Cantor Jacob Ben-Zion Mendelson is the subject of the documentary film A Cantor’s Tale directed by Erik Greenberg Anjou, currently playing in film festivals throughout the world. In reviewing the film, The New York Times called him, “a voice that heralds a culture… a documentary filmmaker’s dream.” Cantor Mendelson is also featured in the documentary films: 100 Voices, and Journey of Spirit, the film on the life of Debbie Friedman, and the forthcoming Deli Man, directed by Erik Anjou, premiering in Boston, November 2014.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he witnessed the dwindling days of the Golden Age of Hazzanut. Now, as both an international performer and one of the leading cantorial masters of today, he is passing on his art to a new generation of cantors. For over 25 years he has taught at the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music, and the H.L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Cantor Mendelson has the unique honor of receiving honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College.
Cantor Mendelson is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College School of Sacred Music and the American Opera Center at the Juilliard School. He is the composer of Weekday Mincha and Maariv and Improvisations on Shabbat Shacharit published by the Cantors Assembly, the organization in which he served as president in 2003 and 2004.
Mendelson created the role of Shabtai Tz’vi in the world premiere of Richard Teitelbaum’s Scenes From Tz’vi held at both Bard College and La Biennale in Venice. After a Carnegie Hall concert, the New York Times raved: “Mendelson’s performance was stunning….emotionally unguarded.” In January 2006, he sang the memorial prayer at the United Nations General Assembly, on the occasion of the first international day to Commemorate Victims of the Holocaust.
Cantor Mendelson’s discography includes Cantorial Recitatives by Legendary Masters, The Birthday of the World Part I and Part II, A Taste of Eternity, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, Jewish Music and More, recorded with his wife, cantor Fredda Mendelson, Hazonos, called “…jazz album of the year” by Wired Magazine, recorded with Frank London and his son, Daniel Mendelson, and most recently, Further definitions of the Days of Awe, with the Afro Semitic Experience, also featuring his son Daniel.
Having recently retired from the full-time pulpit at Temple Israel Center in White Plains in 2014, Cantor Mendelson intends to expose his artistry to a much broader audience through concerts, scholar-in-residence programs, and speaking engagements. Some of the “irons in the fire” are The Cantor’s Couch—a one-man show written by Mark Bieler, with original music by Jonathan Comisar, which begins previews in Los Angeles January 2015, and a sequel to the film A Cantor’s Tale, currently in pre-production, directed by Erik Anjou.