Musician, photographer, and folklorist John Cohen has died, NPR reports. He was best known for his work with the New Lost City Ramblers. His death on Monday was confirmed by his son Rufus Cohen, who said the cause of death was cancer. He was 87.
Born in Sunnyside, Queens in 1932, he attended Yale and bought his first tape recording gear in 1954 to record the Reverend Gary Davis. In 1959, a 27-year-old Cohen took a bus to Kentucky in search of “depression songs” to play with the New Lost City Ramblers, an Appalachia folk revival group formed with Mike Seeger and Tom Paley. “I said to myself, I’m going to go to Kentucky, because they have a depression going on there,” he told Amanda Petrusich of the New Yorker in 2015. “I’ve never experienced a depression—all I’ve heard are the records.”
That same year, Cohen documented the production of photographer Robert Frank’s short film about the Beat Generation, Pull My Daisy. Cohen’s photograph of Jack Kerouac was featured in Life magazine. Over the years, he captured portraits of other folk heroes including Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Jack Elliot. He released the collection There is No Eye: John Cohen Photographs in 2001.
Cohen produced more than a dozen films during his lifetime. His first, The High Lonesome Sound, was a portrait of rural Kentucky and musician Roscoe Holcomb. He traveled extensively throughout Peru, documenting the life and textile arts of the native Andean people. In 1964, he recorded a Peruvian woman’s wedding song, which was included on NASA’s Voyager Golden Record.
Later in life, Cohen played in a folk group titled the Down Hill Strugglers. He served as professor of visual arts at SUNY Purchase College from from 1972–1997. His archive was acquired by the Library of Congress in 2011.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork