On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Malka Marom (Jan. 21, 1936 – ), Joso Spralja (May 23, 1929 – Aug. 8, 2017)

MALKA & JOSO, Folksingers

Sept. 25, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

One of the joys of writing Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note is that I get many suggestions from many people from many places about many musicians.

My long-time Ottawa friend David Dunlop nominated Malka & Joso by reminding me that he was “smitten” by Malka when he was a host at Expo ’67’s Canada pavilion in Montreal. Recalled Dunlop: “I met Malka Himel (as the Canadian Encyclopedia lists her surname) when she and Joso were playing there. I invited her as my date to celebrate at the Canada Day party for the hosts and hostesses of all the national pavilions. After that, I never saw her again.”

A Holocaust survivor, Malka Marom and her Polish parents came to Palestine when she was six weeks old. As a child, she debuted in The Village Tale, the first Israeli-produced TV movie. And as a teenager, she loved folk dancing and singing in the Dalia Festival.

Malka moved to Toronto in the early 1960s, got married and ultimately formed half of the folk singing duo Malka & Joso with fellow singer, Croatian-born Joso Spralja. They are credited with “bringing ‘ethnic’ music to Canada for the first time and never tried passing as WASPs,” Robert Everett-Green wrote in The Globe and Mail.

Joso (who was not Jewish) arrived in Canada from Croatia in 1962 and was introduced to Malka by guitarist Eli Kassner (who later played lead guitar on all of Malka’s recordings) at an after-hours club in Toronto’s Yorkville district, called The 71. Thus began a partnership as an eclectic-world folk music duo, with their first performance at Toronto’s Lord Simcoe Hotel in 1963, followed by tours across Canada, the U.S. and UK.

Malka was the spokesperson for the twosome, since Joso knew little English. She introduced their songs and translated the lyrics, inventing storylines to augment the numbers that made up each set.

They played the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1964 with Ian & Sylvia, Jerry Gray and The Travellers, and Gordon Lightfoot.

They were signed by Capitol EMI Canada, the result of an introduction made by iconic retailer Sam (“The Record Man”) Sniderman. Their first album, Introducing Malka & Joso, included guitarist Rafael Nunez and bassist Fred Muscat.

“They recorded each song as if it was performed live – vocals and instrumentals in one take, producing enough material for two albums,” wrote Croatia.org. They released three additional albums: Mostly Love Songs (which won an RPM Award in 1965, when the duo won the year’s Best Folk Group); Jewish Songs – Hebrew & English and Malka & Joso – Folk Songs From Around the World.

In 1966, they headlined a weekly CBC-TV series called Malka & Joso’s a World of Music TV, “which projected an image of cosmopolitanism that is perfect,” wrote Toronto Star music critic Robert Fulford. 

The duo parted ways in 1967, with Joso becoming a celebrity restaurateur. Malka continued singing on her own. Between tours, she hosted, wrote and sang on the weekly CBC Radio show, Song of Our People and CITY TV’s weekly show Mosaic.

Over the years, she interviewed Pablo Casals (three months before he died at 96), Leonard Cohen, Moshe Dayan, Joni Mitchell, Nana Mouskouri and Gilles Vigneault. She was nominated five times for ACTRA Awards, winning one for her eight-hour radio documentary, The Bite of the Big Apple.

Malka wrote her first novel, Sulha during tour of the Sinai. It was lauded by Canadian critics. The Jerusalem Post reported, “Rare in the avalanche of books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of which take a stand. Sulha gives every side its say in the infinitely complex situation.” She told the Post, “I refused to make it simple. Life is not simple, nor is forgiveness, reconciliation and peace, especially in the Middle East.”

Her second book, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words, was published in 2014, and Conversation with Leonard Cohen in 2015.

A CD retrospective of their music was released in 2001. Famed tenor Andrea Bocelli “could learn a lot from Joso,” pronounced the Globe and Mail. “But Joso probably would not have been as effective without Malka’s alto sung in such an intimate way as to make it seem like the sound of drying salt water tears or full-throated, like a field worker with both feet in the soil.”

Married and living in Toronto, Malka is the proud mother of two sons: TV and film documentary producer Martin Himel, who lives in Tel Aviv, and Daniel Marom, an educator living in Jerusalem.

She’s currently writing a book about Malka & Joso. The focus, she told me, “is about our contribution to creating a better understanding of the challenges facing immigrants coming to Canada.”


David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary

On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Sharon Hampson (Mar. 31, 1943 – ); Lois Lilienstein (July 10, 1936 – April 23, 2015); Bramwell Morrison (Dec. 18, 1940 – )

Sharon, Lois & Bram – Children’s Music Trio, Family Entertainers

Sept. 15, 2020 – By: DAVID EISENSTADT

Skinnamarinky dinky dink
Skinnamarinky do,
I love you!

Kids, parents and grandparents the world over love that memorable tune, thanks to the inspired creativity of three Toronto Jewish actors/singers/musicians, Sharon, Lois & Bram, who sang those easy-to-remember but differently-spelled lyrics.

“That word actually means nothing,” confides supersimple.com. “It’s just a silly, made-up word originally from an early 20th century Broadway musical, and over the years, it has been sung (spelled) as skinnamarink, skinnymarink, skinnymerink, and more.”

At a recent Shabbat dinner, friends Marilyn and Frank Kisluk said their three-year old granddaughter loves the song, prompting me to look at this trio’s musical contributions, which generates lots of memories and smiles.

The threesome met in the mid-‘70s at a Mariposa in the Schools program, according to Jason Ankey, writing in artistdirect.com, and they shared a common philosophy of creating quality music for people of all ages.

A&M distributed their first album One Elephant, Deux Éléphants. With that, the pachyderm became an important visual element throughout the group’s 42-year career.

Sharon’s daughter, Randi Hampson, said Lois often joked that the trio lost their last names when they became Sharon, Lois & Bram. Hampson told me that for their first live performance, they borrowed a costume from a touring production of Babar, “and that’s when the dancing elephant made its first appearance.”

They had several elephant friends over the years on tour, appearing on their The Elephant Show, which aired on the CBC in the 1980s, and later on U.S. cable network Nickelodeon through 1996, featuring 30-minute episodes with children’s entertainer Eric Nagler.

They also worked with other children’s stars, including Raffi and Fred Penner. The show attracted other well-known performers and morphed into a second series called Skinnamarink TV, broadcast on the CBC and the Learning Channel in the United States from 1997-99.

They performed in major concert venues around the globe and headlined many stage and screen gigs. The trio were named Goodwill Ambassadors for UNICEF in 1988, and in 1996, were appointed spokespersons for UNICEF Canada’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Sharon Trostin
Sharon Trostin

Born in 1943 and raised in Toronto, Sharon Trostin started singing in coffeehouses and at hootenannies across North America as a teenager. She married Joe Hampson of the Canadian Travelers and had two children. A three-time survivor of breast cancer, Sharon is one of the founders of Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada and has spoken publicly about her journey. She also speaks about the importance of music for children and their families. In 2007, she received the YWCA’s Woman of Distinction Award.

Lois Ada Goldberg
Lois Ada Goldberg

Chicago-born Lois Ada Goldberg was a classically-trained singer and pianist who studied music at the University of Michigan, where she met her future husband, Ernest Lilienstein. They moved to Toronto, where he taught sociology at York University. They raised one son. She retired from touring with the trio in 2000. 

Lois, said Randi Hampson, would occasionally appear for special charity events, the last of which was an outdoor concert in Toronto to celebrate an outdoor playground named in their honour. A music garden followed after Lois died in 2015 at age 78.

Bramwell Morrison
Bramwell Morrison

Bramwell Morrison, born Toronto in 1940, began playing coffee houses in the 1960s with iconic Canadian folksinger Alan Mills, who inspired him to become a music teacher. In 1975, Bram met Sharon and Lois at the Mariposa program and they began to play as a group. He and Sharon celebrated the trio’s 40th anniversary with a farewell tour in 2018, then retired from touring in December 2019 after releasing their first duo album, Sharon & Bram and Friends.

In 2002, they became members of the Order of Canada; Lois was named an honourary member as a non-Canadian. Their combined career track record includes numerous awards. The group produced 17 recordings, three songbooks, many compilations and a best-selling picture book, Sharon, Lois & Bram’s Skinnamarink. Their one-year TV series in 1997 was called Skinnamarink TV. In 2020, a Sharon, Lois & Bram YouTube channel was successfully launched.

Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Sharon has been performing virtually with daughter Randi, a family law lawyer who said she’s looking forward to returning to in-person, live performances.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.