Folk singer and comedian Ron Coden has died after a lifetime of entertaining

by Melody Baetens
Detroit News
March 7, 2024

Ronald Coden: June 11, 1943 - March 5, 2024

Described as an entertainer with a conscience, folk singer Ron Coden died Tuesday at age 80. As much as he was a musician and a singer, Coden was a comedian and a showman who taught elementary school music classes and performed on television, at supper clubs, comedy venues and in bars. His influences included "Al Jolson, Josh White, Laurel and Hardy, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln and his brother Steve," according to his obituary on the Ira Kaufman Chapel website.

"He had his own way of doing things," said his longtime friend and fellow musician Chuck Mitchell. Mitchell and Coden - along with Mitchell's ex-wife Joni Mitchell - were part of the city's folk scene in the 1960s together. "He was extraordinarily amusing. He had a stand-up comedian's sense of timing and a wonderful way with music. He was musical but he was also a genuinely comedic person, a sweet-natured human being, had a really nice voice. He didn't play fancy guitar, but he had an excellent little band."

Coden, who lived in Berkley, was involved in creating and voicing characters on the Detroit-based children's television show "Hot Fudge," produced by WXYZ-TV. Similar to "Sesame Street," "Hot Fudge" was a music-infused sketch show that debuted in 1974 and was nationally syndicated in the late '70s. Coden played several characters, including the Columbo-like Detective Tomato and Mr. Nasty.

He performed frequently in local supper clubs and comedy venues - including the Raven Gallery in Southfield and O'Mara's Irish Pub in Berkley - either as a folksinger, comedian or as "the Ron Coden Show." He may be best known for his involvement with Focus: Hope, however. He sang at 50 fundraisers for the Detroit-based nonprofit, which helps overcome racism, poverty and injustice in the city.

"Ron was always concerned about what was best for the show, not his ego at all," said musician David Reske, who became associated with Coden through Focus: Hope. Reske, who said Coden died of natural causes, will sing at Coden's funeral service Friday morning.

"The song I'm singing tomorrow is one I wrote about Ron called 'Let the Little Man Lead the Way' because I knew all along if I just followed Ron's lead it would be the best way to perform and to do what he wanted to do for civil rights. He was a great supporter of Focus: Hope and of civil rights."

"What always amazed me was that he was as affective in a coffee house as he was in a bar," said Mitchell regarding Coden's stage presence. "He worked a number of places on a regular basis in Detroit for decades."

Coden is survived by his wife, Renee Coden, three children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Services are set for 11 a.m. Friday at the Ira Kaufman Chapel, 18325 W. Nine Mile in Southfield. For additional information and to view a live stream of the services, visit

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