Watch Leonard Cohen’s Transfixing Debut Musical Television Performance From 1966
See the 31-year-old aspiring singer-songwriter perform “The Stranger Song.”
Today marks what would have been the great singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s 89th birthday. Cohen died on November 7, 2016 at the age of 82.
While music was a lifelong companion for Cohen — listening to his mother sing when he was young and learning to play guitar in high school — he began his artistic career as a poet before making his musical television debut in 1966.
In the early 1950s, Leonard attended Montreal’s McGill University in his native Quebec, Canada. There he distinguished himself as a poet, winning the Chester MacNaghten Literary Competition for his poems “Sparrows” and “Thoughts of a Landsman.”
It was also at McGill that Cohen met lifelong friend Adrienne Clarkson, who would go on to become a journalist — as well as Governor General of Canada later in life — with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), co-hosting a program called Take 30. On May 23, 1966, Cohen made his musical television debut on the show.
For his musical TV premiere, the singer-songwriter offered “The Stranger Song,” which would later appear on his 1967 debut album, The Songs of Leonard Cohen. The Pop-Up-style video below notes that Cohen said “my songs are poems with a guitar behind them.”
Cohen indeed delivered “The Stranger Song” in a more poetic style vocally, with fingerpicked classical guitar. But whether categorized as reciting a poem “with a guitar behind” or singing a song, Cohen’s ability to transfix is on full display even early in his music career.
In honor of Leonard Cohen’s birthday, watch the poet and singer-songwriter make his musical television debut below: