Phoebe Snow, 1950–2011

The singer-songwriter of ‘Poetry Man’

Phoebe Snow was an ardent fan of Frank Sinatra, and the admiration was reciprocated. Waiting in the front row for one of his shows to begin, Snow had to use the bathroom but was reluctant to leave her seat for fear that Sinatra would begin without her. Sure enough, the show started while Snow was in the ladies’ room. As she picked her way back to her seat, Sinatra yelled from the stage, “Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a broad here tonight who is interrupting my show. And by the way, she is the best singer in the history of the world.” The remark briefly sent her career into orbit.

Born Phoebe Laub, Snow grew up in the middle-class New York City suburb of Teaneck, N.J., said the Bergen County, N.J., Record. While still in her teens, she gravitated toward the Greenwich Village folk scene, and she dropped out of college to perform in clubs and coffeehouses. She took her stage name from a turn-of-the-century railroad advertising campaign “after seeing the name ‘Phoebe Snow’ on boxcars rumbling through Teaneck.”

Snow’s “powerful, four-octave voice” quickly won her a following, said The New York Times, and she released her first, self-titled album in 1974. It shot up the charts on the strength of the record’s hit, the lilting “Poetry Man,” whose lyrics spoke of an affair with a married man. Her talents spanned genres from jazz and blues to funk and gospel. Her only other top-25 hit was “Gone at Last,” a 1975 duet with Paul Simon.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The “marvelous, ‘cracked’ quality” of Snow’s voice kept her in demand as a singer of advertising jingles, said the Los Angeles Times. The work paid well and allowed her to stay at home to care for her severely brain-damaged daughter, Valerie, the product of Snow’s brief marriage to musician Phil Kearns. “I really made the only choice I could under the circumstances,” she said after Valerie’s death, at 31. Snow restarted her career, and she’d take a few minutes during each show to talk about Valerie. She considered her devotion to her daughter her highest accomplishment. “She was the only thing that was holding me together,” she said in 2008.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.