Cohen, Norm 1936- (Norman Cohen)

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Cohen, Norm 1936- (Norman Cohen)


Born December 13, 1936, in New York, NY; son of Moshe (a social worker) and Yetta Cohen; married Anne Billings, July 11, 1959 (divorced, 1983); children: Alexandra Elizabeth and Carson Benjamin (twins). Education: Reed College, A.B., 1958; attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1958-59; University of California, Berkeley, M.A., 1960, Ph.D., 1963. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Music, folklore, photography, art, mythology.


Home—Westchester, CA.


Writer, chemist. Associated with Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA, beginning 1963, head of department of chemical kinetics, beginning 1972. Executive secretary of John Edwards Memorial Foundation.


American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, American Folklore Society, Society for Ethnomusicology, Society of Recorded Sound Archives, California Folklore Society, Sigma Xi.


Folklore prize from University of Chicago and Deems Taylor Award from American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, both 1982, for Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong; nominated for Grammy Award from National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1983, for Minstrels and Tunesmiths: The Commercial Roots of Early Country Music.


(Contributor) W.A. Noyes, Jr., G.S. Hammond, and J.N. Pitts, Jr., editors, Advances in Photochemistry, Volume V, Wiley (New York, NY), 1968.

(With Ralph Rinzler) Uncle Dave Macon: A Biodiscography, John Edwards Memorial Foundation (Los Angeles, CA), 1970.

(Contributor) Bill C. Malone and Judith McCulloh, editors, Stars of Country Music, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1975.

Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1981.

(Editor) Ozark Folksongs, revised and abridged edition (Cohen not associated with earlier editions), University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1982.

(Contributor) Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1982.

(Contributor) Country Music Recorded Prior to 1943: A Discography of LP Reissues, University of California (Berkeley, CA), 1984.

(Author of discography) Gene Wiggins, Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin' John Carson, His Real World, and the World of His Songs, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1987.

Traditional Anglo-American Folk Music: An Annotated Discography of Publishing Sound Recordings, Garland (New York, NY), 1994.

Folk Music: A Regional Exploration, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2005.

Ethnic and Border Music: A Regional Exploration, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 2007.

Contributor to History and Encyclopedia of Country, Western and Gospel Music. Contributor to music and folklore journals. Editor of John Edwards Memorial Foundation (JEMF) Quarterly, 1965-80; assistant editor of International Journal of Chemical Kinetics. Also author and lecturer on two sound recordings, Folklore in Science and The Cowboy in Folklore, both from Everett/Edwards (De Land, FL).


Norm Cohen is a chemist and folklorist whose interest in folk music has led to the publication of numerous works dealing with the topic. With his 2005 title, Folk Music: A Regional Exploration, Cohen presents "an introductory text aimed at students," according to Steve Roud in Folk Music Journal. Roud went on to note: "The book inevitably has something of the feel of the textbook, but it is much more than that, and it will certainly be useful to anyone who has an interest in the subject." Cohen opens with a chronology of folk music that begins in the sixteenth century and ends in 1969. He devotes chapters to a discussion of the types of folk music, such as ballads and songs, examined in the book, and also to a discussion of the types of instruments used by folk musicians. Then he breaks down his study and discography of folk music by regions of the United States: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Great Lakes, and the Far West. Following a brief historical overview of the region in question, including information on those who settled the region, Cohen then presents typical folk songs associated with the area. The author goes beyond the usual stereotypes, such as the fact that in the Midwest and Great Lakes region logging songs were popular, while in the Far West the life of the cowboy was often extolled. With the advent of recordings and radio, such hermetic local traditions came into contact with other regions, and new blends of folk music resulted.

Roud commented of Folk Music: "Cohen is good at synthesis, and tackles the complexity of the subject in a calm and conversational style, with occasional wry humour." Roud's only negative criticism of the book was the lack of a CD to illustrate the music Cohen so closely describes. Reviewing the same work in Popular Music and Society, Ronald D. Cohen noted that the author is "one of the most prolific and insightful of historians of folk music in the United States." For this reviewer, Folk Music is "a fascinating and unique" survey, as well as a "most valuable, detailed study of the topic, a wonderful roadmap."

Cohen told CA: "My interest in folk music began in my early teens and was confined to Jewish and Eastern European cultures. It wasn't until I left high school that I really became aware of traditional American music. Initially my attention was drawn to traditional southeastern folk music, but as I was exposed to other forms— hillbilly, blues, jazz, and even pop music—I was intrigued by the problems of how different musical genres influence one another and how they reflect American social history and culture.

"A central focus in my study of American railroad songs, which occupied the better part of a dozen years, was the role the railroads played in shaping America, what the public attitudes toward the railroads were at different epochs, and how those attitudes were reflected in American folk and popular songs."



Folk Music Journal, Volume 9, number 2, 2007, Steve Roud, review of Folk Music: A Regional Exploration, p. 260.

MBR Bookwatch, July, 2005, review of Folk Music.

Popular Music and Society, October, 2006, Ronald D. Cohen, review of Folk Music, p. 500.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of Folk Music, p. 218.

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