Marc Cohn: ahn starting
to cone a)-ound to reinves-
iigating and tying to find
my own authentic place in
the world aS a Jew,"
Storytelling Through Song
Singer-songwriter Marc Cohn plays concert at the Ark in Ann Arbor.
Special to the Jewish News
n 1986, Marc Cohn was looking for inspiration. After Carly
Simon heard his 14-piece swing-style band — complete with
horn section — play in New York City, she recommended the
band to her friend Caroline Kennedy, who was soon to be married.
Though the band landed and played the gig, it didn't have the per-
sonal touch the then-27-year-old Cohn, an introspective lyricist, reso-
nant baritone and pianist, craved. He also hadn't written a song he was
happy with in months.
As if in answer, some friends in the South gave him a call, saying
that he should come check out a place called the Hollywood Cafe, in
Helena, Ark., one hour outside Memphis.
There, he met a woman named Muriel, a 70-year-old part-time
schoolteacher who played the piano and sang unamplified in the for-
mer slave commissary now turning out catfish and fried pickles. If you
wanted to hear her, you really had to listen. 'And I was really listen-
ing," says Cohn.
The two began to talk. "She had a wonderful way about her. I was
really drawn to her musically and personally," he says.
After discovering that he sang, she called him up on stage for her
next set. Together, they sang some standards — and brought the house
"It's hard to articulate how important this was to me. I didn't even
realize it until a few months later. After meeting her, I wrote five or six
songs that became the centerpiece of my first album," explains Cohn.
Among those songs was "Walking in Memphis," the hit for which
he is best known. And the album, Marc Cohn, helped him win a
Grammy for Best New Artist in 1991, the year it was released.
Uplifting with a gospel feel, "Walking in Memphis" tells the story of
his encounter with Muriel, who has since passed away. But it is really
about "how music can transform you," says Cohn. And fans respond.
His music, folksy pop tinged with blues, describes events and emo-
tions that audiences relate to. It makes them feel they know Cohn per-
sonally — or that he knows them.
Which makes intimate, acoustic-friendly venues like the Ark, in Ann
Arbor, where Cohn will perform on Jan. 3 and 4, an ideal showcase to
experience his unique brand of lyrical storytelling. It's the kind of set-
ting Cohn himself would have done anything to have experienced his
own early favorites.
STORYTELLING THROUGH SONG on page 45