The Canadian poet and novelist turned epic songwriter has died. In a music career that spanned nearly five decades, Leonard Cohen wrote more than 20,000 recordings of his songs have been made by folk singers, like Judy Collins and Tim Hardin, and later by performers from across the pop music spectrum, among them U2, Aretha Franklin, R.E.M., Jeff Buckley, K.D. Lang, and Elton John.
Born in Montreal in 1934, Cohen grew up in the suburb of Westmount. In 1951, he attended McGill University. While still an undergraduate, he published his first book of poetry. “Let Us Compare Mythologies,” was published in 1956, followed by “The Spice-Box of Earth” in 1961, and then in 1964, “Flowers for Hitler.”
Cohen eventually placed two songs, “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” on Judy Collins’s album “In My Life.” Later, in 1967, a reluctant Cohen sang with Collins on stage. He signed to Columbia Records and released his first album simply titled “Songs of Leonard Cohen.”
His best-known song may well be the majestic ballad “Hallelujah.” Written for an album in 1984, his record company deemed it insufficiently commercial. A decade later, it was made popular by Jeff Buckley. In 2008, Cohen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which described him as “one of the few artists in the realm of popular music who can truly be called poets” and praised him for having “raised the songwriting bar.” In 2010, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Grammy’s group, gave him a lifetime achievement award.