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John Roberts & Debra Cowan Concert Program

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“Two of the finest voices in folk music” Ron Olesko, Sing Out! Magazine

“Wonderful! I could do an entire two hour show with just John and Debra” David Guzzetti, host “Woody and Friends” KZFR 90.1 Chico, CA













About John Roberts:

For over 50 years, British expatriate John Roberts has been singing and playing old songs, meaning that many of the songs and tunes in his extensive repertoire can be traced back at least one hundred years. He is also considered one of the foremost Anglo concertina players in the English-speaking world and uses the banjo for unique settings in many of the songs he sings. He can give the background of any song he performs, often telling the listener the circumstances from which it might have been written and from whom the song was collected.  John and his long-time music partner, Tony Barrand (another British expatriate) are often cited as influences and mentors to many listeners, singers and musicians when it comes to traditional folk music of the English speaking world.
You can find out more about John Roberts by visiting his website or his recording label,

“…Debra Cowan and John Roberts reminded me of why I love folk music so much–it’s the ripping yarns, the sparse tunes, and the joy of singing along.”  Rob Weir, Off-Center Views

It all started with a question in 2009: “How are you getting to Chicago?”

And with that, folk musicians John Roberts and Debra Cowan decided to team up for a series of small concerts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois before arriving as separately booked artists at the Fox Valley Folklore Society’s annual festival. The combination of car-pool and mini-tour was successful enough that John and Debra continue to do more performing together both in the USA and in 2011, with a successful tour in the United Kingdom.




With their eloquent voices and expert musicianship, John Roberts and Debra Cowan bring to life songs seldom heard on TV or radio these days. Drawn from both the folk tradition and the work of contemporary songwriters, many of these songs tell of the timeless joys and sorrows of human experience. They offer windows into where we’ve come from and perhaps where we’re headed. Both John and Debra can spin a ripping good yarn and whether illuminating, inspiring, or laugh-out-loud funny, their stories convey their love of the songs and the people who’ve sung them over the years, decades — and in some cases centuries.

John and Debra first met in 1999. John, an English émigré, has been singing sea shanties, broadside ballads, pub tunes, and British traditional songs since the 1960s. Sometimes his bold voice stands alone; other times he accompanies himself on Anglo concertina or banjo.

Debra’s nightingale soprano complements and contrasts with John’s rich baritone. Debra often leaves her guitar on the stage: her strong, clear, and expressive voice needs no instrumental support. Her repertoire focuses on traditional songs and on contemporary work that deserves a wider audience. She’s been known to rework old love songs, sea shanties, and ballads to give them feminist twists.

John and Debra firmly believe that folk music is not a spectator sport. They can turn any audience into a chorale by patiently teaching sometimes complicated and often tongue-tying choruses, along with familiar songs. Whether the venue is a coffeehouse, auditorium, or living room, listeners leave a Roberts-Cowan performance smiling and often singing, knowing that the song is the star, and singing is what keeps great songs alive.

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