Richard Neil Kaplan (Shlomo Natan ben Menakhem Mendel v’Nekhamah) was born into a musical family and began singing professionally at age 14, fronting R&B bands in his native Los Angeles.
His mother was an aspiring jazz singer as a young woman, and his father, an orthodox Jew from Rochester NY, loved to davven; his maternal grandfather, Yossele Spiegelman was born in Warsaw, Poland and was an excellent Yiddish singer and lover of Yiddish theatre; and his older brother was a musical prodigy who played guitar with Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Little Richard, Lou Rawls, Peggy Lee, and the Miles Davis/Gil Evans Big Band.
Early on, a friend opened up Richard’s musical horizons by playing him recordings from around the world, leading at age 19 to his joining “The Morning of the World,” a vocal ensemble specializing in ethnic-based music which was signed by the Elektra and A&M record labels.
Cantor Kaplan went on to earn a BA in Ethnomusicology at UCLA, followed by a Master’s Degree in Musicology from UC Berkeley, with an emphasis on Baroque vocal technique, harpsichord, and choral conducting.
Wanting to “do” music rather than merely to “speak” on the subject for a lifetime, Cantor Kaplan started to write his own material and work as a jazz pianist. He lived in Manhattan for a time, performing the Gershwin, Ellington, and Porter songbooks for a livelihood. Upon moving back to the West Coast, he spent seven years as a Professor of Music at Skyline Community College, teaching a course called “Sacred Musics of the Worlds” at JFK University, New College of San Francisco, and acting as choral conductor for the Albany Adult School Choir. Throughout this busy period, Cantor Kaplan was also an impassioned spiritual seeker, immersing himself in Zen Buddhism, Siddha Yoga, and Sufism. He studied with Sifu James Wing Woo, a Taoist teacher of T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Kung Fu, for eight years and later taught Chinese Martial Arts for over a decade.
The seeds of his return to Judaism were planted by an Israeli-born friend and artist who introduced him to the works of Martin Buber and to Zohar. Cantor Kaplan was inspired to keep the Sabbath and Holy Days, study Torah, and to immerse himself in the music of his forbearers. Over time, he embarked upon the cantor’s path, absorbing the traditional liturgy during a three-year apprenticeship with Conservative Hazzan Mark Dinkin. In 1997, Cantor Kaplan was named cantor of Temple Beth Abraham, a culmination of a lifelong journey to bring together his spiritual longings with his musical calling. He feels utterly blessed and deeply honored to be able to davven to the Ultimate One as his vocation.
His life is now mainly concerned with Jewish music, practice, and study. He has recorded two albums dedicated to Jewish traditions from throughout the Diaspora, “Tuning The Soul” (1999) and “Life Of The Worlds” (2003) and his third CD “The Hidden One,” was released in February 2009.