Oscar “Sonny” Cohen, former owner and president of Associated Booking Corp., died on April 10, 2020. The 92-year-old passed away in Boca Raton, Florida following a brief illness. During a colorful career that spanned more than 65 years from the 1940s through 2010, Cohen represented some of the biggest names in jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll and reggae from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Rod Stewart, Bob Marley and Mary J. Blige.
Born in the Bronx, New York on May 30, 1928, Cohen broke into the agency business as a 14-year-old office boy for Associated Booking Corp.’s (ABC) legendary founder Joseph Glaser. Eventually, Cohen became the advance publicity man for Armstrong and later the renowned trumpeter’s road manager.
“Oscar Cohen was one of the real legends of our business,” fellow music industry pioneer Clarence Avant tells Billboard. “We became friends over 60 years ago when we were both working for Joe Glaser. His contribution to American music is just now becoming understood, and I am very grateful for all of the wonderful times we shared. He will be missed.”
After several years on the road with Armstrong and other superstar attractions, Cohen segued into the role of theatrical agent for Associated Booking. In addition to Armstrong and Holiday, ABC represented Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey and Anita Baker. Following his promotion to vp, Cohen also moved into the rock and reggae arenas and is credited with developing the careers of Marley, The Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper.
When mentor Glaser died in 1972, Cohen became ABC’s owner and president. During that period, he fortified the firm’s roster with acts such as B.B. King, Dr. John, Roberta Flack, comedian Bernie Mac, Teddy Pendergrass, The O’Jays, The Whispers, Mary J. Blige and The Duke Ellington Orchestra. Cohen also represented the hit Broadway show Sophisticated Ladies.
Cohen was most recently featured in the 2019 Netflix documentary The Black Godfather, which chronicles the life and career of lifelong friend and music executive Avant. Cohen was chosen as an honorary speaker at the dedication of the state-of-the-art Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open in August 2018. He also served as the executive agent for the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation.
Outside of the music industry, Cohen spent five terms on the Friars Club board of governors and two terms as treasurer. Additionally, he received an honorary award from Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Martin Luther King Foundation and served as a member of many human rights organizations.
Mr. Cohen, who resided in Boca Raton, Florida and Long Island, New York, is survived by his wife of 65 years, Eleanore Cohen, and their three daughters including Lisa Cohen (exclusive agent for the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation), four grandsons, two sisters and a brother.