Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Walt Disney - America's producer/songwriter AL KASHA has rubbed shoulders with most of the greats. Yet it's his Christian faith which is most important to the Hollywood veteran. Al spoke to Mike Rimmer.
Al Kasha's talent is bigger than his name. In Britain, it would be safe to say that he isn't a household name but when you look at the man's CV, it isn't difficult to be mightily impressed. Deep breath and a quick run down of some of the highlights then... He started life writing songs for Jackie Wilson in the early 60s and was part of the Brill Building school of writers alongside Goffin and King, Paul Simon, Neil Sedaka et al; he was the youngest record producer at CBS Records and produced Aretha Franklin's first CBS record. In a career that can only be described as varied, he even worked as an executive for Disney. He won an Oscar for writing the song "The Morning After" which was the theme from the 'Poseidon Adventure'. Now if one Oscar is enough for most men, it wasn't enough for Al Kasha who then won another for "We May Never Love Like This Again" from the Towering Inferno'. These two awards for writing love songs for disaster movies led to Kasha and his writing partner being christened the masters of disasters! He wrote "The Old Fashioned Way" for Charles Aznavour. He wrote for more singers than it would be sensible to list here but just take my word for it, the list is like a who's who of popular music! If that wasn't enough, he even wrote a couple of Tony nominated Broadway musicals, it could be said that Kasha's writing covers the whole spectrum of popular music.
His trip to Britain coincides with the publication of his autobiography 'Jesus, Hollywood And Me'. Reading the book, it's amazing to see how Kasha rose above the circumstances of his life to reach the dizzy heights of critical and commercial acclaim. Raised in a Jewish home, as a child he suffered abuse from his violent alcoholic father and was brought up in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, the entertainment industry provided an escape from this world but it was a difficult journey. At the age of seven he starred in the Broadway production 'Annie Get Your Gun' but it was only when he eventually ran away from home as a teenager that he was able slowly make a life for himself.
Coming from a poor family, he was driven to succeed by his mother's expectations and the fact that his older brother Larry was winning awards for Broadway productions. How did that pressure affect him? "Coming from a poor home," Kasha explains, "hungry fighters will always be successful so because I was hungry and poor, music was a pacifier for me but it moved me into drugs and the rock'n'roll scene. When the record was a hit I felt like somebody, when it wasn't a hit I felt like nobody." The pressure also led to him becoming an agoraphobic and a drug addict for a long period of time.
I asked Kasha to describe how it felt. "I was so bound and suffered so terribly, I lived in my bedroom. I was so trapped and I had given up on life. I went on pills to try and keep calm and finally what happened was that my wife and I separated because things got so bad. I moved into a friend's apartment and watching television one night I hit the station Trinity Broadcasting. Robert Schuller was on and he said, 'God's perfect love casts out fear' and in front of a TV set in October 1978, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I'm a Jew and it was a big step!"
After suffering for years with agoraphobia, Kasha slowly rebuilt his life claiming the grace of God to overcome his fears. His wife also gave her life to Jesus and they were reunited. They began to attend Debby Boone's Bible study which met in the street where they lived and a few months later the study moved to Kasha's house. Bob Dylan became a Christian there.
It's comforting to know that even in Hollywood there are Christians reaching out to those who are involved in the entertainment industry. Kasha is one of those and during our conversation it made me smile at how he could mention in passing various household names he had befriended and with whom he had shared Jesus. Recently he led actor Steven Seagal to the Lord and Kasha also happened to let slip that he led Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier to Jesus as well.
To help other agoraphobics, Kasha has put together an organisation called Faith Over Fear to help other sufferers. What are the keys to healing? "Grace and surrender are the single most important things," Al says, "You must surrender your life to God. Now I know where I am going, I have a mission in life. Life is a compass and not a clock! I get excited by seeing people being delivered and healed from agoraphobia and fears."
Now Kasha is a Christian who has worked within the Christian music industry. He likes to write inspirational songs. "I wrote the music for 'China Cry' and these days I'm writing more gospel songs but to be a gospel song is something that reaches beyond the Christian church. If I can be so opinionated, I think a great Christian song should reach the whole world and not just the Christian world."
Kasha's time is taken up with music and ministry to those who need delivery from fears. For a man who has reached the pinnacle of his profession, Al Kasha has a very humble approach to his work as he describes it. "I am just another vessel that will be remembered for a short time but I would like to be remembered for God using me because he delivered me to help set others free."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.