Debbie Friedman, Jewish Singer-Songwriter, Dies in California

January 9, 2011 Updated: January 9, 2011

Debbie Friedman, who blended American folk music with Hebrew liturgical texts to produce popular sing-along style synagogue music, died of pneumonia Sunday in a California hospital on Sunday.

The New York-born Friedman died in her late 50s after a few days of hospitalization, according to the Washington Post.

Friedman began her career in the 1970s when she started writing liturgical music as a group song leader at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute summer camp. She incorporated ancient texts into contemporary melodies to make them more accessible to a wider audience, according to the Jerusalem Post.

“Debbie influenced and enriched contemporary Jewish music in a profound way. Her music crossed generational and denominational lines and carved a powerful legacy of authentic Jewish spirituality into our daily lives,” reads a Union for Reform Judaism statement.

During her 35-year career, she released over 20 albums and performed in concerts worldwide at synagogues, schools, churches, and venues such as Carnegie Hall.

“By creating a whole new genre of Jewish music, Debbie was able to reintroduce authentic Jewish spirituality,” said Rabbi Daniel Freedlander, vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a statement. “She wrote melodies that spoke to us, spoke to our intellect, spoke to our emotions.”