Ac­claimed singer and ac­tress Bar­bara Cook has died at 89

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MARK KENNEDY

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.

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