Robert Emmet "Bob" McGrath (b. June 13, 1932 in Illinois) has been playing the role of Bob Johnson as a member of the cast of Sesame Street since the show's inception in 1969 (and later in online content).
Bob McGrath first became interested in music at the age of 5; his immediate family acquired a piano when his grandmother moved into another house. His mother was a pianist in her own right; McGrath attributes his initial interest in music to her. In high school, McGrath had a job at a radio station in an adjacent town. He was also involved in numerous musical plays and competitions. He later attended the University of Michigan as a voice major. During the time of the Korean War, McGrath was deployed to Germany, where he worked as part of the 7th Army Symphony. He joined a quartet, and the group toured France for about a month. Soon after, McGrath moved to New York, where he became part of another quartet.
McGrath performed with record producer/singer Mitch Miller's troupe, starting when one of Miller's long-time tenors bowed out in December of 1959, on records and then on TV's Sing Along with Mitch (1961-1964). He was actually a member of the chorus ("The Sing Along Gang"), but he got a chance to perform a solo on a St. Patrick's Day show, amazing audiences, including Miller himself. McGrath eventually became a featured soloist. Though the show's run ended in 1964, the cast and crew were invited to perform in Las Vegas and Japan.
While on tour with Miller, Bob McGrath developed a sizable teenage following, where he was known as Bobu Magurasu (ボブ・マグラス). After eight hit albums and more than 30 hit singles, he continued to tour to sellout crowds. After three years, offers were made for him to move to Japan and continue recording and touring. However, pop stardom was passed over in preference to his family.
Life on the Street
When McGrath first joined the cast, one of the names he was offered for his character just happened to be Bobby. He figured he'd be faster to respond to his own name than to others such as Ted or Jack, so he opted for Bobby, but requested that they drop the 'by'.
During the first season, McGrath occasionally lent his voice to some Muppet song inserts, including the trumpet player in "I Am A Fine Musician", and one of the brothers in "Five People In My Family."
Bob McGrath and Will Lee were apparently very close; the two shared a dressing room. McGrath says he learned many lessons from Lee, particularly the importance of respecting the integrity of the children that members of the cast work with.
When Lee died in 1982, producers were faced with a dilemma. After exploring several options and conducting a great deal of research, the production crew finally decided to address the death directly (in episode 1839 from the following year). The result was what many consider to be one of the most poignant moments in Sesame Street history, as McGrath recalled:
“We saw the script and we thought, "Are we ever going to get through this?" and we barely did... we got through the scene, we just rehearsed it for a few hours, totally dry, with no emotion, and then when we finally went to tape, we with did it with some emotion, and barely got through it.”
McGrath has cited this scene and the spoof of the Gift of the Magi from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street as his two favorite Sesame Street moments. He also appeared in most of the other Sesame specials as well as both theatrical films, Follow That Bird and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.
By 2011, the season size and his personal schedule of episodes was so reduced, he told one newspaper: "It's like a hobby, quite frankly. But I don't mind, because it's still fun and still a great place to go to work. There's much less a sense of the neighborhood. They're using many fewer live people per segment. I don't mean to be negative. I'm just being realistic. The show is still great, but it's done differently for a different audience."
Off the Street
Bolstered by his long-term Sesame Street work, McGrath has remained a popular and recognizable stage performer and recording artist, in addition to authoring several children's books. He continues to perform in concerts and make public appearances during the seven to eight months when Sesame Street is not taping shows. Traditionally his stage show consists of healthy amounts of Sesame Street songs along with Broadway music and movie tunes that appeal to children.
He collaborates with several nonprofit organizations, including the Telemiracle Foundation in Saskatchewan, Canada (for which he appeared in annual Telemiracle telethons for many years, often accompanied by his daughter), and the Variety Children's Charity in British Columbia, Canada. On May 17, 2007, he lent his voice to a recording for Songs of Love, a charity which produces songs for the benefit of children with long - term health impairments. In 2004, McGrath stated he had no intention of retiring.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation interviewed McGrath in 2004 for the Archive of American Television. The hour and a half interview was posted on YouTube in 2008.
- Me, Myself (1989)
- I'm a Good Mommy (1989)
- Dog Lies (1989)
- The Shoveler (1989)
- You're a Good Daddy (1989)
- Mr. Sneakers (1989)
- Uh Oh! Gotta Go! (1996)
- Oops! Excuse Me Please! and Other Mannerly Tales (1998)
- Music For Fun! for Pre-K through 2nd Grade Classes (with Marilyn Davidson) (2000)
- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. July 15, 2004. Archive of American Television Interview with Bob McGrath Part 1 of 4. January 16, 2008.
- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. July 15,2004. Archive of American Television. Interview with Bob McGrath Part 2 of 4. January 16, 2008.
- Hellmich, Nanci. "Tragedy spurs celebs to give ailing kids personalized songs." (electronic version). 14 May, 2007. USA Today. January 16, 2008. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-05-14-songs-of-love_n.htm>
- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation. July 15, 2004. Archive of American Television Interview with Bob McGrath Part 4 of 4. January 16, 2008.