Cantor Bob Cohen

Cantor Bob Cohen

Bob Cohen & piano

Bob Cohen & friends

Biography

Cantor Bob Cohen is the cantor at Temple Emanuel in Kingston, New York. He is also Chair of the Ulster County Religious Council. He writes musical settings of Jewish and Christian prayers and has made three CDs. He accompanies himself on piano, accordion, autoharp, and 12-string guitar.

Bob was born in Brooklyn in 1939. He was part of the folk revival of the late Fifties and early Sixties. Still in the Elizabeth Irwin High School in Greenwich Village, he performed on stage with Pete Seeger and other folksingers at Hootenannies.

Along with Gil Turner, Happy Traum and Delores Dixon he formed the New World Singers. They sang at fund raisers for SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and other civil rights organizations. In 1963, Bob and Gil Turner went down to Edwards, Mississippi with Bob Parish Moses (Bob's roomate and leader of the civil rights movement in Mississippi), where they held freedom songs workshops. The next year Bob returned as Director of the Mississippi Caravan of Music that organized, through the presence and performances of folksingers, moral support for the voting rights movement in Mississippi. Bob gave orientation and drove them around the state - they included Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Julius Lester, Carolyn Hester, and others. This became known as the Freedom Summer of 1964. Bob wrote an article about it that appeared in Broadside Magazine - the publication of the topical song movement.

Back in Greenwich Village an itinerant looking fellow with a nervous leg came into Gerde's Folk City and used to sit at the bar where we bought him glasses of wine. He said his name was Bob Dylan. Delores Dixon, from the New World Singers, did a solo during their set of a civil war freedom song sung by slaves before they were freed - "No More Auction Block For Me/Many Thousands Gone". Bob liked the tune and soon had used a part of it for perhaps his greatest song: "Blowin' In the Wind". The New World Singers were the first to record it. That recording along with others was re-issued by Smithsonian-Folkways back in 2000 and was nominated for two Grammy awards. The New World Singers would invite Dylan up on Gerde's rather small stage to sing it with them along with his adaptation of an old Irish song which he called "Fare Thee Well".

At a New World Singer gig out in Grand Rapids, Michigan, met Susan whom he later married. They had two children, Sean and Corrina. They are both out on the West Coast now, Sean a teacher of English Literature in middle and high school and Corrina with her husband Marc, an organic farmer.

Bob taught children music at private schools in New York City - Bank Street School for Children, Little Red School House (of which he is an alumnus), Downtown Community School, the United Nations International School, and the Calhoun School; as well as at Bank Street College of Education and LaGuardia Community College. He used the wonderful folksongs he had learned from Charity Bailey and Bob DeCormier, both of whom were his music teachers back in elementary and high school. A favorite of the kids was "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce which shocked some of the teachers.

After an unpleasant divorce (most of them are) Bob started working with a psychiatrist in a Medicaid practice. Because of the unethical practices of billing, Bob as well as two psychiatrists went to prison. Bob was there for three years and used the adversity to turn his life around. He played for all the religious services of the Catholics, Protestants, Jews and even at a Muslim festival. While in prison Bob met Patricia who was to become his second wife. And he was befriended by Rabbi Jonathan Eichhorn who was a chaplain in the prison. Rabbi Eichhorn opened many doors for him, first inviting him to come to work for Temple Emanuel as an organist. Bob got out on Work Release and the Parole, as he worked at Temple and as Choir Director for the Church of the Sacred Heart at Castleton-On-The-Hudson (near Albany).

Through private studies with cantors and a great amount of learning on the job, Bob became the cantor at Temple Emanuel where has been for over 12 years now. He is also on the Boards of Family of Woodstock (providing shelters for the homeless and guidance for at-risk teenagers), Save Them Now (a residence for ex-offenders that works to give them sober clean housing and directs them toward gainful employment), and the Ulster Substance Abuse Prevention Board to which he was appointed by the Ulster County Legislature. He is a member of the Kiwanis Club. Using his position as leader of the interfaith group, Ulster County Religious Council, Bob reaches out to clergy and lay-leaders all over the county to participate in and support these efforts to help those in trouble or in potential trouble. For a number of years Bob hosted "Godyssey" on Public Access TV in Kingston, and these programs of mostly singing can be made available on CD.

Bob travels the Hudson Valley singing at Nursing Homes, Assisted Living and Independent Living residences. He sings songs from the 1900s through the 1940s and the residents find great joy in the memories these invoke and in singing along with him.

Bob appeared as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in Hudson and in Studs Terkel's "Working" in Rhinebeck, New York. In the past couple of years has joined with cabaret singer, Jennie Litt, and her husband pianist-composer David Alpher, in a show of known and unknown Irving Berlin songs called "Another Serving of Irving". They appeared to thunderous applause at Temple Emanuel in Kingston and at the Woodstock Congregation in Woodstock. Recently he has appeared with mezzo-soprano, Sabrina Ferguson Bax, and her husband, percussionist, Anthony Bax at the Art Society of Kingston (ASK) gallery and at other gallery openings singing a program of world music - Painting the World With Song. Both programs are available for performances everywhere and anywhere.

Bob's wife Pat is a Registered Nurse and a distinguished quilter. She has three children and now she and Bob have 2.5 grandaughters and one grandson, and a whole host of loving friends and family. Bob officiates at life-cycle events and leads the music at Temple Emanuel services which are led by Rabbi Yael Romer from whom he continues to learn about Judaism. He also teaches music at the Temple's Religious School. His passion is to have people join in singing with him and experience the spirit that music can create and sustain in all of us.

some quotes:

"Bob Cohen's quiet---I first seen him at a City College folksong hall an' thought he was some sort a Spanish gypsy by the way he wore his sideburns an' mustache an' eyebrows--but he didn't talk so I couldn't tell---I must a sat an hour next to him waitin' to hear some gypsy language--he never said a word--he laughed a few times but all folks no matter what race laugh in the same tongue---I seen him sing later that night an' it didn't bother my thoughts no more as to if he was gypsyo or gigolo--he tol' me more about my new world in that ten minutes time then the pop radio station did all that week..." [Bob Dylan's album notes for The New World Singers on Atlantic Records]

"...The New World Singers, a group I was pretty close with." - Chronicles by Bob Dylan