Adrienne Cooper, 65, an American-born singer, teacher, and curator of Yiddish music who was a pioneer in the effort to keep the embers of that language smoldering for newer generations, died Sunday of adrenal cancer in New York.
Although the movement Ms. Cooper helped start in the 1970s and '80s was often described as a Yiddish revival, less sentimental observers acknowledged that a true revival of the spoken language among secular Jews was unlikely, given that people who had learned it in their homes, such as Holocaust survivors and children of turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants, were dying out. But because of the teaching and organizational work of Ms. Cooper and a handful of others, klezmer has become a popular current of the music mainstream and Yiddish courses are given at scores of colleges.
"She was in a way the mother of the revival," said her friend Alicia Svigals, a klezmer violinist.
Ms. Cooper, blessed with a lush, expressive mezzo-soprano and a crusader's fervor, shepherded dozens of young performers into Yiddish music and its bedrock culture.
She was one of the two founders of KlezKamp, which since 1985 has convened annually in late December in the Catskills and become an incubator of klezmer musicians like the clarinetist Michael Winograd and a floating academy of Yiddish culture.
Ms. Cooper was an inveterate performer, singing about vagabond peddlers, Hasidic masters, even gefilte fish. As an ardent feminist, she often sang about the struggles of women.
Ms. Cooper was born in Oakland, Calif., into an English-speaking household. But she was surrounded by Jewish music - her mother, Buni, performed in opera and musical theater, her grandfather was a synagogue prayer leader, and her grandmother made wax discs of Yiddish folk songs.