Acclaimed singer and actress Barbara Cook has died at 89
NEW YORK — Barbara Cook, whose shimmering soprano made her one of Broadway’s leading ingenues and later a major cabaret and concert interpreter of popular American song, has died. She was 89.
Cook died early Tuesday of respiratory failure at her home in Manhattan, surrounded by family and friends, according to publicist Amanda Kaus. Her last meal was vanilla ice cream, a nod to one of her most famous roles in “She Loves Me.”
Throughout her nearly six decades on stage, Cook’s voice remained remarkably supple, gaining in emotional honesty and expanding on its natural ability to go straight to the heart.
On social media, powerhouse singers paid their respect, including Betty Buckley, who called Cook “one of the great artists & lovely being,” and Lea Salonga, who wrote “Rest In Peace” on Twitter. New Tony Award winner Ben Platt from “Dear Evan Hansen” wrote: “Thank you Barbara Cook for the beautiful songs, the indelible characters, and the masterful storytelling. Heaven must sound glorious today.”
On Broadway, Cook was best known for three roles: her portrayal of the saucy Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” (1956); librarian Marian opposite Robert Preston in “The Music Man” (1957); and Amalia Balash, the letter-writing heroine of “She Loves Me” (1963).
Yet when Cook’s pert ingenue days were over, she found a second, longer career in clubs and concert halls, working for more than 30 years with Wally Harper, a pianist and music arranger. Harper helped in shaping her material, choosing songs and providing the framework for her shows.
To celebrate her 80th birthday, she appeared with the New York Philharmonic in two concerts in November 2007 and then had a similar birthday salute in London. In 2011, she was saluted at the Kennedy Center Honours and remained a singer even in her 80s.
“Of course, I think I’ve gotten better at it,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press in her Manhattan home in 2011. “I still think this is a work in progress. I do. Seriously. As the years go by, I have more and more courage to go deeper and deeper and deeper.”
Born in Atlanta in 1927, Cook always hated vocal exercises, never had a vocal coach and had an effortless skill of creating beauty by just opening her mouth. “I don’t remember when I didn’t sing. I just always sang,” she said in 2011. “I think I breathed and I sang.”
Cook made her Broadway debut in “Flahooley” (1951), a short-lived musical fantasy about a mass-produced laughing doll. The show became a cult classic for musicaltheatre buffs, primarily because it was recorded, keeping its memory alive long after the production closed.
Cook then appeared in a pair of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, playing Ado Annie in a City Center revival of “Oklahoma!” and then on tour in 1953. She followed that by portraying Carrie Pipperidge in a 1954 revival of “Carousel.” It led to Cook’s first original musical success, a year-long Broadway run in “Plain and Fancy” (1955), in which she portrayed an innocent, unworldly Amish girl.
The following year, she starred in “Candide,” which ran only 73 performances but later became a staple of opera houses around the world. In the musical, Cook got to sing “Glitter and Be Gay,” a fiendishly difficult coloratura parody of the “Jewel Song” from Charles Gounod’s “Faust.”
Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” was Cook’s biggest Broadway hit, opening in December 1957 and running for more than 1,300 performances.
Cook scored a personal triumph in “She Loves Me,” a Jerry BockSheldon Harnick-Joe Masteroff musical based on the film “The Shop Around the Corner.” It told of two squabbling employees in a Budapest perfume shop who, unknown to each other, are romantically inclined pen pals. In the show, Cook sang a number extolling a gift of “Vanilla Ice Cream,” which became a signature number for her.
Barbara Cook, Tony Award-winning singer and actress, has died of respiratory failure at her home in New York City. She was 89.