded this prize. He also won ten Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize Board in 2008 awarded him a special award for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”.
Dylan’s maternal grandparents were Lithuanian Jews from Kaunas. Meanwhile, Dylan’s paternal grandparents emigrated to the US from Ukraine. Dylan has supported the Chabad Lubavitch movement, one of the world’s best-known Hasidic communities. The movement was originally established in Belarus but eventually moved its headquarters to the US. It is particularly famous of its outreach activities. Dylan attended Hadar Hatorah, a Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva and has even appeared on the Chabad telethon.
Kvitka “Kasey” Cisyk (1953–1998) was an American soprano of Ukrainian ethnicity born in Queens, NYC. Cisyk, a classically trained opera singer, achieved success in four musical genres: commercial jingles for radio and TV advertisements, classical opera, popular music and Ukrainian folk music. Cisyk performed her version of You Light Up My Life for a film of the same title. The song was awarded Oscar and Golden Globe Awards in 1978. Cisyk achieved her biggest success as a singer of musical jingles used in commercials. Cisyk’s recording of the slogan “Have you driven a Ford lately?” was used in Ford commercials from 1981 to 1998. She also sang the phrase “You deserve a break today” for McDonald’s.
Cisyk was the daughter of two Ukrainian immigrants from Eastern Galicia. Her given name, Kvitka, is Ukrainian for ‘flower’. She was raised with Ukrainian music and is well known in the country for her two albums of Ukrainian songs. She died from breast cancer six days before her 45th birthday. She is commemorated in Ukraine by a yearly music festival and a street named after her in Lviv.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a rock band formed in Los Angeles, California in 1983. Their music incorporates elements of alternative rock, funk, psychedelic rock and punk rock. The band consists of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Michael Balzary or ‘Flea’, drummer Chad Smith, and guitarist John Frusciante. With over 80 million records sold worldwide, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the best-selling bands in world history. They are the most successful band in the history of alternative rock, with records for most number one singles (13), most cumulative weeks at number one (85) and most top-ten songs (25) on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. Anthony Kiedis is a founding member and lead vocalist of the band. His surname is Lithuanian and his first name is the same as his Lithuanian great grandfather. His ancestry also includes Dutch, English, French and Irish. In 2012, on the evening of the July 28th concert of the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Kaunas, Lithuania, Anthony Kiedis was presented with his family tree. This dated back to the end of the 1800s and showed the family line of his great-grandparents in the region of Tauragė in Samogitia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis wrote in the letter that was presented to the singer together with the gift that “Lithuania is the place where the family of your great grandparents Antanas Kiedis and Julija Kiediene came from. On behalf of my nation I wish to reassert our admiration for your musical talent and to share our delight in the fact that at least part of it is of Lithuanian origin”. Ažubalis also stressed in the letter that the melodies and symbolism found in various folk songs that reach back to pagan times had always been a key part of Lithuanian national identity. They also remain a vivid source of inspiration for the present generation. Ažubalis ended his letter with the assertion that “I am pretty sure that a closer look at this bottomless reservoir of Lithuanian cultural heritage will even stir up new ideas for future songs of such a brilliant rock band as Red Hot Chili Peppers”.
Leonard “Lenny” Kravitz was born in 1964 and is a renowned African-American singer of Jewish origin. Many of his ancestors came from Ukraine. In fact, his surname in Ukrainian means ‘tailor’. Kravitz won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance four years in a row from 1999 to 2002. In effect, he broke the record for most awards in this category and set a still unbeaten record for most consecutive wins in one category by a male. During one interview he stated, “I’m half Jewish, I’m half black, I look in-between”. His mother came from a family of African-American and Bahamian descent. Meanwhile, his father was a Ukrainian Jew, with one of his great-grandfathers coming from Kyiv. In fact, his grandfather’s name was Leonid, which is a Greek equivalent of Leonard.
Pink (stylized as P!nk), born Alecia Beth Moore, is an American singer and songwriter. She is noted for her distinctive raspy voice and acrobatic stage presence. Pink has sold over 90 million records worldwide, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Following her performance at the American Music Awards of 2012, LZ Granderson of CNN wrote that “… our culture’s biggest sin may well be the auto-tuned syrup we’ve allowed to dominate the pop charts. All-time chart records are handed to vacuous acts [..] But thank God for Pink. [..] Pink has managed to carve a brilliant 13-year career by being something that is incredibly rare these days—an artist”. Her career awards include three Grammys. Born in Pennsylvania, Pink has strong Lithuanian roots with her mother a ‘Litvak’ or Lithuanian Jew with ancestry leading back to Vilnius. She has described her background as “Irish-German-Lithuanian-Jew”.