Returning to the Lincoln Cultural Center to sing the blues on Friday, Feb. 22, Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen has been singing for much of her life and is no stranger to loss.
She grew up around music but was dissuaded from pursuing a career in music by her parents.
“All I wanted to do was sing or act or perform in some way,” Cohen said. “My parents didn’t really want me to do it, so I didn’t excel in it the way that I could have because they were totally against me doing it.”
While working in the casino industry in New Jersey and picking up occasional singing gigs, Cohen had the opportunity to relocate to New Orleans, where she went on to build a successful music career and becoming known as the “Queen of Bourbon Street.” Cohen had a full-time performing career, traveling all over the world to perform until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her life in New Orleans. She had to evacuate and ended up staying with her brother in North Carolina. To make her experience even worse after Katrina, looters stole her extensive jewelry collection.
“I lost everything,” Cohen said. “I was one of the people that you would call ‘displaced.’ I never understood what displaced was until I actually went through it. Being displaced means you’re totally out of your element. For me it meant I didn’t know the musicians, the clubs or anything to do here in North Carolina.”
Depression followed her forced exodus from her home in New Orleans, which lasted about two years. With the money she earned as a performer in New Orleans, she bought a house in Salisbury, and in time, righted her music career.
It’s no wonder Cohen sings the blues. First there was water and then fire. In 2016, a fire gutted Cohen’s home in Salisbury. In both tragedies, she lost her wigs, costumes, instruments and other personal possessions.
“Life is lessons,” she said. “Everything that you go through isn’t always a bad thing, it’s a blessing and a lesson. The Katrina thing turned out to be a blessing because it taught me how to lose my house. As I watched my house burn down in Salisbury, I knew I couldn’t spend days being upset and depressed. It was too time-consuming.”
Despite all her personal loss, Cohen gives back to the community and is frequently found singing in nursing homes. She also wants to start a “blues in schools” program to teach children about the blues.
“I’m so happy and thankful to be coming back to the Cultural Center and arts center because the blues is art,” Cohen said. “I don’t want to say it’s a dying art but it isn’t what it used to be.”
“Mother Blues” will bring her high-energy, colorful performance to the Lincoln Cultural Center on Friday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 and $5 for seniors and students. Tickets will be available at the door. The performance is funded by a grant from the N.C. Arts Council's Grassroots Grant Program.
The Lincoln Cultural Center is at 403 E. Main St. in Lincolnton.
“I just want to say that if anyone goes through anything that’s really tough, what they should do is focus on the positive,” Cohen said. “I know that’s easier said than done, but focusing on the positive and doing something positive helps. Find something where you can make somebody else happy and that will help you with any kind of sadness you’re going through.”