Every singer needs the musical support and expertise of a musician who’s on the same wave length with her. One of the best things that ever happened to me was when Wally Harper and I found each other. I met him during one of the darkest periods of my life – dark, because I was still drinking heavily at that point, and in some ways unemployable. In February of 1974 I walked into his studio for the first time, daffodils in my hand, ostensibly to work on a concert that an associate felt he could pull together for us. That particular concert never happened. We started out thinking we might be able to make some nice music together, neither of us having any idea that our collaboration would last for almost 31 years.
One of the first places we played was a little club called “Brothers and Sisters” on West 46th Street in Manhattan. The response to our performance there was phenomenal. The response to me, personally, was phenomenal. Our engagement there was extended for a number of months. It was especially heartening for me because it was the first time I had performed in many years as Barbara Cook the individual. People were flocking to see me as Barbara Cook. When I had done Broadway shows, I never had the feeling that people were coming to see me – they were coming to see the show, the cast, to see all of us. When I walked down that narrow center aisle at “Brothers and Sisters” people reached out to touch me. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.
During the run Merle Hubbard, who eventually became a fast friend, came to see us. Merle worked in the office of Herbert Breslin who through his entire career managed only classical artists including Luciano Pavarotti. With Merle’s encouragement, Herbert decided to come see us and he was so impressed he decided immediately to produce a Carnegie Hall concert for us. And it’s that concert that we did in January of 1975 that really launched us and caused people to pay attention. Suddenly there was great interest in me. Barbara Cook singing again was big news. Time Magazine
, Newsweek Magazine
, The New York Times
and the national talk shows all were interested.
And so the journey began, taking us to Kennedy Center, to the Hollywood Bowl, to London’s Royal Albert Hall, to La Fenice
in Venice, to the London Symphony Orchestra, to the Royal Philharmonic, to the Philadelphia Orchestra, and even to the Metropolitan Opera House, holding hands and supporting each other all the way.
The time came when we knew Wally was not well but the idea that I might lose him was unimaginable to me. And then suddenly not having him around was devastating. I hadn’t fully realized how much I had depended on him in so many ways. Because I was 14 years older than Wally, I always felt that he would be the one left behind to mourn for me, but it has turned out it’s the other way around. I still think of him every day and often miss him terribly as a friend.
Dearest Wally – rest well.