It's unusual for a vocalist to land a major-label recording contract on the basis of a video on social media, but that's not all that sets Shulem apart from the typical singing star. He is the first artist from the Orthodox Hasidic community to be signed to a major American label deal with a repertoire that runs the gamut from cantorial music to show tunes to crossover classical to vintage pop songs. Despite having no formal training, Shulem's remarkably graceful tenor voice is expressive without being melodramatic. His 2019 debut album, The Perfect Dream, demonstrates how adaptable he is to a variety of styles and influences, reaching beyond his roots in the Belz Hasid community to spread a message of hope to people of all walks of life.
Shulem Lemmer was born in New York City on November 6, 1989. He and his seven older siblings grew up in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, and music filled the Lemmer home, with his father enjoying cantorial music and his mother favoring contemporary Jewish sounds. As a youngster, Shulem learned to play guitar and drums, and his brother Yanky would become a cantor at a synagogue in Manhattan. Shulem spent six-and-a-half years living in Israel, where he began to take music seriously, making his first recordings as a member of a vocal group, and going on to join Brooklyn's celebrated Shira Choir after returning to America. In addition to Yiddish and Hebrew music, Shulem began immersing himself in classical vocal music, in particular the work of Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, then moving on to pop singers such as Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban, and Elton John. By listening to their recordings and learning to mimic their vocal stylings, Shulem developed a keen facility as a singer, and he earned a powerful local reputation, keeping a busy schedule singing at weddings, religious celebrations, and family events.
In 2015, Shulem and other members of Shira posted a video on YouTube of them singing the traditional Passover song "Chad Gadya." As luck would have it, Graham Parker, the General Manager of the successful classical radio station WQXR-FM (not to be confused with the British singer/songwriter of the same name), became President of Universal's family of classical music labels, including Decca Gold. Parker, who had had experience of his own as a cantor, was looking for some Passover music to play for his children and happened upon the clip of Shulem singing "Chad Gadya." He was immediately impressed with Shulem's voice, and set out to find the singer. He tracked Shulem down to his home in Toms River, New Jersey, where he and his wife were raising three children while he held down a day job in marketing. When Parker reached out to him via email, the singer was certain someone was playing a prank on him, but Parker set up a meeting in Brooklyn and discussed the possibility of him recording for Decca Gold. They negotiated a contract that kept Shulem's spiritual guidelines in mind and allowed the artist the freedom to consult his rabbi on his choices of material and performing options. Once both sides reached an agreement, Shulem teamed with producer and arranger Jon Cohen and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to record his debut album, The Perfect Dream, which was released by Decca Gold in November 2019. ~ Mark Deming