What's all this about Barbara Cook? Why is it that when you mention her name to seemingly well adjusted adult men and women they become all dewy-eyed and mushy-brained. Just exactly what is going on here?
Damned if I know, but count me in as one of those dewy-eyed and mushy-brained adults.
What is it? Is her voice really all that exceptional? Is her ability to convey a lyric really all that special? Is her physical presence, even on a recording, all that galvanizing? Well, frankly, yes.
But that doesn't even begin to tell the story. It seems to me that Barbara Cook is the distillation of everything good music has to offer. She is a unique talent among unique talents. While her performance of a song, whether it be one we have heard a thousand times, or one we are hearing for the first time, may not be the only way it can be performed, we can always rest assured that Miss Cook will offer it to us in as perfected a state as she is capable of. I doubt she has ever wrapped that silver instrument she possesses around some song merely because she needs another three minutes on an album or in a concert. She obviously has way too much love and respect for music to waste her time, and ours, like that.
And something else perhaps even more important, for those of us who have followed her throughout the years and decades: She never got bad. Oh sure, her voice has changed with the years. No surprise there. The surprise, if there is one, is that it has not changed in any way but for the better. As the voice has become ever so slightly less strong, as those famous top notes have become perhaps just the slightest bit more careful, it is all still a beautiful package, respectfully offered, lovingly accepted.
And the words. Those beautiful words. Those words Miss Cook obviously finds as beautiful and important as those beautiful notes.
Barbara Cook has embraced the passage of time with love rather than fear. It is as though she is telling us she has waited all her life to get to today. She has defined the art of popular singing in a way that gives us at least the glimmer of hope that in these crazy times of distrust, disillusionment and disdain, there are still those imponderables that allow us mere mortal humans to rise up.
Thank you Miss Cook. Job well done!