Original Sesame Street cast member Bob McGrath has died. As confirmed in a Facebook post by his family, McGrath died “peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.” He was 90.
“Sesame Workshop mourns the passing of Bob McGrath, a beloved member of the Sesame Street family for over 50 years,” Sesame Workshop wrote in a statement. “A founding cast member, Bob embodied the melodies of Sesame Street like no one else, and his performances brought joy and wonder to generations of children around the world, whether teaching them the ABCs, the people in their neighborhood, or the simple joy of feeling music in their hearts.
A revered performer worldwide, Bob’s rich tenor filled airwaves and concert halls from Las Vegas to Saskatchewan to Tokyo many times over. We will be forever grateful for his many years of passionate creative contributions to Sesame Street and honored that he shared so much of his life with us.”
Among the most beloved reoccurring cast members in Sesame Street’s 53 years, McGrath was born on June 13, 1932, in Ottawa, Illinois. He began singing at an early age, leading to a career in the arts, studying music at the University of Michigan, and performing in the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra while he served in the Korean War.
After the army, he relocated to the east coast, where McGrath began singing on television, first on Sing Along With Mitch. He also became somewhat internationally famous as “An Irish tenor from Teaneck, N.J., who specializes in lugubrious Japanese folk ballads sung to the accompaniment of a native flute called the shakuhachi,” which became “the current sensation of Japanese show business,” The New York Times wrote in 1967.
However, he described arriving at Sesame Street as an old joke. “You know the old joke ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ […] My variation of that joke is ‘How did I get to Sesame Street?’ I got to Sesame Street by standing in front of Carnegie Hall.” Waiting for a bus outside Carnegie Hall in the late 60s, a friend who had just left the Captain Kangaroo Show and started a new job at the Children’s Television Workshop invited McGrath to audition. Though he declined (“I declined [the] offer saying, ‘Not in the least!’”), he made a trip to the studio several months later for a meeting with Jim Henson. “It took me about two minutes before realizing that I wanted to do this show more than anything else I could ever think of,” he said.
McGrath appeared in the pilot episode of Sesame Street as “Bob Johnson.” He would continue to show up for the next 47 seasons, with his final episode airing in 2017. However, his legacy lives on in the classic songs he performed on the show. Such staples as “People In Your Neighborhood” and “Sing” will undoubtedly continue welcoming visitors, young and old, to Sesame Street for years to come.