Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Chances are you won’t need the services of Robert Leonard Associates. It “consults with law firms, government and law enforcement agencies, and individuals in situations where language analysis may be helpful. We research, analyze, consult, write reports and testify in both civil and criminal cases.

See what I mean?

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist


Of course I’m not doing this piece on Dr Leonard because I somehow found myself in such dire straights. The situation I found myself in was Bethel, New York in August 1969. I was there for Woodstock’s  22 hour Saturday show and only the Joe Cocker opening on Sunday.

After Joe was the downpour and a few hundred thousand of us gradually went home.  That’s why we few hundred thousand were not around for Jimi Hendrix on Monday morning. Likely he was one of the performers, if not THE performer we had looked forward to seeing, but Mother Nature and Father Time threw some mud on that plan

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Sha Na Na

That meant we also missed Sha Na Na. Perhaps we’d heard of them, but likely not. We probably had heard their songs. We were familiar with our older siblings’ doo-wop musical tastes: the Diamonds, the Silhouettes,  Danny and the Juniors, the Monotones, and others.

Sha Na Na? The phrase “Sha Na Na” the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job.” And it turned out to be the name of a dozen guys from Columbia University who were in the right place  at the right time and got an invite to the most famous music festival of all time.

Robert Leonard was one of those Columbia students. They were part of the school’s a capella group who had some fun doing doo wop. That fun was initially a one-off. That one-off became some gigs at the famed Steve Paul‘s Scene.

The right people were hanging out there to attract others. Others being two guys who were putting on a music festival in Bethel, NY.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Fifties Invented

Elizabeth E. Guffey, a Stanford Ph.D. and associate professor at SUNY Purchase, published Retro: The Culture of Revival. In that book Guffy wrote, ““On the fourth day of the Woodstock Festival of 1969, just before Jimi Hendrix’s celebrated finale, the stage was held by a group of unknown undergraduates from Columbia University … The rock-’n’-roll revivalist group Sha Na Na bombarded the audience with tightly choreographed 1950s classics like ‘Teen Angel’ and ‘At the Hop.’ The festival’s unlikely scene stealers sported dated looks, including greased ducktails, white socks and cigarettes rolled into T-shirt sleeves. Sha Na Na’s impossibly upbeat and exuberant version of the 1950s seemed the opposite of the arty psychedelica and hard rock that characterized Woodstock.”

Though not in the band itself, Robert Leonard’s brother George was integral in its genesis.  Guffey relates how George described himself as a ‘22-year-old Susan Sontag buff…(with) a vision of a group that would sing only ’50s rock and perform dances like the Busby Berkeley films that he ‘learned to love in college readings on Camp’ ”

The source of the quotes above is from a 2008 Columbia College Today article by brothers George and Robert. In it they discuss how Sha Na Na invented the “Fifties” as we think of them today. It is an interesting read, but beyond the scope of this piece.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Higher Education

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist
slide from a 2016 presentation

As bright as a spot as Woodstock would be on anyone’s resume, like most of his  fellow band mates,  performing in Sha Na Na was never planned to be a career. Only two of the Woodstock dozen are in the latest Sha Na Na line-up: Donny York and John Marcellino.

Leonard left the band in 1970 for a Fulbright Fellowship (that he did at the University of Nairobi, Kenya) and earned his PhD at Columbia.

Today he is the Professor of Linguistics, Director of the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics, and Director of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Amazing list

Hofstra’s site on Leonard has an astounding list. He has:

  •  been qualified as a Forensic Expert Witness in Linguistics and Language in a number of state and Federal courts. As a forensic linguist, Leonard has provided expert opinions to clients that include Apple, Inc., the Prime Minister of Canada, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, and the U.S. Department of Justice, in cases dealing with a wide range of forensic linguistic issues.
  • trained British law enforcement agencies
  • linguistically traced bomb-threat voice calls to the Nassau County, New York courthouse.
  • authored and co-authored both technical and popular articles in the field of linguistics and has lectured worldwide on linguistics—on theoretical advances in linguistic theory and the application of the science of linguistics to investigative law enforcement and counter-terrorism techniques.

And here’s a 2012 New Yorker article on a murder that Leonard was an integral witness for the prosecution.

Well done, Dr Leonard.

As he says at the beginning of this conference, “I am one of the very few people in the world who has worked with both the FBI and the Grateful Dead.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist