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Classical 101

Barbara Cook: Then and Now

Barbara Cook is one of those singers who puts words and storytelling first. That's one reason why, at the age of 88, and confined to a wheelchair, Barbara Cook can still make you laugh yourself insensate, cry yourself a thunderstorm, or just sit and think and wonder when this lady sings. 


Barbara Cook's new memoir Then and Now is for anyone who ever dreamed of something else. Not always something better, but a different life than what was expected. She was a kid in Atlanta with an overly-possessive mother. She had a light soprano voice. Light soprano voices are a dime a dozen. Barbara at a very young age knew what to do with words that made her light soprano voice special.  

Losing my Mind is a pretty song that should be devastating. Barbara Cook makes it devastating.

Barbara traveled to New York as a young woman. Eventually she found herself singing an audition for Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman, thank you very much. At that point she was young but hardly a beginner. She had starred on Broadway in Flahooley,  then earned her first mention in the history books of the American musical theater, as Marian the Librarian in The Music Man opposite Robert Preston.

Back to Bernstein; she was cast as Cunegonde in the maestro's Candide. The song Glitter and be Gay was proving un-singable until Barbara Cook learned it. Even so, the song nearly paralyzed her, leading her into self-hypnosis to get through Candide's limited run. Go listen to the song. It's definitive. That's the only word:


It's all here in Cook's memoir. Great theater, great people, not so great people, alcoholism, compulsive eating, an affair with actor Arthur Hill when they were both married to other people; the great love of the lady's life. A second career in cabaret that continues into her ninth decade.

Today, Barbara Cook may be wheel chair bound, but today no composer, certainly no lyricist, and no audience fails to love her.  Carry on, Miss Cook!