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Singer and Voice Teacher Joan Kobin Passes Away at 88

Joan Kobin, accomplished singer on Broadway, and respected voice teacher to many Hollywood and Broadway stars, passed away in her sleep of natural causes on May 30th, 2009.

Born in Germany as Joan Bartels in 1920, Ms. Kobin immigrated to New York City as a child with her brother William and her parents Christine and John, who soon were running a family restaurant called Loehr's Deli in the Bronx.

Ms. Kobin, who worked in the theatre under the names Christine Bartel, Joan Bartels and Joan Kobin, played on Broadway in Carnival!, Call Me Mister, Polonaise, Ballet Ballads and Firebrand of Florence. She met her husband, Robert Kobin, in Brooklyn in the mid 1940s and married him soon after. They moved to the Upper West Side apartment that Ms. Kobin would live in till her death and where Mr. Kobin began a very successful practice as a singing teacher, using his own revolutionary vocal technique based on physiological experiments he would undertake with cow larynxes and human cadavers, effectively producing sound from the inanimate subjects by reversing the air flow of an attached vacuum cleaner and manually manipulating the subject's vocal cords. His students included Barbara Cook, Daniel Massey, James Earl Jones, Sally Kellerman, James Garner and ElizaBeth Taylor.

Joan Kobin left Broadway in the early 1960's while understudying Kaye Ballard in the hit show "Carnival!". Frustrated by the lack of leading roles on Broadway, she invested in a summer stock company at the Newfoundland Theatre in Pennsylvania and was soon playing leads all over the country, from Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey to Casa Manana Theatre in Texas. She left performing to take over her husband's teaching practice when he died at the age of 48 in 1968. She soon became even more successful than her husband by combining his physiological technique with her own experience as an actress and singer and was known for preparing Hollywood stars for their career segues into live theatre. After growing up in the Bronx and spending every Saturday at the Loew's Paradise movie theater during the golden age of Hollywood, she was soon teaching and coaching the same stars she had grown up watching on screen, such as Van Johnson, Farley Granger, Robert Stack, Jane Powell, Arlene Dahl and Maxmillian Schell. In addition, she taught a stable of well-known Broadway stars that included Tovah Feldshuh, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, Jane Summerhays, Mary Birdsong, Linda Emond, Eileen Brennan, and Marti Stevens; as well as television's Eileen Fulton, Theresa Saldana and RosAnna Scotto; opera singer Patrice Munsel and pop singer Carly Simon. Ms. Kobin was also presented a gold record for her contribution in coaching singers on the soundtrack of the film "Flashdance".

In the early 1960's, while playing Madame Rose in "Gypsy" at a Saratoga, NY theatre, she and her husband befriended the theatre's young musical director Wally Harper, encouraging him to move to NYC, where he studied with Mr. Kobin. Soon after, the Kobins brought Harper backstage at the Broadway musical "She Loves Me" and introduced him to fellow Kobin student Barbara Cook, who was starring in the show. After Mr. Kobin's death, Ms. Kobin reconnected Harper and Cook, leading to a legendary partnership between musical director and singing star that would last 30 years, until Harper's death in 2004.

Joan Kobin appeared in the 2004 film "Broadway: The Golden Age" directed by former student Rick McKay, who is in the process of making a film about Kobin now called "The Singing Teacher," which will be released next year with next installment of his Golden Age film trilogy. The film stars Kobin and many of the couple's famous students and tells the story of the unique technique that she and her husband created. Joan Kobin remarried once to the late Whitey Goodfriend, a prominent labor leader. She is survived by two nephews and a host of good friends and students.

Ms. Kobin bequeathed the bulk of her estate to the Actors Fund of America, and specifically left the grand piano where she and her husband trained all of their legendary students as well as their complete collection of sheet music and record albums to the Actors' Home in Englewood, NJ. A private memorial service will be held next month for friends and students. In lieu of flowers please send donations in Joan Kobin's name to the Actors Fund of America.

 


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