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A singer with a warm, light soprano, Barbara Cook became a successful Broadway musical performer in the 1950s and '60s. In the '70s, she moved largely into cabaret singing, at which she was equally successful. Born Barbara Nell in Atlanta, GA, on October 25, 1927, she took an early interest in singing and appeared in kiddie shows as a child. At 14, she won the ten-dollar prize at an amateur-night contest at the Roxy Theatre in Atlanta, singing "My Devotion." In February 1948, accompanied by her mother, she moved to New York to pursue a career in musical theater. The composer Vernon Duke, after hearing her sing at an audition, recommended that she perform at Camp Tamiment, a summer resort in the Poconos, and in the summer of 1950 she was seen there by Max Gordon, who with his partner Herbert Jacoby ran the Blue Angel nightclub in New York. She made her professional debut at the Blue Angel shortly thereafter. As a result, in 1951 she was cast in a featured role in Flahooley, a Broadway musical with songs written by Sammy Fain and E.Y. Harburg . It opened May 14, 1951, and closed after only 40 performances on June 17. But it was recorded for an original Broadway cast album by Capitol Records, Cook's recording debut.
After the closing of Flahooley, Cook took a second booking at the Blue Angel. On March 9, 1952, she married actor David LeGrant. (They divorced in 1965.) She returned to Broadway in a revival of Oklahoma!, a limited engagement at the City Center, playing the featured role of Ado Annie. It opened August 31, 1953, and ran 40 performances until October 3, then went on a national tour. Cook returned to New York for another City Center revival, this one of Carousel, in which she played the featured role of Carrie Pipperidge. It opened June 2, 1954, and ran 79 performances, closing August 8. Simultaneously, Cook was acting in the weekday afternoon television serial Golden Windows on NBC, a show that premiered July 5, 1954, and ran through April 8, 1955. Also in 1954, she appeared in a television production of Babes in Toyland.
All this exposure led to Cook's featured role in her second new Broadway musical, Plain and Fancy. It opened on January 27, 1955, and became a hit, running 461 performances before closing on March 3, 1956. Again, she appeared on the original Broadway cast album released by Capitol Records. Next, she appeared in a television production of the musical Bloomer Girl. Her most prestigious work yet came later in 1956 when she was cast as Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation of Voltaire's Candide, which required her to sing the challenging coloratura soprano song "Glitter and Be Gay." The show opened on December 1, 1956, and ran only 73 performances, closing on February 2, 1957. But Columbia Records recorded a cast album that kept the music alive and helped lead to revivals in later years.
Despite its initial failure, Cook's reputation was only increased by her involvement in the show. She was in a television production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Yeoman of the Guard and next appeared on-stage in another City Center revival of Carousel, this time playing the leading role of Julie Jordan. It opened September 11, 1957, and ran 24 performances, closing September 29. Cook quickly moved on to her fourth new Broadway musical and her most successful, cast as Marian the librarian in Meredith Willson's The Music Man. One of the longest-running musicals of its day, the show opened December 19, 1957, and played 1,375 performances, closing April 15, 1961. (Cook appeared in it into the spring of 1959, leaving to give birth to her son, Adam LeGant, who grew up to become a character actor and singer.) She sang "Goodnight, My Someone," "My White Knight," and "Till There Was You" on-stage and on the Capitol Records cast album that topped the charts for 12 weeks and sold a million copies. She also won the Tony Award for featured actress in a musical. (She was, however, passed over for the movie version in favor of the established movie star Shirley Jones, and never developed a movie career.)
The stage stardom Cook achieved with The Music Man led to other opportunities. On April 27, 1958, she appeared in a television musical adaptation of Hansel and Gretel with songs by Alec Wilder on NBC. MGM Records released a soundtrack album. The independent label Urania Records signed her to a contract, and she released two solo albums, Songs of Perfect Propriety (1958), which consisted of poems by Dorothy Parker set to music, and Barbara Cook Sings "From the Heart" (1959), a collection of Rodgers & Hart songs. She returned to the stage in a City Center revival of The King & I, playing the leading role of Anna Leonowens. It ran 15 performances, between May 11 and 29, 1960. Her fifth appearance in a new Broadway musical came with The Gay Life, the songs for which were written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. It opened November 18, 1961, and closed after 113 performances on February 24, 1962. Capitol recorded the cast album, which made the Top 100.
In 1962, Cook recorded a studio-cast album of Show Boat on Columbia Records, singing the leading role of Magnolia. She had her sixth appearance in a new musical with She Loves Me; with songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, She Loves Me opened on April 23, 1963, and ran 301 performances, closing January 11, 1964. MGM Records released the double-LP cast recording, which made the Top 20. In 1964, she recorded another studio-cast album for Columbia Records, this time returning to the score of The King & I. Her seventh new Broadway musical, Something More!, which had songs with music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Marilyn & Alan Bergman, had a run of only 15 performances between November 10 and 21, 1964, and was never recorded. Cook branched out into non-musical stage acting in 1965, replacing Sandy Denny in the straight play Any Wednesday on Broadway. She also released a single called "Any Wednesday" on Summit Records. In the summer of 1966, she starred in a Broadway revival of Show Boat produced by the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. The production had a limited engagement of 64 performances in New York between July 19 and September 10, 1966, then went out on the road; RCA Victor Records recorded a cast album.
Cook returned to Broadway in a straight play, Jules Feiffer's Little Murders, which opened April 25, 1967, and ran only a week (though a subsequent off-Broadway production in which she did not participate was much more successful). She was not back on Broadway for another four years, during which time she appeared in regional revivals of musicals such as Funny Girl. When she did create her eighth role in a new Broadway musical, it was in The Grass Harp, which opened on November 2, 1971, and closed after only seven performances on November 6. (The tiny Painted Smiles label recorded the cast album.) Cook acted in another straight play, Gorky's Enemies, in 1972. In 1973, she toured in a musical revue called The Gershwin Years, consisting entirely of songs written by George Gershwin, that did not require her to play a character other than herself.
In her mid-forties, with offers in Broadway musicals drying up, she reassessed her career and decided to return to nightclub and concert performing. She accepted an offer from the small supper club Brothers and Sisters, located in New York's theater district, in the summer of 1974 and appeared with only pianist Wally Harper as accompaniment. (Harper remained with her for the next 30 years.) The engagement led to an association with concert impresario Herbert H. Breslin and, on January 26, 1975, a concert debut at Carnegie Hall, followed by such equally prestigious bookings as the Hollywood Bowl and the Kennedy Center, as well as major nightclubs around the country. Thus, she embarked upon a whole new, and equally successful, phase of her career.
The Carnegie Hall show was recorded by Columbia Records and released in 1975 as Cook's third solo album (and first in 16 years), Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall. She followed it in 1977 with a studio LP, As of Today. In 1981, her return to Carnegie Hall was celebrated on the LP It's Better with a Band, released by the Moss Music Group (MMG). On September 6, 1985, she had a featured role in a concert recording of Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center. The resulting RCA Victor double LP won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Musical Cast Show Album. In addition to individual concert performances, she sometimes did extended engagements billed as one-woman shows. In September 1986, she appeared in the West End in London in a show titled Wait 'Til You See Her, and on April 15, 1987, she performed the first of 13 shows at the Ambassador Theater on Broadway in Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre. The latter appearance earned her a Drama Desk Award.
Also in 1987, Cook participated in a studio-cast recording of Carousel for MCA Classics, again singing the leading role of Julie Jordan. In 1988, she made another studio-cast recording of a musical version of The Secret Garden, released by Columbia. (This was an entirely different work from the musical of the same name with songs by Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman that reached Broadway in 1991.) Also in 1988, she briefly participated in what was intended to be her return to the Broadway stage for the first time in 17 years when she joined the cast of a musical adaptation of the horror novel and film Carrie mounted by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Great Britain. She withdrew from the production, however. (When it reached Broadway in May, the show closed after five performances.) In December 1988, MCA Classics released her first solo LP in six years, a collection of songs from Walt Disney movies called The Disney Album.
By the early '90s, Cook was performing regularly in classy clubs such as the Cafe Carlyle in the Carlyle Hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where she enjoyed repeat engagements. In 1993, she signed to the theater-oriented independent record label DRG and released her first solo album in five years, Close as Pages in a Book, a tribute to lyricist Dorothy Fields. In 1994, her voice was heard in the animated movie musical Thumbelina and on its soundtrack album, released by SBK Records, and she had a second DRG solo album, Live from London. Oscar Winners: The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II followed in 1997, and then All I Ask of You in 1999. Another release on DRG later in 1999 chronicled her latest nightclub act, recorded live at the Cafe Carlyle: The Champion Season: A Salute to Gower Champion. In 2000, she was inspired by a list compiled by Stephen Sondheim on the occasion of his 70th birthday of songs he wished he had written, and she assembled a show based on it called Mostly Sondheim, which she performed at Carnegie Hall, where it was recorded for an album released by DRG in 2001. In 2003, DRG also released a Mostly Sondheim video, chronicling the show's run at the Kennedy Center. Also in 2003, DRG released Cook's Christmas album, Count Your Blessings.
On New Year's Eve, 2003, at age 76, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as a special guest in the party scene of the last act of The Merry Widow. Traditionally, the Metropolitan Opera allows such guests to sing their own repertoire at these New Year's Eve shows, and Cook performed a short set consisting of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"; "A Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific; a medley of two of her favorites, Rodgers & Hart's "He Was Too Good to Me" and Sondheim's "Losing My Mind"; and, without a microphone, "We'll Be Together Again." She sang "splendidly," according to reviewer Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times, who added, "That her soft voice carried so truly was a testimony to her incomparable vocal technique and clear diction."
Cook's next one-woman show was titled simply Barbara Cook's Broadway! and ran at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center in the spring of 2004; DRG recorded it for an album released on May 25, 2004. In the retrospective show, she sang songs from The Music Man, Carousel, She Loves Me, and Follies, as well as songs from shows in which she had not appeared. In October 2004, her longtime accompanist, Wally Harper, died. Her next album, recorded in June 2005 and released on September 6, 2005, appropriately was called Tribute and was dedicated to Harper. On January 20, 2006, she returned to the Metropolitan Opera to give a concert, accompanied by guests Audra McDonald and Josh Groban. It was the first time the opera house had ever hosted a non-classical female solo singer in a full-length concert. DRG recorded the show, which was issued as Barbara Cook at the Met with Special Guests on June 6, 2006.
Barbara Cook (born October 25, 1927) is an American singer and actress who first came to prominence in the 1950s after starring in the original Broadway musicals Plain and Fancy (1955), Candide (1956) and The Music Man (1957) among others, winning a Tony Award for the latter. She continued performing mostly in theatre until the mid-1970s, when she began a second career that continues to this day as a cabaret and concert singer. She has also made numerous recordings.
During her years as Broadway’s leading ingénue Cook was lauded for her excellent lyric soprano voice. She was particularly admired for her vocal agility, wide range, warm sound, and emotive interpretations. As she has aged her voice has taken on a darker quality, even in her head voice, that was less prominent in her youth. Today Cook is widely recognized as one of the "premier interpreters" of musical theatre songs and standards, in particular the songs of composer Stephen Sondheim. Her subtle and sensitive interpretations of American popular song continue to earn high praise even into her eighties. She was named an honoree at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors.
Early life 
Cook was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Charles Bunyan, a traveling hat salesman, and Nell (Harwell) Cook, an operator for Southern Bell. Her parents divorced when she was a child and, after her only sister died of whooping cough, Barbara lived alone with her mother. She later described their relationship as "so close, too close. I slept with my mother until I came to New York. Slept in the same bed with her. That's just, it's wrong. But to me, it was the norm....As far as she was concerned, we were one person." Though Barbara began singing at an early age, at the Elks Club and to her father over the phone, she spent three years after graduating from high school working as a typist.
Early career 
While visiting New York City in 1948 with her mother, Cook decided to stay and try to find work as an actress. She began to sing at clubs and resorts, eventually procuring an engagement at the Blue Angel club in 1950. She made her Broadway debut a year later, as Sandy in the short-lived 1951 musical Flahooley. She landed another role quickly, portraying Ado Annie in the 1951 City Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and stayed with the production when it went on its national tour the following year.
Also in 1952, Cook made her first television appearance on the show Armstrong Circle Theatre which presented her in an original play entitled Mr. Bemiss Takes a Trip. In 1954, Cook was cast in the short lived soap opera Golden Windows which ran for only a handful of episodes before being canceled. She also starred as Jane Piper in a television version of Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland in 1954and returned to City Center to portray Carrie Pipperidge in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. In 1955, she began to attract major critical praise when she played the supporting role of Hilda Miller in Plain and Fancy. Walter Kerr wrote of her performance: "Barbara Cook, right off a blue and white Dutch plate, is delicious all the time, but especially when she perches on a trunk, savors her first worthwhile kiss, and melts into the melody of 'This is All Very New To Me'." Cook's good reviews and clear soprano voice enabled her to win the role of Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein's new operetta Candide in 1956. She became famous for the show stopping song, "Glitter and Be Gay". Also in May 1956 she appeared on television in a Producers' Showcase production of Bloomer Girl as Evelina Applegate.
In 1957, she took the role of Julie Jordan in the another City Center revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel and portrayed Elsie Maynard in a television version of The Yeomen of the Guard as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series. Other television credits for Cook during this time of her career include appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Perry Como Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The United States Steel Hour, Play of the Week, and a musical version of Hansel and Gretel.
Although Candide was not a success, Cook's portrayal of Cunegonde established her as one of Broadway's leading ingenues. Her two most famous roles after this were her Tony Award winning portrayal of Marian the Librarian in Meredith Willson's 1957 hit The Music Man and as Amalia Balash in the 1962 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical She Loves Me. Of her performance in She Loves Me, Norman Nadel of the World-Telegram & Sun wrote: "Her clear soprano is not only one of the finest vocal instruments in the contemporary musical theatre, but it conveys all the vitality, brightness and strength of her feminine young personality, which is plenty." The song "Ice Cream" from the latter became one of Cook's signature songs.
During the 1960s, Cook created roles in some less successful musicals: Liesl Brandel in The Gay Life (1961) and Carol Deems in Something More! (1964). She did, however, make a well received portrayal of Anna Leonowens in Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I in 1960 and an acclaimed portrayal of Magnolia in Show Boat in 1966, both revivals at City Center. Cook also recorded the role of Anna in a 1964 studio recording with Theodore Bikel as the King. She starred in two National tours during the 1960s, Molly Brown in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964 and Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in 1967.
Cook also tried her hand at non-musical roles, replacing Sandy Dennis in the play Any Wednesday in 1965 and originating the role of Patsy Newquist in Jules Feiffer's Little Murders on Broadway in 1967. Her last original "book" musical role on Broadway came in 1971 when she played Dolly Talbo in The Grass Harp.
In 1972, she returned to the dramatic stage in the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center's production of Gorky's Enemies.
1970s to 2004 
As she began struggling with depression, obesity, and alcoholism in the seventies (she eventually quit drinking in 1977), Cook had trouble getting stage work. In the mid-1970s Cook's fortunes changed for the better when she met and befriended composer and pianist Wally Harper. Harper convinced her to put together a concert and on January 26, 1975, accompanied by Harper, she made her debut in a legendary solo concert at Carnegie Hall that resulted in a highly successful live album. Continuing a collaboration with Harper that lasted until his death in 2004, Cook became a successful concert performer. Over the next three decades, the two performed together at not only many of the best cabaret spots and music halls like Michael's Pub and the St. Regis Hotel in New York City but nationally and internationally. Cook and Harper returned to Carnegie Hall in September 1980, to perform a series of songs arranged by Harper. The New York Times reviewer wrote "Since her first Carnegie Hall appearance, she has grown from a delightful singer to become a delightful entertainer who also happens to be a remarkable singer." The performance was captured on the CD It's Better With a Band.
In 1986, Cook was nominated for an Olivier Award "The Observer Award for Outstanding Achievement" for her one-woman show, accompanied by Harper, at London's Donmar Warehouse and the Albery Theatre. She won the Drama Desk Award "Outstanding One Person Show" in 1987 for her Broadway show A Concert for the Theatre, again with Harper. In October 1991 they appeared as featured artists at the Carnegie Hall Gala Music and Remembrance: A Celebration of Great Musical Partnerships which raised money for the advancement of the performing arts and for AIDS research. In 1994, they performed a critically acclaimed concert series at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London,which was recorded by DRG as Live From London. "Cook still comes across with consummate taste and with a voice that shows little sign of wear after 40 years." Alistair Macauley wrote in the Financial Times about the concert, "Barbara Cook is the greatest singer in the world ... Ms. Cook is the only popular singer active today who should be taken seriously by lovers of classical music. Has any singer since Callas matched Cook's sense of musical architecture? I doubt it." The performing duo traveled all over the world giving concerts together including a number of times at the White House - for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.
From the mid-1970s on, Cook returned only sporadically to acting, mostly in occasional studio cast and live concert versions of stage musicals. In September 1985 she appeared with the New York Philharmonic as Sally in the renowned concert version of Stephen Sondheim's Follies. In 1986, she recorded the role of Martha in the Sharon Burgett musical version of The Secret Garden along with John Cullum, Judy Kaye, and George Rose. In 1987 she performed the role of Julie Jordan in a concert version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel with Samuel Ramey as Billy, Sarah Brightman as Carrie, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for A Concert for the Theatre. In 1988 she originated the role of Margaret White in the ill-fated musical version of Stephen King's Carrie, which premiered in England and was presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1994, she provided both her acting and singing skills to the animated film version of Thumbelina which featured music by Barry Manilow. That same year she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
In 1997, Cook celebrated her 70th birthday by giving a concert at Albert Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in November, joined by performers including Elaine Stritch and Maria Friedman. The Times reviewer noted: "The world is usually divided into actresses who try to sing and singers who try to act. Cook is one of the few performers who manage to combine the best of both traditions, as she reminded us in 'It Might as Well be Spring' - and, at the close, in her encore of Bock and Harnick's 'Ice Cream'."
In 2000, she was one of the only American performers chosen to perform at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival in the Sydney Opera House. Also in 2000, she was joined by Lillias White, Malcolm Gets, and Debbie Gravitte on the studio cast recording of Jimmy McHugh's Lucky in the Rain.
In February 2001, Cook returned to Carnegie Hall to perform Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim which was recorded live and released on CD. Critically acclaimed from the start, Cook then took the concert to the West End Lyric Theatre in 2001. She garnered two Olivier Award nominations for Best Entertainment and Best Actress in a Musical for the concert. She went on to perform Sings Mostly Sondheim at Lincoln Center for a sold-out fourteen week run from December 2001 to January 2002, and again in June 2002 to August 2002. She was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Theatrical Event. She took the show on a National tour throughout major cities in the United States. DRG filmed the stage production during a performance at the Pepsico Theatre, SUNY Purchase, New York on October 11, 2002 and it was released on DVD on the DRG/Koch Entertainment label. In June and August 2002 Cook performed Sings Mostly Sondheim at the Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center as part of the Sondheim Celebration.
In 2004 she performed two limited engagement concert series at the Vivian Beaumont and Mitzi Newhouse theaters at Lincoln Center, "Barbara Cook's Broadway!", with Harper as her musical director/arranger. She received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award ("for her contribution to the musical theater") and a nomination for the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Solo Performance. A recording of the concert was made.
Later years 
After Harper's death in October 2004, Cook made the painful adjustment to new accompanists in solo shows like Tribute (a reference to Harper) and No One Is Alone that continued to receive acclaim; The New York Times wrote in 2005 that she was "at the top of her game.... Cook's voice is remarkably unchanged from 1958, when she won the Tony Award for playing Marian the Librarian in The Music Man. A few high notes aside, it is, eerily, as rich and clear as ever." In January 2006, Cook became the first female pop singer to be presented by the Metropolitan Opera in the company's more than one hundred year history. She presented a solo concert of Broadway show tunes and classic jazz standards, and was supported on a few numbers by guest singers Audra McDonald and Josh Groban. The concert was recorded and subsequently released on CD. On June 25, 2006, Cook was the special guest star of the Award Winning Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., celebrating GMCW's Silver Anniversary in a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
Cook was the featured artist at the Arts! by George gala on September 29, 2007 at the Fairfax campus of George Mason University. On October 22, 2007, Cook sang at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts with the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus in the chorus's concert entitled "An Evening With Barbara Cook". Upon completion of the concert, an almost full house greeted her with a round of "Happy Birthday" in honor of her impending 80th birthday, which, on December 2, 2007, she celebrated belatedly in the UK with a concert at the Coliseum Theatre in London's West End.
As she entered her ninth decade, Cook performed in two sold-out concerts with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center in 2007. The New York Times reviewer wrote that Cook is "a performer spreading the gospel of simplicity, self-reliance and truth" who is "never glib" and summoning adjectives such as "astonishing" and "transcendent," concluding that she sings with "a tenderness and honesty that could break your heart and mend it all at once."
In June 2008, Cook appeared in Strictly Gershwin at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England with the full company of English National Ballet. She appeared with the Ulster Orchestra as the Closing Concert of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on October 31, 2008. Her other 2008 appearances included concerts in Chicago, West Palm Beach and San Francisco.
In 2009, she performed with the Princeton Symphony, Detroit Symphony, and gave concerts in Boca Raton, Florida and at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. She has performed in a cabaret show at Feinsteins at the Regency (New York City) which opened in April 2009.
Cook returned to Broadway in 2010 in the Roundabout Theatre's Stephen Sondheim revue "Sondheim on Sondheim", created and directed by long-time Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, at Studio 54. She starred opposite Vanessa L. Williams and Tom Wopat. Cook was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the category of Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. On April 12, 2011, Cook appeared with James Taylor, Bette Midler and Sting, at Carnegie Hall for a gala called "Celebrating 120 Years of Carnegie Hall".
Cook was named an honoree at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors, held on December 4, 2011 (the ceremony was broadcast on CBS on December 27, 2011). Performers paying tribute to Cook on that occasion included Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Kelli O'Hara, Rebecca Luker, Sutton Foster, Laura Osnes, Anna Christy, and Audra McDonald.
Personal life 
Barbara Cook married acting teacher David LeGrant (December 7, 1923 - July 28, 2011) on March 9, 1952 and divorced in 1965. They had one child, Adam (born 1959).