Marc Cohn Biography

5 July 1959, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Singer-songwriter and pianist Cohn used his husky voice and distinctive songs to great effect in the 90s when his debut album won the 1991 Grammy for Best New Artist. The album was a collection of melodic pop rock songs with passionate lyrics drawn from the artist’s own turbulent background. Cohn’s mother died when he was two, and his father remarried when he was 12. Cohn senior worked seven days a week as a pharmacist but was always in debt. He is recalled as the slightly absurd figure in ‘Silver Thunderbird’, who maintains that car at the cost of all other material comforts. Although the song was dismissed by casual critics as an automobile tribute, in reality it was a song purely for his father and had taken Cohn 15 different versions to perfect.

Having written songs from an early age Cohn played his first solo acoustic sets around Cleveland coffee bars in his late teens. Afterwards he moved to New York, and embarked on demoing songs for various writers, including Jimmy Webb and Leiber And Stoller. He also became a prominent session keyboard player, including a stint on Tracy Chapman’s second album, while also fronting his own 14-piece swing band, who played at Caroline Kennedy’s wedding. One night in Arkansas he saw a sign marked ‘Hollywood’ - a former slave shack now converted into a honky-tonk and catfish eatery. There he met a 70-year-old black pianist and singer, Muriel, who played elegant versions of spirituals and R&B songs and with whom Cohn was soon in rapt conversation. He joined in an ad-libbed performance, and by the end of it the pair had brought the house down. The experience resulted in Cohn writing ‘Walking In Memphis’, a US and UK Top 30 hit and the centrepiece of his debut album. Another cornerstone was ‘True Companion’, a popular lovers song which even became the soundtrack to a live marriage proposal on US television’s Johnny Carson Tonight Show. A second album arrived in 1993 to a lesser fanfare but contained another strong batch of songs, including ‘Rest For The Weary’, a continuation of ‘Silver Thunderbird’.

After an extended hiatus, during which time Cher’s cover version of ‘Walking In Memphis’ reached the UK Top 20, Cohn returned in 1998 with Burning The Daze, another polished collection of adult contemporary pop which unfortunately lacked a stand-out track of the stature of ‘Walking In Memphis’. Little was heard from the reclusive Cohn over the next few years, although he continued to play regular live concerts. A limited edition live EP was released at the start of 2005 featuring one new song alongside five classic Cohn tracks. In August the same year, Cohn was shot in the head during an attempted carjacking after a concert in Denver. Amazingly, he survived and received only minor injuries.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.