Amy Horowitz: Activist

BY LEE ANN SANDWEISS

Amy Horowitz remembers the day she became an activist.

“My family had moved from the East Coast to a Catholic neighborhood in Champaign, Illinois, where my brother and sister and I were the only Jewish students in our school.” When her fourth-grade teacher asked Horowitz to explain Hanukkah to the entire school, she recalls, “I realized many people had misconceptions about Jews.” For Horowitz—now a visiting scholar-in-residence at Indiana University’s Center for the Study of Global Change—“the experience taught me about being ‘other.’ I have been working on that ever since.”

“Working on that” has translated into a career at the intersection of music, social activism, and scholarship. An antiwar activist in high school, Horowitz found herself at the forefront of the burgeoning women’s music movement in 1974 when she met activist singer/songwriter Holly Near while attending Southern Oregon College.

“I helped produce a concert for Holly in Ashland, Oregon, and she told me to look her up when I graduated,” says Horowitz. “In 1975, I got in my yellow truck and drove to L.A. to help her with her record company, Redwood Records. Holly was interested in finding intersections between marginalized groups and working on social issues like the environment, racism, war, and gay and women’s rights.”

A year later, Horowitz met Bernice Johnson Reagon, who had recently started the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. For 17 years, Horowitz served as the group’s artist representative. Sweet Honey became an international sensation, and the job led to work with other progressive artists, including Laura Nyro, Pete Seeger, June Jordan, and Harry Belafonte. Still, Horowitz was ready to “work on” something new.

“Bernice was the one who suggested that I go to graduate school. She said I should take what I learned with Sweet Honey and look at something that was hard for me. So I picked Israel,” says Horowitz. She created The Jerusalem Project, an engagement among Israeli and Palestinian scholars, artists, and students that continues today.

Horowitz received a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 and went to work at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings where she served as acting director and received a Grammy Award for co-producing that label’s CD reissue of Anthology of American Folk Music in 1997.

In 2010, Horowitz and her violinist daughter, Ariel, now 16, moved to Bloomington so that Ariel could continue her studies at the Jacobs School of Music. At IU, Horowitz teaches human rights and “Living Jerusalem,” an experiential course sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Middle East that uses blogs, videoconferences, and other media to examine the lives of the city’s diverse residents. Last year, her innovative approach earned her an Excellence in Teaching award.

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