One has had her own cabaret show in New York and Philadelphia. Another got her big break as a jazz singer in New Orleans. And the third is a cantor at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland.
Meet “Schaffer, Schaffer and Gray-Schaffer” — the mother/daughter/sister-in-law trio that will perform for the first time together Wednesday, July 28, at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
“I think it’s going to be a hoot,” said Michele Gray-Schaffer, who became invested as a cantor last year, and frequently leads the congregation at Rodef Shalom.
The program, which is part of Rodef Shalom’s Goldstein Entertainment Series, is called “Schaffer, Schaffer and Gray-Schaffer Sing the Songs of the Greatest Generation.” It will be a tribute to Gray-Schaffer’s mother-in-law, Bee Schaffer, who died last March.
Gray-Schaffer, who has also performed opera and musical theater, is jazzed about the opportunity to perform with her daughter and sister-in-law, and to do songs not in her usual repertoire, including the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Guy Mitchell’s “There’s a Pawn Shop on the Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
Other pieces to be performed include Fats Wallers’ “Ain’t Misbehavin,” Ella Fitzgerald’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Ethel Merman’s “The Hostess with the Mostest.”
“It’s really going to be a varied show,” Gray-Schaffer said. “Some of the songs are songs she ‘Bee Schaffer’ really loved, and some are songs from her era.”
While Gray-Schaffer’s operatic style differs from that of her daughter, Abby, and her sister-in-law, Melissa, the women are excited to raise their voices together.
“I think it’s all going to fit together,” Abby said. “I think we all have styles that complement each other.”
Abby Schaffer and her band, Melpomene, have been performing at clubs in and around Pittsburgh for a couple years. She sang with the son of Aaron Neville, of the Neville Brothers, and Norman Caesar while living in New Orleans from 2002-2007.
Melissa Schaffer has a degree in theater from Boston University, and has performed in musicals off-Broadway and regionally. She also had her own cabaret show, and, like her sister-in-law, works as a musical soloist at two synagogues in New Jersey. She has also performed gospel, and completed a course in spiritual chant leadership under the tutelage of Rabbi Shefa Gold. She is looking forward to singing with her niece and sister-in-law.
“This will be the first time we have performed together,” said Melissa Schaffer. “I believe singing is healing for anyone that does it, whether they sing in the shower or in a group.
She added, “What surprised me most when I was in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago [rehearsing], was the joy I experienced singing with Abby and Michele. It was just very pure. That’s a feeling that’s very difficult to attain. Pure unadulterated joy. It’s just an amazing thing.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)