Susan Watts, Artistic Director

Susan Watts represents the youngest generation of an important Klezmer dynasty that reaches back to the Jewish Ukraine of the 19th century, beginning with her maternal great-grandfather, musician, composer, cornet-player, and poet, Joseph Hoffman. Susan is the sole living purveyor of the family’s traditional Klezmer-style trumpet sounds which electrified audiences for decades. Susan and the Hoffman family are the featured stars of several televised documentaries. 

Over the course of her career, Susan has played with a variety of noted Klezmer musicians from around the world. She’s recorded and performed with Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, Henkus Netsky,  the Klezmer Concervatory Band, The Klezmatics, So-Called, Claire Barry, Mandy Pitankin, Dudu Fischer, Mikveh, Shtreimel, The Klez Dispensers, and others. She also performed for many years with her mother, the great Klezmer drummer Elaine Hoffman Watts, in their Philadelphia-based group, the Fabulous Shpielkehs.

In addition to being a trumpeter and vocalist, Susan is a composer and arranger. She fills her repertoire with pieces from the Hoffman family repository: generations of Klezmer compositions from her great-grandfather and grandfather, plus her own additions to the family cannon. She has been commissioned to compose Klezmer for Amsterdam’s Fiddle Kapelye and the American Composers Forum. As one of the leading Klezmer trumpet players of the modern Klezmer scene, Susan has taught at Klezmer festivals in the United States, Canada, England and France.

Susan is the recipient of a 2015 Pew Fellowship in the Arts and was awarded two Leeway Foundation grants for projects focused on using Klezmer music as a social change agent. 

Her contributions to the present day landscape of Klezmer reach beyond the stage and rehearsal rooms. Being a fourth generation Klezmer makes her unique. This, along with her passion for Yiddish culture, Klezmer music and its history, have informed her life’s journey to this moment, including her decision to found the Community Klezmer Initiative in Philadelphia several years ago, through which she carries the mantle of keeping Klezmer vital and dynamic, and in the forefront of contemporary Jewish cultural experience.