Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nearly 7,000,000 Views Later - The Triumphant Return Of The Piano-Playing Elderly Couple.

(Story © 2010 by David Kusumoto Communications.)

* On February 24, 2010, a piano-playing elderly couple from the small town of Ankeny, Iowa, north of Des Moines – returned triumphantly to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota – to re-visit the piano that made them world famous – thanks to a video posted almost 18 months earlier on the Internet.

* This time, television cameras and newspaper photographers were everywhere, including an audience of hundreds – who came to see the "return engagement" of 91-year-old Marlow Cowan and his 85-year-old wife Frances – who unknowingly thrilled millions of people back in September 2008 when their impromptu piano-duet of "Put on Your Ole Gray Bonnet" was captured by cancer patient Sharon Turner of West Virginia – and subsequently posted on You Tube by Turner's daughter Jodi Hume of Baltimore.

* How did this all begin? The original September 2008 video wasn't "staged." It was an extemporaneous event captured by a patient, a bystander. It was not a promotional stunt designed to make money nor to bring fame to its subject or to its makers. In my view, most people who "stage" a video with hopes it will be watched and spread by millions, fail miserably unless their material is fall-down funny or poignant in an original way.

* Conversely, a happy accident occurred after the Cowans – who were visiting the Mayo Clinic to enable Mr. Cowan to undergo a comprehensive health exam – discovered a piano in the Gonda building's atrium. What they did next was captured on video by Sharon Turner and posted by Jodi Hume – and it had all the makings of a viral success written over it. The video was funny, engaging and charming. (See original viral posting below.) In my view, had the Cowans been younger, it would not have been as popular. Its appeal had everything to do with their age (they've been married 63 years), their joy while playing – and their "novelty" as performers. In fact, the Mr. and Mrs. Cowan call themselves "The Noveliers" – and they're hardly entertainment rookies.


* According to reporter Marc Hansen of the Des Moines Register, the couple has spent nearly 30 years touring the world, giving lessons and attending recitals, while directing the Des Moines YMCA Boys Chorus and two musical bell-ringing clubs. Some elements of their act are inspired by the late Victor Borge, the classic pianist whose signature was to interrupt performances with jokes, malapropisms and other pranks. Today, the Cowans "touring circuit" consists of "schools, churches, service clubs and retirement homes," which writer Hansen noted, "is interesting, seeing as they're older than most of their audience members."

* The original September 2008 video was shot at the end of a euphoric day for cancer patient Sharon Turner, who has spent three decades in chronic pain related to several jaw reconstructions. She bit into her first sandwich in 25 years and she and her daughter Jodi Hume were already in a festive mood.

* "And then we heard the piano and the laughter," wrote Ms. Hume on the Mayo Clinic's blog site in April 2009. "From the balcony, we could see an older couple sitting side-by-side at the piano playing together and entertaining a host of people. Some were in wheelchairs, others were sitting with canes beside them or standing. Everyone was smiling with all burdens forgotten for the moment. The joy was absolutely indescribable." A video of mother Sharon Turner and daughter Jodi Hume – relating their experiences at the Mayo Clinic – was shot in April 2009 and can be viewed by clicking here.

* Within days after Ms. Hume posted her mother's video – it went viral – and has captured nearly seven million views thus far on You Tube. It has led to scores of news interviews, more concert appearances and an invitation from ABC's "Good Morning America." "They flew us out to New York," Marlow Cowan told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Imagine: Traveling that far just to play the piano."

* The Cowan's reaction? Happily astounded and dumb-struck. "We had no idea it was going to mushroom like this," Marlow Cowan told the Des Moines Register. Moreover, the Cowans had never heard of You Tube. "We didn't even know what a Web site was," wife Frances added. "We're still not sure."

* The video interview below was conducted by Lee Aase, manager for Syndications and Social Media for the Mayo Clinic – and Chancellor of Social Media University, Global -- in May 2009.



* Last week, Marlow and Frances Cowan returned to the Mayo Clinic with a full set of numbers, closing with the standing duet that made them famous, "Put on Your Ole Gray Bonnet" (which he jokingly re-named, "She Was Only the Bootlegger's Daughter, But I Love Her Still") whereby at various intervals, the couple swaps places and taps each other's bottoms – just as they were seen in the original 2008 video. (Click below.)

* In my view, the best compilation video of the Cowan's "return engagement" was captured by photographer Jerry Olson of the Rochester Post-Bulletin. © 2010, Jerry Olson, Rochester Post-Bulletin (click below).

* According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, at the end of their mini-concert, Marlow Cowan told his audience, "Keep a song in your heart, keep singing and God bless you all."

* Their reaction to all the fuss? "We think they're crazy!," Frances Cowan told the Post-Bulletin, "because we're nothing special. We just have fun. I guess people just need to have some joy and fun and clean entertainment."

* Meanwhile, over at You Tube, the Cowan's "return engagement" video has been broken into seven parts by the Mayo Clinic. (Just the first part appears below.) For more information about the Mayo Clinic's support services, click here.

FEBRUARY 24, 2010
(Remaining six parts have been posted at You Tube;
search "Cowan Concert at Mayo Clinic.")

(Original material © 2010 by David Kusumoto Communications.)


  1. They are an absolute delight. Wish they would come back and do so more videos. I would like their e-mail address to let them know what a joy they are to everyone. Mary W. Carter, Pelham, NC

  2. So enjoyable as I know all those old song...I'm 94