We’re seeing the sad news on FB that seminal American folklorist and performer John Cohen experienced his Greater Feast yesterday. I haven’t found any obituaries at major new sources yet but the people posting include many of his acquaintances and colleagues from the world of folklore. He was also an associate of American magus Harry Everett Smith, a Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica consecrated by the Primate, Hymenaeus Beta. He contributed interviews with Smith to Paolo Igliori’s anthology on Smith, American Magus, as well as the Think of the Self Speaking anthology. His John Cohen Works page states:
‘John Cohen helped form the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958, and has performed and recorded with them ever since. Their approach, which is based on rural home music, is known as “old time” or “Appalachian,” and their campaign for this music placed them in the spotlight at the Newport Folk Festival (1959), as well as in many concert tours, club appearances and recordings. Comprised of Mike Seeger and Tracy Schwarz (who replaced Tom Paley in 1962) the NLCR changed the direction of the folk music revival, steering it away from commercialized acts like the Kingston Trio, and towards the performance of traditional music in authentic styles. It has been said that the Ramblers introduced the idea that city musicians could play and sing in the traditional styles, and in this way they opened a path for many other musicians to follow. The NLCR influenced well known musicians including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Ry Cooder, and started a revival of interest in old time fiddle bands. There are now hundreds of fiddle bands who actively play this music, as well as festivals, radio shows and recordings and fiddle conventions where this music is performed.
‘John Cohen made a series of documentary field recordings of traditional musicians in their home settings. These include recordings in Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as in the highlands of Peru. He discovered the great Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb, and has issued many recordings of him. His first film was about Holcomb’s music, and he created the term “The High Lonesome Sound” to describe it. Subsequently, the term became the generic name for bluegrass singing, and it has been used in countless music contexts ever since.
‘In 1961 Cohen founded the Friends Of Old Time Music with Ralph Rinzler & Israel Young. FOTM presented the first New York concerts of Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, Dock Boggs, Mississippi John Hurt, The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe, Gus Cannon, Joseph Spence , Hobart Smith, Almeda Riddle, Bessie Jones, and others…’