Ever Google yourself when you were alone? American standards singer Bob Cohen, 73, of Bethlehem, Pa., has. And just as he expected, he found … Bob Cohen. American standards singer Bob Cohen, also 73, of Kingston.
Pennsylvania Bob said that has known of Kingston’s Bob Cohen since the 1960s, admiring his work in folk-revival band New World Singers with fellow folk musician Happy Traum. Several months ago, Pennsylvania Bob’s wife was reading Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina & Richard Farina by David Hajdu when she happened upon a Bob Cohen mention, and told her husband. That prompted Pa. Bob to hit the magic Google bar revealing the website of Temple Emanuel Cantor Bob Cohen.
Pennsylvania Bob contacted Kingston Bob to discuss their mutual names, ages and penchants for Broadway musicals and the Great American Songbook. Within moments they made plans to take their new act on the road, and have scheduled their first performance at Temple Emanuel, on Saturday, May 5, where the Bobs will perform several standards.
The men refer to one another as simply, “Bob the younger,” and “Bob [Pennsylvania] the (slightly) older.” “I thought it was unusual. There are a lot of Bob Cohens that I know in the United States,” said one of the Bobs. “But not two that are both singers who sing the same repertoires.”
Pennsylvania Bob is a retired dean of students at Lehigh University and Hunter College, and has been a singer in choral groups for so long that he started out as a boy soprano. He also performs in cabarets and plays the piano and the alto sax. Pennsylvania Bob said he digs Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and music of the ’40s in general. “It’s all very melodic, and music you can sing,” he said.
The men will be singing duets, solos and sing-a-longs, with Cohen playing on the piano. Pennsylvania Bob sent Kingston Bob a CD he recorded years prior, and said he enjoyed a YouTube video of Kingston Bob singing “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof. Pennsylvania Bob added that he is looking forward to their voices harmonizing well, considering he is a baritone and Kingston Bob is a tenor.
“I think what’s interesting for us both is that we have both always sung our whole lives and are both going strong,” said Pennsylvania Bob.
In addition to piano, Kingston Bob plays 12-string guitar, autoharp and accordion. When Cohen and his wife, Pat, came to Kingston, they sang at nursing homes and assisted living residences around the area. He said no matter how far gone some senior citizens may be, they seem to remember the oldies but goodies like, “Always,” “Blue Skies,” “Embraceable You,” and “Just the Way You Look Tonight” to name a few.
There’s a reason that Pennsylvania Bob found Kingston Bob in a book on Bob Dylan. New World Singers sang at Gerdes Folk City where they met Dylan when he first came to the Big Apple. New World Singers sang an early African-American freedom song sung during slavery, “No More Auction Block for Me” which Dylan reportedly liked, so much that he borrowed a part of it for “Blowin’ In the Wind.” When the New World Singers put out their self-titled album on the Atlantic Records label, Dylan wrote the album notes on the back. Cohen also led a group of folksingers to Mississippi in the Freedom Summer of 1964 to lend support to the voters’ rights campaign — among them luminaries such as Pete Seeger, Julius Lester and Judy Collins.
These days, Kingston Bob, describes himself a mixture of sacred and secular, or “sacred and profane — any kind of songs that lifts people’s spirits and gets them to join in and sing along.” He said that one point of intrigue about the American songbook is the number of Jewish composers and lyricists involved. “From Berlin to Gershwin, from Kern to Sondheim, so much of our popular music is a melting pot of ethnic strains — Jewish, Black, Irish, Italian — you name it,” he said, citing a SUNY Press book, Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish!, which he said digs into the melodies and lyrics influenced by both sacred and folk music of newly arriving Jews from Europe
For more information on the fellows’ show at Temple Emanuel on Saturday, May 5, call (845) 338-4271.