Legendary Jewish Asleep at the Wheel Frontman Captivates November JAMen Forum
By Jay Rubin
Ray Benson, the legendary Jewish frontman of the Austin-based and Grammy Award-winning western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, captivated a large crowd at the November Jewish Austin Men’s Dinner and Speakers Forum.
Author of the book “Comin’ Right at Ya,” Benson shared his unique and colorful journey from a Jewish Yankee hippie to the heights of the country music world and his deep connection to Austin. The singer, songwriter and guitarist also performed a number of compositions throughout the evening.
Named the Official State Musician in 2004 and Texan of the Year in 2011, Benson is one of the few Jews – and arguably, standing 6 feet 7 inches, also the most visible – in the country music world.
The Philadelphia native also has been deeply engaged in civic and philanthropic endeavors during his nearly half-century in Austin as a founding member of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation; as a fundraiser for aging African-American musicians, the SIMs Foundation, funding mental health care for area musicians and their families, and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians; and while funding medical care for area musicians and their families. He also serves on the board of the St. David’s Community Health Foundation, one of the largest grant makers in Central Texas.
Before Benson’s introduction, longtime AP reporter Jim Vertuno, a JAMen Forum member, shared his experience covering the aftermath of the horrific church shooting in Sutherland Springs Nov. 5. Austin master teacher Sandy Kress, also a JAMen Forum member, then led the gathering in a moment of silence and shared biblical insights on the healing role of music in Jewish tradition.
The Cracker Barrel themed dinner prepared by CAA Kosher Catering Chef John Sutton featured fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbread and peach cobbler with vegan options.
Founded and co-chaired by Burt Kunik and Jay Rubin, and now in its third season, JAMen is open to all Jewish men in the Greater Austin area.
The next program, Wednesday, Dec. 13, “Left vs. Right: The Battle for Israel’s Soul,” features a debate between two prominent journalists. J.J. Goldberg is a longtime editor and writer for The Forward. Jonathan Tobin edited the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, and Commentary Magazine Online. He currently writes for the National Review, New York Post and Israel Hayom. Rabbi Daniel Septimus, Shalom Austin CEO, will serve as debate moderator.
For more information, visit shalomaustin.org/JAMen or contact Carly Karten at 512-735-8044.