About Bob Kessler

Bob Kessler was born to a working-class family with artistic inclinations. His father was a painter who studied with Hans Hoffman. His mother’s brother, David Stimer, was an accomplished pianist, accompanist to major musicians of the day, and his sister, nine years older, was a composer who studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. So although Bob's father paid the bills working as a house painter, there was always music in the house, along with the aroma of linseed oil. The nuclear family also included Bob’s maternal grandmother, Bubby, who sort of ran things. Bubby didn’t speak any English so Yiddish was commonly heard in the house.  

The depression was a tough time for the family. Bob's father was sick with rheumatoid arthritis for a few years and the family lived on “relief” for a time, along with David Stimer’s “rent.” Bob had asthma so, when he was four years old, the family moved from the Lower East Side to Washington Heights where “the air was better,” and that’s where Bob grew up.  

David had resolved that Bob would be a typical American kid, not a culture vulture, so he played a lot of baseball, basketball, and touch football, and he rambled around the local parks, even participating in the street wars that the Jewish kids had with the Irish kids from across Amsterdam Avenue. World War II played a major part in Bob’s moral formation, and his image of the US became fixed in patriotic wartime dogma, an enthusiasm which stayed with him. His home life was pleasant and undemanding, so life was good. Meanwhile his big sister, Claire, was racking up accomplishments, and Bob chose not to compete. Claire had gone to the High School of Music and Art, one of New York’s elite high schools, and Bob decided to go there too. He studied clarinet for three months, took the entry exam and was accepted at M&A.  

Never an avid student, Bob managed to pass all his courses but never got out of Third Term Orchestra, the lowest-level performing group in the school. However, he had great friends, got into the intellectual milieu of the school, and started writing songs with Marty Charnin, a neighborhood buddy and sports compatriot. That partnership lasted well into Bob’s twenties, and launched him into a career in song writing. Music & Art was very important and created friendships that lasted through the years.  

College was a strange experience, probably because Bob really didn’t want or need to attend. His sister had by now married, annulled the marriage, and remarried a chemist, a brilliant and attractive man who seemed to offer a good direction for the future. Bob entered City College as a Chemistry major. After a year of avoiding classes by playing bridge in the cafeteria (he HATED all of the science classes) he had flunked out. Nobody was very critical of him for this failure but he felt the need to change course and get back to music. He bargained with the City College administration and said that if they let him back in to the in the music department he would get straight A’s! They did and he did, and immediately transferred to Queens College, another City University branch which had a much better music department. Claire had also gone to Queens. He seemed to be following in her footsteps though that was not his intention. He finished a nondescript college career without a flourish!  

Through college Bob and Marty had been turning out songs and getting into theater music. Growing up in the Rogers and Hammerstein years, with Frank Loesser musicals, and the genius of Lerner and Loewe in their ears, they went to summer stock venues in the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and developed some skills along the way. Bob wrote the music, Marty the lyrics. They began to place review material with Off-Broadway shows like the Julius Monk reviews, Kaleidoscope, and Fallout. “Love is a Clown” and “The Youngest President” were among songs of theirs performed in the Monk presentations. They wrote a score for a Jules Feiffer cartoon (without approval) and some trade show songs. They were beginning to attract some attention.  

Marty landed a small part in West Side Story and began to hang out with an upper-echelon crowd. He married a dancer in the show. Bob had reconnected with a college crush and was married in 1959 to Pamela Udis, a beautiful social worker with a passion for show biz. He did this against the advice of his partner though Marty did not say why he felt that way. Within two years Marty had had his agent call Bob to say that he was no longer writing with him. In the extremely creative years that followed, Bob found that his lyric writing was perhaps even better that his tunesmithing. This proved true and valuable later on. His first post-Charnin efforts were a commercial for Helena Rubinstein’s Lightworks lipstick with Bobb Goldstein and a number for Libby Morris, What Are You Trying To Say?  

With Broadway in mind, Bob started attempting full scores on spec and completed ones for Mary Chases’s "Harvey" and Leo Rosten’s "The Education of Hyman Kaplan." Neither score was picked up though Bob's Harvey score was pursued for many years by the producer Harvey Stuart.  

In 1959, Bob was asked to provide the music for an off-Broadway production of a restoration musical, "O Marry Me!," an adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s play "She Stoops to Conquer" with the poet Lola Pergament writing the book and lyrics. "O Marry Me!" had a short run in New York in 1961 and played the Theater Royal Windsor in England the following year. In the cast was Elly Stone, known for her appearance in "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well..." Elly’s husband, the poet Eric Blau, had done the translations of the Brel songs. Bob and Eric started a writing relationship that led to Elly’s well-known renditions of "Alexander's Song," "Wilhelmina Cord," and "Mea Culpa Baby."  

Then came the Frank Loesser years. Bob was offered a job at Frank Loesser’s publishing house, Frank Music. His first assignment was to write a song with Hoagy Carmichael, a little ditty called "Chihuahua Choo Choo Train," which did not become a hit. In addition to writing pop songs to be submitted to record companies, he wrote music to lyrics that his publisher had procured as well as lyrics to music he was given. A number of records resulted, recorded by artists including Arthur Prysock, Diahanne Carroll, Barbara McNair, Gregory Hines, Ed Ames, Walter Jackson, Michael Kamen, Josh White Jr., Leon Bibb, Paul Evans, and many others. Bob also wrote movie songs, including the songs for "The Education of Sonny Carson," "A Warm December," "The MacMasters," and "Together for Days" with Coleridge Taylor Perkinson writing the music. Bob also write the lyrics for the movie "Slaves," which starred Dionne Warwick; Bobby Scott wrote the music. The "Slaves" score generated album cuts by Dionne, Bobby Scott, Lena Horne, Leon Bibb, and Grady Tate. Bob's writing relationship with Bobby Scott thrived and many more songs were generated, the most popular being "From Eden to Canaan." The Everly Brothers and Bobby Scott put out singles and album cuts of this song.  

Bob was a contributor to the PBS television show "Feelin' Good." He wrote "The Nicest Parties" for Bernadette Peters, "Someone to Talk To" for Wayland Jennings, "Little Lady" for Stephanie Mills, and "Good Lookin’ Out" for Roosevelt Greer. The show lasted for one season.  

Bob's marriage to Pam broke up in 1969, some years after the birth of their daughter Amanda. Shortly thereafter the contract with Frank Music ended and, strangely enough, Bob’s most satisfying period as a writer began. A series of songs of a very personal nature were generated and Bob’s catalogue of songs grew to about 400, the last group being his favorites. However, without representation of any kind, and with Bob being unwilling to push his work himself, his career slowed to a halt and, in 1977, he cast about for something else to concentrate on. He was beginning to repeat himself and was no longer getting any satisfaction from writing.  

In January 1975, Bob met Janet Lincoln. Say no more! Between Janet and his daughter Amanda, Bob was home from then on.  

After ending his professional songwriting life, Bob co-founded Pendragon Press. Bob's older sister Claire had by this time remarried Barry Brook, and they both had attained high positions in the world of musicology. Barry had become an international figure of great importance in iconograpy. Claire had become the music editor at W.W. Norton, a major book publisher in the music world, he doyen of an artistic niche with great influence in the field. She suggested that Bob might go into the publishing business. She would provide a book that Barry had written and that she and Barry had self-published, which had sold about 300 copies. Claire also connected Bob with a woman who wanted a book published about her husband, a well-known musicologist, which carried a financial gift large enough to print the new book. Claire proceeded to instruct Bob in the creation of a book, and Pendragon Press was born. There followed 41 years of adventures in musicology and almost 500 titles in the field. It still goes on!  

Bob and Janet moved to from New York City to Stuyvesant, New York in 1987, having bought an old inn on the Hudson River in 1981. They then moved to Hillsdale, New York in 1999. Bob passed away on September 16, 2021.