The Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces “Sesame Street,” remembered Mr. McGrath as “a beloved member of the Sesame Street family,” writing in a statement Sunday, “As a founding member of the cast, Bob embodied the tunes of Sesame Street like no one else , and his performances brought joy and wonder to generations of children around the world, whether he was teaching them their ABCs, the people in their neighborhoods, or the simple joy of feeling music in their hearts.”
Mr. McGrath joined the first cast of 1969’s “Sesame” as Bob Johnson, the affable neighborhood music teacher, alongside three other human characters who sang, lived, worked, and studied alongside their fluffy, fuzzy — and occasionally grumpy — Muppet counterparts Street” at.
But the role almost didn’t happen. Mr. McGrath had spent much of the 1960s appearing on television and working as a folk singer in Japan. He was back in the United States when he met his fraternity brother Dave Connell, who had worked on the children’s show Captain Kangaroo, Mr. McGrath said in a 2004 interview with the Television Academy Foundation. Connell asked if Mr. McGrath would be interested in auditioning for a new children’s program he was working on.
“No, not at all,” Mr. McGrath recalled. “I thought, ‘Hmm, here’s another silly kids show that doesn’t mean that much.’ ”
Mr McGrath auditioned and got the role, which he would continue through 2017.
As Johnson, Mr. McGrath helped young viewers cultivate kindness and curiosity about the world around them through songs like “People in Your Neighborhood” and “Morningtown Ride.”
The show also dealt gently with death and loss, as in a 1983 episode where Bob and other characters explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper, the grocer, had died after the real death of Will Lee, the actor he had Portrayed Mr. Hooper since 1969.
“You wrote this beautiful script,” Mr. McGrath said in an interview with Television Academy. “When we saw it, we asked ourselves, will we ever get through this? And we hardly did it.”
In the scene, Bob holds back tears as he acknowledges to Big Bird that things will never be the same since their beloved friend passed away.
“But do you know something?” Mr. McGrath’s character said. “We can all be very fortunate that we had the chance to be with him and to know and love him very much while he was here.”
Robert Emmett McGrath was born on June 13, 1932 on a farm without electricity in Ottawa, Illinois, a city about 80 miles southwest of Chicago.
Mr. McGrath described his mother as “incredibly musical” in the 2004 interview and credited her for his success in the music business, where he spent his early years performing in radio competitions.
He studied music at the University of Michigan, where he was a soloist in the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club, graduating in 1954. After college, Mr. McGrath spent two years in the Army and then received a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
In 1958 he married Ann Sperry. In addition to his wife, survivors include five children; a sister; and eight grandchildren.
After two years of freelance music work ranging from Gregorian chants at funerals to commercial radio jingles, Mr. McGrath joined the television show “Sing Along With Mitch,” hosted by Mitch Miller, and sang for four years as a solo artist for the American band leader. before becoming a popular attraction in Japan.
But most of Mr. McGrath’s fame came from “Sesame Street,” on which he appeared in more than 460 episodes. Fans were outraged when in 2016 Mr. McGrath and two other longtime cast members – Roscoe Orman, who played Gordon, and Emilio Delgado, who played Luis – were fired; Their contracts were not renewed for first-run rights prior to the program’s switch to HBO in 2015.
Emilio Delgado, Luis’ beloved handyman from “Sesame Street”, dies at the age of 81
Mr McGrath was confident throughout it all and told attendees at the Florida Supercon comic book convention later that year that he welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with family. “I would be so greedy if I wanted five more minutes,” he said.