This Day In History: January 27th
Both Will Marion Cook and Bobby “Blue” Band were innovative artists with musical styles rooted in Negro Spirituals. In addition to their musical contributions, the artists share a birthday on Jan. 27.
Composer and conductor, Will Marion Cook, was born on January 27, 1869, in Washington, D.C. Cook spent his early years being raised by his parents until the death of his father. In 1881, Cook was sent to Tennessee to live with his grandmother and began to find an interest in Black Folk music. From 1884 to 1889 he studied his craft at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in Germany.
Upon his return to the U.S. in 1890, Cook was initially unable to find work at music institutions and began to provide private instructions to students. By 1894 he decided to continue his education and studied at the National Conservatory for Music. Many of his compositions featured traditional elements of spirituals and Cook received his big opportunity in 1898 with the musical Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cakewalk alongside Paul Laurence Dunbar.
He expanded his skillset to conducting and directing productions such as In Dahomey (1903) and Bandana Land (1908). Cook also toured with Ernest Hogan’s Memphis Students performance troupe and other choruses but, his popularity declined as cultural tastes began to change. Towards the end of his career, Cook produced works including “I’m Coming Virginia” (1927) and “A Little Bit of Heaven Called Home,” (1933).
Will Marion Cook died of cancer in New York in 1944.
Fellow musician, Bobby “Blue” was born Robert Calvin Brooks 60 years later on January 27, 1930. His family settled in Memphis, Tennessee during his youth and he took on his stepfather’s last name, Bland. He had an early interest in music and joined local gospel groups before connecting with other talents on the Beale Street music scene. He joined the army in 1952, but returned to Memphis in 1954 and developed a connection with blues singer Little Junior Parker.
Bland’s star status began to rise towards the end of the 1950s with the release of “Farther up the Road” (1957) and “Little Boy Blue” (1958). He also found success during the 1960s with hits such as “I Pity the Fool” (1961) and “That’s the Way Love Is” (1963). Bland and B.B. King often collaborated and became major artists by the end of the decade. He continued to release music that was met with moderate acclaim until his final album, Blues At Midnight (2003).
Over the course of his career, Bland received honors such as an induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1997 and a tribute album by Mick Hucknall in 2008. Although his music output declined, Bland is recognized as a pioneer of blues by his peers and younger generations of music lovers.
Bobby “Blue” Bland died on June 23, 2013 in Germantown, Tennessee.