The amazing grace of David D’or

US President Barack Obama to join the long list of world leaders who have witnessed the singer's vocal magic.

David D'or 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
David D'or 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For someone who’s performed in front of popes and kings on stages around the world, David D’or still gets nervous before big shows.
When the gifted, four-octave singer goes into his rendition of the American folk classic “Amazing Grace” Thursday night in front of US President Barack Obama, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the roomful of dignitaries attending the state dinner in Obama’s honor, he’ll have an extra issue to contend with besides the VIPs.
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“There’s no stage in the room,” said the 47-year-old D’or. “It’s not exactly a hall, so I’m going to be just standing there in the same place where the guests are sitting. I’ll probably close my eyes so I don’t get too embarrassed.”
Anyone who’s heard D’or sing knows there’s no reason for any eyes to close, especially the vocalist’s. Raised in Holon in a family of immigrants from Libya, D’or realized he possessed a gift as a child, and worked on it through his army service in the IDF Central Command entertainment troupe, and later in the classical music department of the Jerusalem Conservatory.
From his days in the late 1980s performing in musicals at the Habima Theater to his subsequent extraordinary recording and concert career, D’or reputation as Israel’s most acclaimed singer has been proven time and time again, whether he’s taking on pop, klezmer, classical, opera, cantorial... or American spiritual music.
The list of leaders who have witnessed his vocal magic includes Pope John Paul II in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI in Jerusalem, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the king and queen of Sweden at the Swedish Royal Palace in Stockholm, Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, among others.
When he was asked, along with Rita, to perform at the official dinner for Obama, D’or wasn’t initially told who he’d be singing for.
“I received a phone call from a wonderful woman named Yona in the President’s Residence asking me to save the date of March 21,” said D’or. “I asked her why, and she said, ‘It’s still a secret, but I’ll let you know soon.’ So, I only found out a few days before it was announced last week, and of course, it was a great honor for me. I’m very excited.”
D’or’s version of “Amazing Grace” has become internationally known, after he performed the song twice in recent years at official gatherings in the US, including the main ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in New York.
“It was a very moving moment for me – to see all these ambassadors from all over the world listening to a Jew from Israel singing “Amazing Grace,’” said D’or.
He also performed the song in 2008 at a celebration honoring Martin Luther King’s birthday at a church in Harlem via special request from King’s son before an audience that included former president Clinton.
For Thursday night’s performance, D’or was hoping to take the notch up a bit and provide an even more stirring rendition of the well-known song.
“‘Amazing Grace’ is such a beautiful song, but it’s also much more than that – it represents values of freedom and equality, and the victory of the spirit,” he said.
“So because of that, I want to give it something special, and try to let the song flow through me, as an Israeli and as a Jewish person. I’m trying to find a way to touch the heart of the listener, and bring myself – my soul actually – to the song.”
D’or’s pure vocals will be accompanied by piano and violin in an arrangement that will nudge the song into a more acoustic, classical vein.
He’s been rehearsing daily and, aware of the significance of the event, is not leaving anything to chance.
“Of course, there’s a different feeling when you’re performing, but in other ways it’s the same. For me, singing is the language of my heart; it’s a part of me, and singing for people is a great gift that I thank God for every day.
“For me, people are people, but because of the ceremony surrounding this performance and this historical value of it being the first visit to Israel by Obama as president, there’s more at stake. And I’m singing for President Peres, whom I like so much. I think he’s amazing, and I’m so proud that he’s my president. To sing for these two really important people adds extra value.”
While D’or is content to provide the entertainment at the state dinner, he’s hoping that he’ll be able to exchange greetings with the American leader.
“I have so many things I would say to him, but I think I would say ‘thank you’ and to keep making an effort to bring peace to the world and our region,” he said. “I think it must be very difficult to be in his position with everybody looking to him as if he’s going to bring change where nobody has succeeded before, but I hope that it happens.
We need peace more than anything.”
And a message to Peres? D’or has another lofty aspiration.
“I hear that Barbra Streisand is coming for his 90th birthday party at the President’s Conference in June. I’d love to sing “Aveinu Malkeinu” with her. Have you heard her version? It’s wonderful. I also recorded it with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. I think that would be a very beautiful moment for me if she’d agree to sing it with me.”
If that happens, D’or will likely keep his eyes wide open.