May 12, 2024
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May 12, 2024
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Spotlight on Orthodox Grammy Winner Linda Korn

Linda Korn

The fact that there were plenty of Jewish people on this year’s list of Grammy nominees and winners is nothing new. However, sitting in the audience that night was multi-Grammy winner Linda Leah Korn, an observant Jewish woman who was there that evening as a nominee for the audiobook she produced, “It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism,” by Bernie Sanders, published by Penguin Random House.

A senior executive producer for audiobooks at Penguin Random House, Korn has been producing audiobooks for about 35 years, and her first Grammy-win was for her role as an associate producer on Gilda Radner’s audiobook, “It’s Always Something.” The list of people with whom she has worked is long, diverse and impressive— James Woods, Tovah Feldshuh, John Lithgow, Kevin Hart, Pope Francis and the late Elizabeth Montgemery.

Not just another form of entertainment, audiobooks, Korn explained, have a much wider reach now than ever. They first came on the scene to serve the visually-impaired community, but now play a vital role in our society. “They serve as a legitimate form of reading, entertainment and education. Besides being an accessible form of books to those who enjoy ‘reading’ while doing something else, or who digest story and content best aurally, and for so many commuters and families on the road, audiobooks have become and continue to develop as an entertaining, immersive listening experience. Stories connect people and the human voice connects us even more so.”

Linda Korn walks the red carpet at the 2024 Grammy Awards.

Korn fondly recalled directing Lily Tomlin for the the audiobook “The World According to Mr. Rogers” (which was nominated for a Grammy but didn’t win) and is particularly proud of her Grammy win for the audiobook “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.”

Grammy awards for audiobooks are handed out during the non-televised pre-show. When Ruby Dee was called up to accept the award, “she accepted the award and then called me up to the stage during her acceptance speech,” said Korn. “I think that was probably the highlight for me out of any of these award shows because when someone is so grateful to you for helping them actualize their project, then that is very rewarding knowing that I helped make it happen.”

She directed legendary comedic actor Steve Martin’s Grammy-nominated audiobook “The Pleasure of My Company” and called it one of the biggest highlights of her career. At one point, joking with Korn, he said she must usually get a professional to do this type of work. To which she replied, “And you are?“ which made him laugh. “I made Steve Martin laugh!”

Korn continued: “Even though I know that I am good at what I do, I also know that these performers are amazing at what they do but they don’t know me and have never worked with me so a trust has to be built between us.” There was a point during the recording session with Martin where she felt she had to give him a piece of direction for some dialogue, and he graciously agreed with her. “I had just given Steve Martin a piece of direction and he took it and played it and then he got nominated for a Grammy!”

Another highlight of her career was meeting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg while recording the forward she had written for Justice Antonin Scalia’s posthumously published “Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived.”

“Meeting a woman who had such an impact on women’s lives and laws in this country was incredibly impactful.” Doing the recording in the Supreme Court Building surrounded by portraits of all the justices, Korn described it as one of the most powerful experiences she has ever had.

Korn has also been instrumental in bringing notable Jewish writers and speakers to audio listeners, including Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, z”l. Korn produced and directed Jungreis’ book “Life is a Test: How to Meet Life’s Challenges Successfully,’’ which was narrated by Jewish convert Mare Winningham.

Linda Korn at the 2024 Audie Awards, recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken-word entertainment.

“You don’t have a lot of experiences like that working in the secular world,” said Korn. “Rebbetzin Jungreis was someone who showed me how to be unapologetic about who you are and what you need to do when you need to do it.”

Korn is also responsible for introducing audio listeners to Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser’s “Living a Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream,” narrated by actor Jonathan Silverman.

Through Korn’s connections, she introduced Rabbi David Aaron, dean rosh yeshiva of Orayta and prolific author, into the world of audiobooks, and recently produced Torah scholar Avivah Zornberg’s “The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus.” She was also sent to Israel to produce author Ayelet Tsabari’s book “The Art of Leaving: A Memoir.”

“Something that has been really transformative for me and has grown with me is my passion for the human voice,” Korn reflected. “To me, there is nothing more Jewish than the human voice, and I feel that the voice is in some way connected to the soul because the world was created with breath. I find recording someone’s voice to be a very personal way to tell stories.

“Jewish people are inherently storytellers and that it is a very powerful way to be in the world every day, to be listening to voices and to be thinking about what people want to say and helping them say it out loud in a way that is going to represent their story and their book, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. So I think it gives purpose to the kind of work that I am doing.

“After all the years of my own growth, I’m still learning and practicing to be a good human in the world. But what I’ve learned works best is to show up as yourself, unapologetically, ask for what you need, get the job done well, and don’t compromise your values… It’s critical to one’s growth and success in every area of life to stay grounded and connected to your faith, your values and your way in the world, while staying humble, as flexible as possible, and nonjudgmental of others.”

Ronit Mershon is a staff writer at The Jewish Link.

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