On this day: Leonard Cohen is born

September 21 1934: Hallelujah, a musician is born

By Jennifer Lipman, September 21, 2010

Canada’s most famous Jewish singer-songwriter has enjoyed five decades of success, and last year was honoured with a lifetime achievement Grammy.

Born in Montreal, his father Nathan owned a profitable clothing business. Nathan died when his son was nine and left his son enough inheritance money to pursue his creative ambitions.

After studying at McGill University he began writing poetry and published an autobiographical novel The Favourite Game in 1963. In the late 1960s his musical career took off and he became famous for penning folk hits including Suzanne and Famous Blue Raincoat. His song Hallelujah has been covered by everyone from the late Jeff Buckley to the X Factor winner Alexandra Burke.

The singer, whose grandfather was a rabbi, grew up in the thick of the Jewish community and attended a Jewish school. He followed Buddhism for years, but has never lost his Jewish faith and many of his songs deal with religious and spiritual themes.

In September 2009 despite being targeted by anti-Israel boycotters, he performed in Tel Aviv and even recited the Birkat Cohanim — the blessing of the priests – at the concert.

What he told the JC: "I am a Buddhist monk. But I’ve always made a point of saying that I was never looking for a new religion. I found my own completely satisfactory. I studied with other teachers, and I was ordained by my [Buddhist] teacher, but it was a formality, because I wanted to study with him and I wanted to enter into the structure that he had established for his own educational system. To participate fully and respectfully in that tradition, I had to become part of that tradition, and I willingly did so."

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Last updated: 4:06pm, October 13 2010