In some sad news, Bob McGrath, who was the neighborhood music teacher and a reliable friend on Sesame Street for almost half a century, died on Sunday at his home in New Jersey. He was 90.
In a thread on Twitter, Sesame Workshop paid tribute to McGrath’s 47 years on the beloved children’s program, which debuted in 1969. McGrath appeared as the sweater-clad music teacher - coincidentally named “Bob” — in the Sesame Street pilot and remained on the show until his final appearance in 2017.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Robert Emmett McGrath, the youngest of five children, was born on June 13, 1932, in Ottawa, Illinois, to Edmund Thomas McGrath, a farmer, and Flora Agnes Halligan. His parents recognized his talent for singing and piano playing at a young age, and he eventually went on to major in voice at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1954. He spent the next two years in the Army, mostly in Stuttgart, Germany, where he worked with the Seventh Army Symphony. Then, he landed in New York, where he received a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.
He worked with St. David’s, a private boys’ school in Manhattan, and began taking freelance singing assignments to pay the bills until Sing Along With Mitch came along in 1961. McGrath was one of 25 male singers who appeared every week on the NBC show — and eventually became the featured male soloist due to his lovely tenor voice. After the show ended in 1964, the cast played Las Vegas and did a 30-stop tour in Japan, which the NYT reports led McGrath into a “teen idol” level of fame.
“The money was good, but I was being away from home much too much... My poor wife [Ann Logan Sperry] was with four or five children at that point taking care of them all by herself,” McGrath said of the experience in a 2004 Television Academy Foundation interview.
He ended up turning down an invitation to go back on tour and remained in New York to study acting and improvisation. While outside of Carnegie Hall one day, he bumped into a former fraternity brother, David Connell, who told him about a new kids’ show he was working on. He urged McGrath to come and audition, but he turned down the offer.
That was until McGrath saw the animation plans for Sesame Street and met Jim Henson’s Muppets. He was so impressed that he decided to audition, and the rest is TV history.
After McGrath was let go from the program in 2016 — alongside longtime co-stars the late Emilio Delgado (Luis) and Roscoe Orman (Gordon) — McGrath said, “I’m really very happy to stay home with my wife and children a little bit more. I’d be so greedy if I wanted five minutes more.”
He is survived by his wife Ann, who is 89, and their five children — Liam, Robert, Alison, Lily and Cathlin — as well as eight grandchildren. He is also survived by his elder sister, Eileen Strobel.
So long, Bob. Thanks for the many, many memories.