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Music Journeys: Bill Cohen

Mar 15, 2019

Bill Cohen has been busy since his retirement in 2013. The former Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau reporter has performed several music shows around different themes. His upcoming endeavor serves as a tribute to John Denver. 

Songs of John Denver with Bill Cohen & friends takes place Saturday March 16 at 7 p.m. at 1st Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus. In this edition of Music Journeys, Cohen shares his love of music, explains the reason behind his John Denver show, performs a few songs, and takes part in the Fast Five - twice! You’ll hear song samples from the late John Denver, along with a couple comments he made before his passing that I found inspiring. My dad performed in a trio that cut a John Denver song, so you’ll hear that too. There’s also a copy of Cohen’s final sign off to public radio. Thanks for listening.   

Podcast Rundown

000 - Introduction

4:17 - Bill Cohen feature

17:54 - Bill Cohen’s Fast Five

26:15 - Bill Cohen’s Fast Five John Denver style

33:40 - Inspirational comments from John Denver

37:45 - The Arrangement (Foley’s father’s band from the mid-70's)

43:45 - The final story Bill filed for Ohio Public Radio  

Here's what you'll hear in the feature.

Leaving On A Jet Plane performed by Bill Cohen...

Bill Cohen spent more than 40 years as a journalist in public radio. Retiring in 2013 left him with more time for another passion - performing music. He's been tuning up his guitar for a John Denver tribute show.       

"A couple years ago, I just noticed how people love John Denver songs," Cohen said. "He had so many hit songs especially in the 1970's. People are drawn to his low-key demeanor, his beautiful voice, and his picturesque lyrics." 

Country Roads performed by John Denver plays...

Born in 1948, Cohen grew up in Bexley. After graduating from Northwestern, he came back to Columbus in 1970 for a job in public radio, eventually covering the comings and goings at the Ohio Statehouse. But another passion grew during that time too - music.  

"I actually started singing and playing guitar in high school," Cohen reflected. "But around 1986, I wanted to start performing for the general public. I started singing the songs I knew best, which were the songs of the 1960's - anti-war songs, civil rights songs, and I put together a program that kind of took people through the decade of the 1960's using folk music."

What Did You Learn In School Today performed by Bill Cohen...

"Then I started using memorabilia, buttons, newspapers, putting on old 60's hippie clothes, and asking trivia questions. It developed into a fun show that we've been doing for more than 30 years now."  

Sunshine On My Shoulders by John Denver plays...

"Since I retired as a news reporter six years ago, I have even more time to perform," Cohen said. "I'm singing in nursing homes, for community groups, and even Alzheimer's units. It's amazing how you go into a nursing home or Alzheimer's unit, and the people look almost as if they are in a coma. But you start to play a song from their youth, people start to tap their feet a little bit and their head comes up. Some of them even sing along. It's just a great feeling for everybody whether it's the residents or the staff or me, just to have a few moments where people kind of come back to life." 

It Amazes Me by John Denver... 

Retirement also gave Cohen a chance to add shows with different themes. Among them, a Valentine’s Day program full of love songs, and a show the day after Thanksgiving featuring songs of gratitude. John Denver provides the next chapter in that extension.

"You look through the catalog, and we've got to do all his big hits," Cohen said. "Annie's Song, Rocky Mountain High, Country Roads, those are all songs people want to hear and will want to sing along with, so we'll invite people to sing along on some of those. But also some of his lesser known songs that target something unique about him. For instance, he loved his guitar."

This Old Guitar performed by Bill Cohen...

"When you think of John Denver, you think of songs that show his passion for wildlife, the environment, and Mother Nature," Cohen said. "But you also think of emotions, because a lot of his songs are about love. Some of his songs are him saying I'm sorry. You don't hear that a lot in modern day songs. He didn't seem to be egotistical. He admitted his shortcomings. He even said in several songs - I apologize."   

I'm Sorry performed by Bill Cohen...

"A lot of our concerts, we do give some or all the proceeds to a charitable group," Cohen said. "It just makes the whole experience better and bolsters the whole feeling of community, That's really the theme of our shows. When you're singing along, you feel a great sense of community - a sense we often don't have when we're isolated on our devices. When people sing together, they really feel good."   

Anthem by John Denver plays...

"The good cause that we're helping out with this upcoming concert is the Care and Share Time Bank," Cohen said "It's a group of about 300 people who've come together to share their skills. It's like bartering. You need your garden weeded, so I weed your garden for two hours and that earns me two credit hours. Now I need a ride to the airport. I look on the list, and somebody gives me a ride to the airport. It takes them an hour, so now I give them a credit hour. So you're constantly adding or subtracting credit hours. It's a lot of fun." 

Songs of John Denver with Bill Cohen & friends takes place Saturday March 16 at 7 p.m. at 1st Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus. More information about the show and Bill Cohen can be found at this link.