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Wed, 01.27.1869

Will Cook, Composer, and Arranger born

Will Cook

*On this date, Will Cook was born in 1869. He was a Black composer and arranger.

Born in Washington D.C., Will Marion Cook was the son of John Cook, the treasurer of Howard University. In 1882, he went to Oberlin College to study violin, returning three years later to give his first recitals. After studying in Berlin with Joseph Joachim, Cook returned to America and, within five years, was performing at Carnegie Hall.

He then moved to New York to study at the National Conservatory of Music while confronting the frustrations and deterrents of racial discrimination in classical music. He then turned to Black musical comedies with other artists like Bob Cole and Paul Laurence Dunbar. In 1898, Cook collaborated on the ragtime operetta Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cakewalk, the first Black musical to play at a major Broadway theater.

He married soprano Abbie Mitchell, who often appeared in his shows. In 1904, Cook wrote the music for The Southerners, the first Broadway musical with an interracial cast. He also gained celebrity for his songs, including Who Dat Say Chicken, Darktown Is Out Tonight, both in 1902, and Bon Bon Buddy 1908; all were among the first songs recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company. In the early 1900s, Cook organized the New York Syncopated Orchestra, which toured the United States and Europe.

After the group disbanded, he returned to New York in 1922, organizing the Clef Club Orchestra with James Reese Europe, including singer Paul Robeson. Cook continued to write memorable songs such as Runnin Wild 1923; I’m coming Virginia 1927, St. Louis Woman 1929, and more. Will Cook died of cancer in 1944.

To Become a Conductor or Composer


Library of

Operetta Research

The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York
ISBN 0-8160-3289-0

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