Marc Cohn is a native of Cleveland who lives in New York City, but he'll always be known for "Walking in Memphis," his tribute to the musically rich heritage of the Tennessee city.
Cohn, who will play a sold-out concert Tuesday at the Ark in Ann Arbor, said that memorable hit single, as well as the rest of the songs on his 1991 Atlantic Records debut, sprang from a chance encounter at a roadside grill in Mississippi.
Sitting at a piano at the Hollywood Caf, playing acoustic piano and singing gospel songs for patrons eating catfish and fried pickles, was Muriel Davis Wilkins.
"You could hear her only if you were really listening, and I was really listening," Cohn told a reporter.
The two later struck up a conversation, and Muriel invited Cohn to join her in singing "Amazing Grace." The woman's music, advice, and life story inspired Cohn to reach new heights in his songwriting.
"I knew I was different after I left that place," he said.
His self-titled debut disc won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Cohn immortalized Wilkins in song by including her, along with Elvis and the Rev. Al Green, in "Walking in Memphis," with the lyric: "Now Muriel plays piano, every Friday at the Hollywood."
Since that serendipitous start, Cohn has continued to write, record, and tour, although he is far from prolific. He has released only two albums since his hit debut: "The Rainy Season" in 1993 and "Burning the Daze" in 1998. A fourth studio recording reportedly is nearing completion. Cohn, who accompanies his rough-edged baritone vocals by playing guitar and piano, has established many friendships in the music industry and enlisted such stars as David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash, Chris Botti, and Roseanne Cash to join him in the studio on his last two discs.
Marc Cohn will be in concert at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Ark, 316 South Main St., Ann Arbor, with Kaki King opening. The concert is sold out. Information: 734-761-1800.
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