Pat Cohen’s still singin’ the blues
Katrina, Katrina, you put a hurt on me
Katrina, Katrina, you put a hurt on me
When I tried to run for cover, you just wouldn’t let me be.
ó Pat ‘Mother Blues’ Cohen
By Susan Shinn
CHARLOTTE ó The crowd is sparse tonight at Ace’s In Zone, a cozy bar tucked into the corner of West Morehead Street and Wilkinson Boulevard.
The bar sees a fair amount of business on football game days, but its owner, Ace Hardy, is trying to build business other nights as well, offering jazz on Wednesday and comedy on the weekends.
His regular Wednesday night singer is Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen who drives from East Spencer each week. She’s lived in Rowan County ever since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
The band takes its time setting up. Pat arrives with guitarist Robert Nesbit, bass player Rick Blackwell and drummer Ricky Gentry.
They’re a convivial bunch. During a break, Robert explains that he’s in graduate school at UNCG, while Ricky reminisces about playing Salisbury clubs back in the ’80s. Pat ladles homemade gumbo into styrofoam bowls and passes it around.
The walls are painted black, with a good deal of sports memorabilia on display. Lights are strung up along one wall.
Before long, Ace comes over and turns on the stage lights, which flash intermittently in yellow, green and red for the rest of the evening.
Later, he passes out Mardi Gras beads. (We don’t even have to flash him to get ’em.)
An upright piano and the band’s equipment takes up most of the stage, leaving only room for the guitarists, so Pat stays on the floor, working her way around the dozen or so cafe tables.
“Let the good times roll!” Pat exclaims, launching into her first set.
Pat has always had a North Carolina connection.
She was born in Monroe, and lived with her grandparents, moving to New Jersey as a young child.
She came to Salisbury to attend Livingstone College.
She found it to be a quiet, friendly town. Her brother followed her and ended up staying here.
She says of singing, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve always been a real colorful kid who wanted to entertain.”
But Pat’s mother didn’t want her to major in music, so she became a social worker.
She soon found she wanted to make more money, so she began working in the casino industry. Her job eventually took her to New Orleans. She was still singing part-time. She didn’t like her work ó it wasn’t as structured as in New Jersey, she says.
“I finally decided I was going to do what I wanted to do.”
What she wanted to do was sing.
She was afraid, she says, because she’d never worked in a non-structured environment. She’d always gone to work at a certain time and gone home at a certain time. She had benefits.
But she wasn’t too afraid not to try.
Pat went to her casino contacts and offered to work corporate events.
“They liked me,” she says.
She had her own equipment, and she could put together a show for any occasion. She began to get more and more calls.
“I gave them exactly what they were looking for,” she says.
Pat would work one or two events a month, and then head down to Bourbon Street to amuse herself.
She’d sing at different clubs, going from one to the other, customers following, just like the Pied Piper, she says.
“I was having fun,” Pat says. “This was amazing and amusing to me.”
Finally, a club manager talked her into singing one night a week. That eventually turned into three.
“So I did it and it was fun,” she says. “There were just so many people who came in that they had to close the doors.”
It did something for her ego, she says.
The different-colored wigs probably helped, too. Pat has them in all hues, bright blue, lime green, pink, platinum.
Blue for Mother Blues, get it?
“You have to make yourself happy,” Pat says. “That makes me happy. It’s a little edgy.
“It’s not that serious. Who made the rules anyway? You make your own rules.”
So there was Pat in New Orleans, working corporate events, working Bourbon Street.
Then came Sept. 11
“Before 9/11, everything was huge,” she says. “I was making money hand over fist. I had it going on.”
After the national disaster, events got canceled, one by one.
Eventually, Pat rebuilt her clientele, although never to the level it was.
Pat had not planned to leave New Orleans when the hurricane came.
But she said she heard a voice just before the storm.
“All of a sudden, I just got this feeling over me that said, you need to get out of here,” Pat says.
So she took her laptop and a couple of outfits and a pair of flip-flops and drove to Salisbury to see her brother.
The storm passed. Then the levees broke.
She watched it all on the news.
“I didn’t believe it,” Pat says. “I was in total denial about the whole thing.”
She ended up staying in Salisbury for two months.
“It was horrible,” she says. “I have never had to ask anybody for anything. My assets were frozen. I had nothing.”
She did have a place to stay, so that was good.
“Being displaced is not like moving,” Pat says.
You can’t do things the way they’re normally done, she says.
Pat returned to New Orleans in early November 2005 ó and realized she couldn’t stay.
“New Orleans was looking really bad when I went back,” she says. “It was like a black and white movie. There was no green grass, no trees. It was gray. There were no birds, no signs of life.”
Pat gathered what few things she had ó her second-floor home in the Ninth Ward had been looted ó and got some money from the Katrina Fund.
Her first order of business was getting a roof over her head.
Her father helped her fix up a foreclosed house in East Spencer for which she paid cash.
“People said, don’t go there, it’s rough,” Pat says. “But I can’t say that. I have met some very, very nice people. I’m glad I decided to move there.”
Once she got settled, Pat got on her laptop, looking for places to sing.
She’s sung in Mooresville and Winston-Salem. She sings in High Point every Sunday, and in Charlotte every Wednesday. She likes the regular engagements.
“That’s how you build your following,” Pat says.
She’s building that following everywhere but Salisbury.
“I live here,” she says. “I want to sing where I live.”
But she’s undaunted.
Because really, how can a woman who wears an electric blue wig be daunted?
“I believe in myself,” Pat says. “I know it’s a matter of time. I’m very good at what I do.
“When my time comes for me to get this, I will get it.”
Even though it’s been three years since Katrina hit, Pat feels like it happened just yesterday.
“It’s almost like a death,” she says. “You don’t get over it. You just get better at it.
“I’m thankful that I’m here. I’ve met some really nice people. That’s what makes me want to stay.
“I would just really love to do a show here.”
Contact Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen at 704-212-7336. She performs each Wednesday at Ace’s In Zone, 2415 W. Morehead St., Charlotte.
By Susan Shinn firstname.lastname@example.org By popular demand, a new category, photography, has been added to the annual Carolina Artists Expo.... read more