John Cohen is a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers as well as a musicologist, photographer and filmmaker of note. Some of his best known images document the Abstract Expressionist scene centered around New York's Cedar Bar; gallery happenings by early performance artists; young Bob Dylan's arrival in New York; Beat Generation writers during the filming of Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie's film Pull My Daisy; and the "old time" musicians of Appalachia. He has been one of the most important "discoverers" of traditional musicians and singers, finding and recording Dillard Chandler, Roscoe Holcomb, and many banjo players, most notably on the album High Atmosphere.
Beyond the United States, Cohen traveled extensively to Peru, driven by a fascination for the weaving and lifestyle of the native Andean population. His field recording of a Peruvian wedding song is included on the Voyager Golden Record, attached to the Voyager spacecraft.
Cohen married Penny Seeger, the youngest member of the musical Seeger family, which includes half-brother Pete Seeger. They had two children, Sonya and Rufus, and grandchildren Dio and Gabel.