Children of the John Hughes generation know Mare Winningham as the earnest-faced innocent from St. Elmo’s Fire (cue David Foster’s evocative love theme); or as Meredith Grey’s doomed stepmother on Grey’s Anatomy. (Oops, I guess that was a spoiler. Sorry. My bad.)
But there are three other things you need to know about Winningham these days:
1) She’s Jewish.
2) She’s a bluegrass singer.
3) She’s developing a new sound, called….Jewgrass.
Five years ago, Mare (yes, we’re friends now that she’s Jewish, so I call her by her first name) converted to Judaism. According to a recent article in Los Angeles’ Jewish Journal, Mare began her life as a Catholic, progressed to secularism and atheism before making the decision to learn about religion, so she could know what she was rejecting. What followed was a process of struggling with God, which led her to discover Judaism and become a “cheerleader for the Torah.” She’s taking Hebrew, toward the goal of reading the Bible in the original. She celebrates the Jewish Sabbath, with its “ritualizing, literally, the breaking of bread…. Shabbat fed me literally and figuratively, and I found myself finding my way to God through this very earthly endeavor of feeding my family.”
Mare’s new album, “Refuge Rock Sublime,” contains songs with titles like “Etz Chaim” (Tree of Life) and “A Convert Jig,” as well as “Hatikva,” the Israeli National Anthem. In a recent interview in the Jewish Week, she described the album as her “love affair with Judaism.”
“I wanted to do a devotional record since I converted,” she noted in the interview, saying that she “thought country music from a Jewish perspective would be fun.”
(Unfortunately TMZ already stole the “from Brat Pack to Glatt Pack” pun.)