John Cohen (musician)

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John Cohen (August 2, 1932 – September 16, 2019)[1] was an American folk musician and musicologist, founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as a musicologist,[2] photographer and filmmaker. Some of his best known images document the Abstract Expressionist scene centered on New York's Cedar Bar; gallery happenings by early performance artists; young Bob Dylan's arrival in New York; Beat Generation writers during the filming of Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's film Pull My Daisy; and the "old time" musicians of Appalachia. (The title of Cohen's 1962 film, High Lonesome Sound, has become synonymous with that music.) He was one of the most important "discoverers" of traditional musicians and singers, finding and recording Dillard Chandler, Roscoe Holcomb, and many banjo players, most notably on the album High Atmosphere.

Beyond the United States, Cohen traveled extensively to Peru, driven by a fascination for the weaving and lifestyle of the native Andean population. His field recording of a Peruvian wedding song is included on the Voyager Golden Record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft.

Cohen married Penny Seeger (1943–1993), the youngest member of the musical Seeger family, which includes half-brother Pete Seeger. They had two children, Sonya and Rufus, and grandchildren Dio and Gabel.[3]

From 1972 to 1997, Cohen was a Professor of Visual Arts at SUNY Purchase College where he taught photography and drawing.

The Grateful Dead song "Uncle John's Band," on Workingman's Dead, according to what Cohen calls "a true rumor," is supposed to have been written about Cohen and his band.[4]

The Library of Congress acquired John Cohen's archive, which includes his films, photographs, music recordings and other historic ephemera in 2011. The artist's work can also be found in the permanent collections of the following museums: Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Morgan Library and Museum, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; Neuberger Museum, Westchester, NY;New York Public Library, New York, NY; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.[citation needed]

Cohen resided in the lower Hudson Valley of New York. He frequently performed with the Down Hill Strugglers.


  • There Is No Eye: John Cohen Photographs, introduction by Greil Marcus. New York: powerHouse Books, 2001. ISBN 1-57687-107-X, ISBN 1-57687-119-3
  • Young Bob: John Cohen’s Early Photographs of Bob Dylan, Brooklyn: powerHouse Books, 2003. ISBN 1-57687-199-1
  • Past, Present, Peru, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2010. ISBN 978-3-86930-103-7
  • The High & Lonesome Sound: The Legacy of Roscoe Holcomb, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2012. ISBN 978-3-86930-254-6
  • Here and Gone: Bob Dylan & Woody Guthrie & the 1960s, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2014. ISBN 978-3-86930-604-9
  • Walking In the Light, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2015. ISBN 978-3-86930-772-5
  • Cheap Rents…and de Kooning Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2016. ISBN 978-3-86930-903-3

Recent publications[edit]

  • Beat Generation: New York, San Francisco, Paris, Paris, France: Centre Pompidou, 2016. ISBN 978-2-84426-733-7
  • Pull My Daisy, Paris, France: Editions Macula and Centre Pompidou, 2016. Text by Rollet, Patrice; Sargeant, Jack. ISBN 978-2-86589-089-7
  • Petrus, Stephen and Cohen, Ronald. Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Foreword by Peter Yarrow. ISBN 978-0-19-023102-6
  • Glimcher, Mildred L.Happenings: New York, 1958-1963, New York: The Monacelli Press LLC. 2012 ISBN 978-1-58093-307-0

Selected filmography[edit]

  • The High Lonesome Sound (1962)
  • Fifty Miles from Times Square (1970)
  • The End of an Old Song (1972). A DVD version is in print as part of Dark Holler: Old Love Songs and Ballads (2005-09-27). Washington: Smithsonian Folkways.
  • Q'eros: The Shape of Survival (1979)
  • Peruvian Weaving: a continuous warp (1980)
  • Sara and Maybelle (1981)
  • Gypsies Sing Long Ballads (1982)
  • Mountain Music of Peru (1984)
  • Dancing with the Incas (1990)
  • Carnival in Q'eros (1992)
  • Play on John: A Life in Music[5] (2009) on Smithsonian Networks
  • Visions of Mary Frank (2014)

Selected discography (as producer)[edit]


  1. ^ "Banjo Player, Folklorist, Photographer and Filmmaker John Cohen Has Died". Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  2. ^ "John Cohen | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  3. ^ "Music: A Vision Shared (Austin Chronicle . 08-18-97)". Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  4. ^ Glinter, Ezra. "The Revivalist". Retrieved September 19, 2019.
  5. ^ "Smithsonian Channel: Home". Smithsonian Channel. Archived from the original on February 2, 2013. Retrieved September 19, 2019.

External links[edit]