Famous Singers Gathered at Broadway Singer's Deathbed to Say Goodbye in Song

america
August 11, 2017

Earlier this week, on August 8th, Barbara Cook, a Tony award-winning actress and Broadway actress passed away from respiratory failure at 89.

Cook was far from alone when she passed away. The New York Times reports that several singers visited her at her home to sing her the songs that had filled her long life. Many others sent in videos of themselves sharing stories of their times with Cook and singing her songs. 

Cook's career began on Broadway in 1950, and her most famous role was as Marian in "The Music Man." Her performance as the librarian who falls for a con artist earned her a Tony Award. 

Last week, while flying home to New York, Jazz musician John Pizzarelli got a text message that informed him Cook's health was failing. NYTimes writes that the singer and his wife, Jessica Molaskey, met Cook a decade earlier at Café Carlyle, and they had all become close friends. The text asked him if he and his wife would like to visit Cook to say goodbye. 

“The first thing I said was, ‘Well, can I bring my guitar?’” Mr. Pizzarelli told the New York Times. 

Pizzarelli spent 45 minutes playing whatever songs came to mind. He played things that reminded him of her like “The Way You Look Tonight,” which appeared on her 1993 album, “More Than You Know,” which from her 2012 album, and “I Got Rhythm," which Cook used to sing to close her shows. 

“I never know what to say in general,” Mr. Pizzarelli told NYTimes. “But I thought the only thing that I can do is go and play and sing.”

His wife's turn came next. She chose to sing “Goodnight, My Someone" from "The Music Man." 

“It’s so interesting how life is—that you could adore someone so much when you were a kid in your basement, and there you are invited to the most personal thing that could ever happen, to say goodbye to somebody,” Ms. Molaskey said. “She was unconscious but the doctors had said that they thought she could hear people talking.”

Leading up to her death on Tuesday, friends of Cook followed Pizzarelli to give what the NYTimes called a "fitting farewell: more music."

Vanessa Williams and Norm Lewis visited her Upper West Side apartment to sing their goodbyes. Josh Groban, Hugh Jackman, Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara and others sent videos to say goodbye. 

"Ms. Cook was in and out of consciousness, able to recognize voices and respond with a squeeze of the hand," reported the NYTimes. 

Josh Groban explained why they all decide to serenade her to say goodbye.

“So often music can kind of connect in ways that just speaking can’t,” he said. 

“I didn’t think of it necessarily as so much a goodbye,” added Groban “as just wanting to show her my love and to give her some sense that I was there with her in spirit, at least, and in thought.”

A few days later, Vanessa Williams visited and repeatedly sang “Send in the Clowns” from 1973’s “A Little Night Music.”

“She kept singing it,” said Norm Lewis. “And then when I came in, we just started singing Sondheim tunes.”

Adam LeGrant, Cook’s son, told the NYTimes that the singing created “a beautiful moment.”

“I hesitate to say that it was something that only performers would understand,” he said. “It’s the giving of a gift that is very special because it’s how we communicate. To a fellow communicator, to give her something that they had all shared together, that was very special to them personally.”

What a beautiful testament to her impact on Broadway. Pray for Barbara Cook's friends and family as they continue to mourn this remarkable woman. Read more about her amazing career and how she won her battle with alcoholism.

Next: Tony Award-Winning Actress and Singer Dies from Heart FailureAug 08, 2017