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Lainie Cooke: Speaking to the Heart

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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AAJ: Tell me about your time in Jamaica?

LC: One day my husband came home and asked me if I knew anyone or we knew anyone who might be interested in a chicken farm in Jamaica as a friend of his knew of one. I didn't realize at the time that he was interested. That was in April. In June, we went for a vacation with some friends to visit the island and the farm. In August, he moved there with some friends to begin work on the farm. In October, I followed.

We had 38 acres and a staff of about 25-30 people. We brought to market about 20,000 chickens a year. We sold chickens to the hotels, the private homes along the road to Montego Bay from our farm—5 miles up a mountain road in Great Valley, Jamaica, and also to the local market. I had the responsibility for the non-chicken part of the farm. When we first moved, I was a vegetarian. That didn't last long. But I grew parsley and green peppers and lettuces and radishes—salad stuff for the hotels. In fact, during the time I was there (3-4 years), I grew one crop of almost every kind of vegetable you could grow except tomatoes. And, oh yes, we also ran a restaurant on our property that served lunch.

I also was able to sing while I lived there. Many of the musicians who played in hotels were wonderful jazz musicians and they had formed a band that allowed them to arrange jazz standards and play concerts once or twice a month. I sang with them and I would also give a capella concerts on the back porch for friends.

Lainie Cooke

There were many parts of living in Jamaica I loved; there were others that I didn't. In 1976, a state of emergency was declared by then-Prime Minister Michael Manley, due to a lot of unrest on the island. That unrest caused a decrease in the tourist business and we left not long after. No tourists—nobody to buy our chickens.

AAJ: Is that when you returned to New York City and LA?

LC: When I came back from Jamaica, my marriage was on its last legs and I soon filed for divorce. Amicably. I needed to get away from New York for a while and I had lots of friends and family in LA. I thought I would give it a try. I lived and worked there from 1979 to 1983. I sang in lots of jazz clubs. Funny, everyone would say to me you should record—but I somehow couldn't pull it all together at the time.

Although I left to go back to New York, where I was more comfortable actually earning a living, I knew I would be coming back a lot. My mother and father had moved to LA along with one of my sisters. One of my other sisters already lived there and another sister lived in the San Francisco area. It became my second home and for some time I was bi-coastal.

But New York is my home. I was born in Minneapolis, but I'm a New Yorker. I've lived here since 1961—longer than I've lived anywhere else.

AAJ: How were you involved in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)?

LC: I am a member of both AFTRA and SAG. For the last 12 years (maybe longer) I have served on both the New York local and national boards. I am currently the National Recording recording and the New York local recording secretary. As an elected leader, I serve on many committees and have lots of involvement.

I was an alternate this year to the commercial contract negotiations and have served on that committee in some capacity since 1997.

None of the leadership of the entertainment unions are paid. We are all volunteers. Being involved in the union is my way of giving back to an industry that has been very good to me. I have also learned an enormous amount about the business/industry and developed important and lasting friendships.

I am a strong believer in the labor movement in this country and a proud union member. There was a time when more workers were unionized all over this country. The disappearance of the importance of labor has greatly contributed to the loss of the middle class in this country. Without my union, I would absolutely be struggling to take care of myself today. I am not wealthy but what I do have is due to my unions.

AAJ: Tell me about musicians that cradle your voice on your CD It's Always You and performing onstage.

LC: The musicians on the CD are the guys I would play with every day and every night if I could. Lainie Cooke on stage is part of a band. I get so much pleasure from being on stage with these guys—listening to them, interacting with them, taking ideas from them—making music with them.

Tedd Firth, Cameron Brown, Matt Wilson—the rhythm section. They are musical, amazing, sensitive musicians. I have had the pleasure of working with them in the studio and on the bandstand. The same goes for Roland Barber Marvin Horne, Joel Frahm. Each one of these guys is a remarkable, marvelous soloist. You can talk and write about them for days, but what says it all is simply to listen.

AAJ: What's the perfect place to sing?

LC: The perfect place to sing is where you're singing. I have sung in large open spaces and in tiny crowded spaces. The where is not as important as the what and with who.


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