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Playing the Gold Standards
Julie Gold is exhilarated at the prospect of playing a concert near her old Bryn Mawr stomping grounds. Her excitement crackles through the phone line as she name-checks the Ludington Library, where she spent countless hours as a child, and the long-gone Main Point on Lancaster Avenue. “What a sacred place that was,” the 57-year-old singer-songwriter best known for the song, “From a Distance” exclaims. “I saw Cat Stevens and Hall and Oates there, and I opened for Livingston Taylor there!”
The Havertown native will be performing at the Bryn Mawr Gazebo on June 15. The concert will be a family affair: Gold’s older brother, Danny, is the bassist in the night’s opening act, Beats Walkin’, one of the region’s top Texas-style swing bands.
According to Danny Gold, 59, who is also the proprietor of Danny’s Guitar Shop in Narberth and the host of “Danny’s Guitar Shop” on WHYY-TV, this will be the first time the two have appeared onstage together since he played with Julie at the old Khyber Pass in Old City while the two were Temple University students in the 1970s — “almost 40 years ago now,” he recalls.
The siblings,in separate interviews, repeatedly talk in almost identical terms about how important and supportive the other was to their lives and careers. They both say they owe their musical lives to their father, Aaron, the son of Russian immigrants, and mother, Ann, who came to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1930 with her mother and father, who was an Orthodox rabbi in Moscow.
They insisted their children take up instruments at an early age. “Neither one of them were musicians,” Danny Gold says. “They just loved music. They took part in our synagogue shows like Fiddler on the Roof — they just loved that world. For some families, it was sports; with us, it was music.”
The other formative element for the Golds, the siblings say: Camp Harlam in the Poconos. They each talked at length about how the Reform movement camp’s emphasis on musicality influenced them during their summers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Danny Gold remembers frequently coming upon Julie at the camp piano. “She would have her devotees gathered around, listening to new songs she had written.”
Julie Gold sounds transported when talking about her camp experience. “You’re at the chapel on the hill, looking over the landscape, the green, rolling hills — and Debbie Freedman” — the late influential singer-songwriter who put out 22 albums of Jewish music — “was my song leader!”
She, like brother Danny, counts fellow campers among her closest friends to this day, and she still returns to the camp on a regular basis. She laments, however, the changes. “I used to love singing outside in the chapel, but all of the melodies have changed, the trees are taller and there are all these new buildings — but the sound of the pebbles under my feet are the same.”
For his part, Danny Gold pursued a career in education and camping, even as he continued to play in numerous bands upon graduating from Temple. He taught in Philadelphia schools and worked his way up the Harlam ladder, eventually becoming assistant director for the 1979 and 1980 seasons, under former director Arie Gluck.
Julie Gold, meanwhile, devoted herself post-college to making it in the music industry in New York — with the blessing of her parents. “They didn’t even encourage me to have a fall-back plan,” she recalls, her voice warmed by the memory of that unconditional love. “I couldn’t fail because of the love I had. If I brought home a ‘C’ in school, my mother would tell me the teacher was crazy. They saw my dedication and they believed in my belief in myself.”
That belief paid off beyond all expectations with the success of “From a Distance,” which netted her the 1991 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. The song, which came out during the first Gulf War, has been played over 4 million times on the radio. It has been recorded by everyone from Bette Midler to Cliff Richard to Judy Collins, and remains her greatest success. Two decades later, she still sounds in awe of its impact.
“I’ll tell you the truth: To this day, I can’t even believe it,” she says from her home in Manhattan. To her, the song “is a miracle, and it did happen to me. I know I wrote it, but I think I was just chosen as the messenger, and now I am the steward. I am forever grateful that it is a song that continues to touch people.”
While Danny and Julie Gold continue to perform and record for their audiences, including Danny’s regular gig as the bassist for a monthly Kabbalat Shabbat service at Main Line Reform Temple, they each say that teaching children has become one of their most important and satisfying accomplishments. Danny’s Guitar Shop has become known throughout the area for its music teachers. And his sister has been writing songs for a learning initiative of Oxford University Press called “Everybody Up,” which teaches English as a foreign language through songs.
“I was chosen along with four others to write songs for the curriculum,” Julie Gold explains. “I could only use the vocabulary words that were used in specific lessons, and I had to write everything to be sung only from A below middle C to C above middle C — kids can’t sing anything else.
“It’s the most important thing I have ever done,” she continues. “My mother came to America knowing no English, and now I’m involved in teaching English all over the world.”