Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Barbara Cook

Songs and Singers

As I discussed in Dr. Bob Prescribes on January 16 of this year, I intend to make 2024 a “year of the song” here in Dr. Bob Prescribes, specifically, the year of the “popular song.”

Barbara Cook as Ado Annie in the 1953 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, age 26
Barbara Cook as Ado Annie in the 1953 Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, age 26

As I mentioned in January, I’m doing this out of emotional and spiritual self-preservation, as I expect 2024 to be a dumpster fire to rival the COVID and election year 2020. Few things musical thrill me and uplift me as immediately as a great song, and IU assume many – if not most of you – feel the same way. Heavens knows, we’re going to need thrills and uplifting this year.

I’m using the phrase “popular song” in its broadest sense: songs intended for popular entertainment, be they theater songs, songs from movies, or stand-alone pop songs; songs as performed by a variety of singers, be they popular entertainers, jazz singers, cabaret singers, theater actor/singers; etc. I do not intend to feature rock ‘n’ roll songs, because as a genre, rock is primarily about rhythm. Great and memorable melodies, complex harmonic progressions, and sophisticated lyrics are, for better or for worse, generally not the province of rock ‘n’ songs, with exceptions – like the songs of Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and John Lennon – duly noted. FYI, I am not including in this admittedly arbitrary category of “rock” the songs of, for example, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell, some of whom I intend to feature this year.

One last thing. As the heading “songs and singers” above indicates, these posts will be as much about singers as they will be about songs. Whether or not they sing in tune (Barbara Cook) or out-of-tune (Bob Dylan), what all the singers we will listen to this year have in common is their uncanny ability to project the literary and musical content of the songs they sing, like cupid’s own arrows, directly to our hearts and souls.

Barbara Cook (1927-2017)

Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall, 2011, age 84
Barbara Cook at Carnegie Hall, 2011, age 84

I knew and loved Barbara Cook’s voice long before I knew she was “Barbara Cook.” As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, growing up, I had 100% access to my parents’ records and record player, and among their records were scads of “original cast” musicals. Off the top of my head, here are the ones I remember: Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carousel, Pal Joey, Bye-Bye Birdie, Camelot, My Fair Lady, Guys and Dolls, The King and I, Funny Girl, Damn Yankees, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Gypsy, Pajama Game, Kismet, Peter Pan, The Most Happy Fella, West Side Story, Flower Drum Song, Brigadoon, Sweet Charity, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, The Fantasticks, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Cabaret, and Man of La Mancha.

Last but absolutely not least was Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.

OMG: how I loved the original cast album of The Music Man (1957)! By the time I was 6 (1960), I’m sure I had it memorized. And when the movie came out in 1962, I loved that too.

Except for one thing.

Shirley Jones (born 1934), who in the movie played Marian “the Librarian” Paroo, just didn’t sound right to my young ears. And that’s because she wasn’t right, not compared to the original, Broadway Marian, Barbara Cook (1927-2017), whose lyric soprano voice was as rich, clear, and gloriously beautiful as the finest Czech crystal. Cook won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in 1958 for her portrayal on Broadway of Marian Paroo.…

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