Obituary for Joan Kobin (1920-2009)

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 Bartel 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 subjects 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 New
Foundland 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 shortly after her husband died
at 48 in 1968 to take over his teaching practice. 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
with 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
singers 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” by
director and former student Rick McKay, who is in the process of
making a film about Kobin now called “The Singing Teacher.” The film
stars Kobin and many of their 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 left the bulk of her estate to the Actors Fund, and
specifically for the Actors’ Home in Englewood, NJ, she 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. A private memorial service will be held next month. In
lieu of flowers please send donations to the Actors Fund of America.

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