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Pat Cohen first cut her teeth singing the blues at a club in Atlantic City, where she worked as a table games dealer in the casino industry. No stranger to the stage, she was a regular jazz and disco performer, but sometime in the early 1980s, an event organizer called her up and asked her to prepare a set of blues music. Pat was skeptical that blues would resonate with audiences, but she prepared a set of blues songs, the show was success, and the music stuck. It didn’t take long for folks to give her the stage name she now performs under: Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen.
“My father always loved blues,” remembers Pat, who was born in North Carolina and grew up in New Jersey. “Blues was something that was always in the back of my head.”
“When I did the blues I would get standing ovations for whatever blues songs I did. I realized everyone couldn’t do the blues, and it gave me a respect for it. So I added another blues song and another blues song. The next thing you know I’m doing all blues.”
Years later, Pat moved to New Orleans seeking casino work in a warmer climate. She liked the structure and predictability of working in casinos, but the Crescent City casinos didn’t compare to the ones she left behind in Atlantic City. Not long after she moved South, Pat lost her gig at a casino — which she says is one of the best things that ever happened to her — was picked up a talent agency, and began working full-time as a blues performer.
Nurtured by the music and culture of New Orleans, Pat honed her craft on the stages of one of our country’s biggest music towns. It was there she picked up her signature stage look — the brightly colored wigs that match her brightly colored costumes.
Pat loves singing the blues because she respects the music. “I know that every song is different,” she says. “I know that every song has its own personality. I know that every song has its own pattern.”
Pat’s definitely had cause to sing the blues. She’s had to completely rebuild twice in her lifetime. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home and her life in New Orleans. Like thousands of others, she was displaced. “I cried every single day for a year. I was so depressed. I didn’t know what to do. I was out of my element.” remembers Pat.
Pat relocated to Salisbury, NC to be closer to family. She’s lived there since. Just this Fall, a fire destroyed her Salisbury home, and with it all of her wigs, musical instruments and a room full of art and artifacts dedicated to New Orleans.
“After my house burned down I went to a hotel and I stayed there for about a week to mourn...because you need to mourn,” says Pat. “I just had to get it out of me. Then when I got it out of me, it was time to get to work. To do what needed to be done.”
Her mantra of “Keep it moving,” and the help of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to supporting working Southern musicians, have helped her rebuild this year. She is grateful for the organization, which aided her after Katrina as well. “I will say this. Music Makers is a blessing to people in this music industry...they make themselves feel like family. They helped me to get over this.”
Despite the traumas Pat’s experienced, she’s still committed to her art and to making her audience feel good. Don’t expect to be sad at one of her shows.
“Sometimes I just want to be happy. A lot of the blues is funny...and I do a lot of funny stuff,” says Pat. “If I do funny stuff, and I make somebody else smile...it’s like whatever you put out, you get back. The more people you make feel good the better you’re going to feel.”
If you want to feel good with Pat, don’t miss her New Year’s Eve performance at First Night Raleigh. She’s the Music Maker headliner from 8:00pm to 10:00pm at First Baptist Church Sanctuary on Salisbury Street.
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