Pow­er­house singer dies

BAR­BARA COOK, 1927 - 2017

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - as­so­ci­ated press news.obits@la­times.com

Bar­bara Cook, whose shim­mer­ing so­prano made her one of Broadway’s lead­ing in­genues, was 89.

Bar­bara Cook, whose shim­mer­ing so­prano made her one of Broadway’s lead­ing in­genues and later a ma­jor cabaret and con­cert in­ter­preter of the Amer­i­can song­book, has died. She was 89.

Cook died early Tues­day of res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure at her home in Man­hat­tan, sur­rounded by fam­ily and friends, pub­li­cist Amanda Kaus said. 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 re­spects, 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 let­ter­writ­ing hero­ine of “She Loves Me” (1963).

Yet when Cook’s 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 event in Lon­don. In 2011, she was saluted at the Kennedy Cen­ter Hon­ors 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 at 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. “I don’t re­mem­ber when I didn’t sing. I just al­ways sang,” she said in 2011. “I think I breathed and I sang.”

Her father was a trav­el­ing sales­man who sold hats; her mother worked for South­ern Bell. Her baby sis­ter died of pneu­mo­nia when she was 3, and her father left when she was 6. She was raised by her clingy mother, who blamed young Bar­bara for both her sis­ter’s death and her father’s aban­don­ment. 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 mu­si­cal-theater 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 year­long 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 for only 73 per­for­mances but later be­came a sta­ple of opera houses around the world. In the mu­si­cal, Cook sang “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. She won a Tony Award for her portrayal of the prim li­brar­ian who re­al­izes pro­fes­sor Harold Hill (Pre­ston) is a con man sell­ing band in­stru­ments and uni­forms to the gullible res­i­dents of a small Iowa town.

Cook scored a per­sonal tri­umph in “She Loves Me,” a mu­si­cal by Jerry Bock, Shel­don Har­nick, and Joe Mas­teroff 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 the per­former when she be­gan ap­pear­ing in cabaret.

That turn be­gan af­ter her Broadway ca­reer with­ered in the late 1960s as Cook bat­tled al­co­holism and weight gain. In her 2016 mem­oir “Then & Now,” Cook de­scribes hit­ting rock bot­tom as a drunk: “I was so broke that I was steal­ing food from the su­per­mar­ket by slip­ping sand­wich meat in my coat pocket.”

But she gave up drink­ing in the 1970s and, with the help of Harper, rein­vented her­self as a solo artist, work­ing in New York clubs and fi­nally Carnegie Hall. Her first con­cert al­bum, “Bar­bara Cook at Carnegie Hall” (1975), be­came a clas­sic.

Cook and Harper, who died in 2004, worked me­thod­i­cally on her shows, mix­ing show tunes with stan­dards not from mu­si­cal theater. Of­ten the pro­grams were con­structed around themes, spe­cific com­posers such as Stephen Sond­heim, lyri­cists such as Dorothy Fields or di­rec­tors such as Harold Prince and Gower Cham­pion.

Her mar­riage to act­ing teacher David LeGrant ended in di­vorce. Cook is sur­vived by a son, Adam LeGrant.

When asked what ad­vice she gave to as­pir­ing singers, she said it boiled down to three words she learned early on that guided her.

“You are enough. You are al­ways enough. You don’t ever have to pre­tend to be any­thing other than what you are. All you have to do is deeply em­brace who you are, and you’ll be fine,” she said. “In life, aren’t you drawn to the more authen­tic peo­ple? Of course. You’re not drawn to phonies.”

‘You are enough. You are al­ways enough. You don’t ever have to pre­tend to be any­thing other than what you are.’ — Bar­bara Cook

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