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Lainie Cooke: Speaking to the Heart

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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AAJ: What is the main thing we need to know about you, music wise?

LC: I love to sing. Just love it. Period.

AAJ: When did you start singing, and what is singing to you?

LC: I started singing when I was two or three years old. I saw my first microphone at my cousin Oscar's house. He was a musician and a piano teacher and he had a machine that made records. I recorded my first record there. I did my first radio show when I was six. My first TV show when I was 11. I was a band singer at 14. All of this in my hometown of Minneapolis.

Lainie Cooke l:r: Tedd Firth, Matt Clohesy, Lainie Cooke, Reggie Quinerly

So singing for me is just natural. It's just what I do—like painters paint and dancers dance and scientists figure out electricity or a cure for cancer. I sing. I think it would have been amazing to be a person who discovered a cure for cancer, but singing is a good second.

AAJ: Who are your influences?

LC: The very first influence in my life was my mother. She was very musical. She played the piano by ear; she was smart and ambitious and unfortunately was born in that period when women didn't get certain opportunities. She made sure that I did. When I was about 16, she realized that I would leave home to pursue this life of music and theater. This did not make her happy. She stopped being so outwardly active for me and that was when I learned I could and would do it myself.

As for musical influences—Chris Connor, June Christy, Eydie Gorme, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney. It was the '50s and I knew I could sound like those women. I yearned to sound like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, but there voices were placed differently. I found myself listening more to Carmen McRae. There was something about how she approached a song that I could feel in my bones.

I have also been influenced and taught by every musician I have ever worked with. Probably the greater influences have come from the bass players. I have been so very, very fortunate—blessed if you will—to work with great musicians and great accompanists.

AAJ: Here's to Life—tell me all about it.

LC: From the time I was about 11 or 12 years old, making an album was part of my plan. I spent time as a teenager with friends and family working to get me a deal—nobody produced their own albums during that time and nobody was recording 12-year-old girls either. It took me until I was 60 years old for the stars in the sky to line up, and I finally made my first CD.

In the '80s I lived and worked for a short time in LA. When I was ready to record Here's to Life, I chose to record half of it in LA and half in New York. I wanted to make a CD with the musicians that I worked with in LA. Even after I was no longer living in LA, I would come back to sing and these are the guys I sang with. I wanted to record it. I wanted a record of it. I am so glad I did. Dick Shreve and Bob Maize have died and I loved working with them. Paul Kreibch is someone I still work with when I sing in LA. The music we made together on the CD is very beautiful to me. I'm glad I did it this way.

In New York, I had begun to work with Tedd Firth and I had worked for years off and on with Cameron Brown. Here's to Life is the first time I worked with Matt Wilson and the first time I worked with Joey Morant. David Lahm and I had worked together for many years.

Lainie CookeThe CD was executive produced by my good friends Voza Rivers and Jamal Joseph. It would not have happened without them.

The songs were just songs that I had been singing live for a long time. We recorded at Peter Woodford's studio in LA and at The Studio in New York. All the tracks were mixed and mastered by Katherine Miller—who made it sound fabulous.

I cannot tell you how happy it made me to have finally recorded. It would have made my mother so very happy. Fortunately, my dad was still alive at the time. I had made a promise to myself that I would have a CD out there—that I now have two is staggering to me.

AAJ: What song you could sing forever?

LC: "Bye Bye Blackbird" is a song I have been singing forever...and I sing it at every live performance I do. I sing it for my mother and for my sisters and my family. My mother and I use to sing it together at every family function. It makes me happy to sing it. It's a great tune—you can swing it or sing it as a ballad. I think the arrangement on Here's to Life is very special.

AAJ: How did you become a voiceover actress?

LC: When I left the University of Minnesota (as a scholarship student in the Theatre Department), I wasn't sure what I wanted to be. A musical theatre performer or a night club singer. I did get my cabaret card—fingerprinted and everything. I auditioned for both as much as was possible. My first gig outside of New York was at the Hueblein Hotel in Hartford, Conn. It was a turning point. I didn't like being on the road. I didn't like being alone. The music part was great, but the rest of it was not so wonderful.

Then I got married and I knew that I definitely didn't want to go on the road. Soooo, when I was cast to do some demo work for a couple of commercials—first the jingle and then the VO—the rest is history. I didn't really think about it much at the time, I was just so happy to be working. I would be using my voice, I would be using my training as an actor and I would literally have to stay in town to be available for auditions and bookings.

I was very lucky to have gotten into that part of the business when I did. It was still a new area for actors—celebrities wouldn't be caught dead doing a VO or a commercial and it was great work for the actor who worked for scale.

For many years my work as a VO actor supported by work as a jazz singer. Not wanting to go out on the road there was no way I would be able to earn a living as a singer in town. I earned a living as a VO actor.


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