Singer, Pianist, 99, to Release New Album of Original Songs

Marianne Arden Cook, 99, toured top nightclubs in her youth, releases album

ByABC News
August 14, 2012, 3:37 PM

Aug. 15, 2012— -- Each week a fiery, 99-year-old pianist plays to a crowd of about 30 senior citizens, but her undying itch to perform has her set on a new project. This world-traveling, quadrilingual composer is set to release a new album.

Marianne Arden Cook toured the top nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s and now she settled into playing weekly gigs each Tuesday at a community center in Chevy Chase, Md. She's written more than a hundred songs, and she wants the rest of the world to hear some of them, in a new CD.

Cook set her sights on the music industry early in her life after hearing one of Rachmaninoff's enchanting symphonies in Austria. She graduated from Vienna's music academy with a degree in classical piano, and picked up her bags and headed for the states.

She arrived to New York in 1932, with three other singers and a dream to perform. But the quartet's starry-eyed gaze quickly sobered when they found themselves entangled in the cutthroat entertainment industry.

"It wasn't easy. I came to the states with $20 and some holes in my suit. I went to the dentist and he told me it would cost $160. He said 'how can you pay it?' I said, I don't have the slightest idea, but you will get paid."

And the dentist did get paid, with money earned from the quartet's first gig at the Rainbow Room, a high-profile nightclub during the late 30s. That appearance propelled their career and made the quartet one of the most sought after groups in the city.

"Now that's pretty darn good!" said Cook laughingly.

But as her career took off, the harsh realities of World War II were devastating Europe. Hitler's rise caught up with Cook's life across the Atlantic. Her parents wanted her home, cutting her music career short.

"When I was in Austria, I wasn't happy anymore. The U.S., I loved them, and so eventually I came back," Cook told ABCNews.

A glimmer of hope arose when a Cook's former producer at Ziff Davis publishing company decided to sponsor her return to the states.

"Somehow it turned around because a Jewish family sent an affidavit for a Catholic girl – usually it's the other way around, you know?" chuckled Cook.

Once she arrived, the key to Cook's success was simple.

"I was very energetic and I wanted to succeed," said Cook matter-of-factly.

From then on, Cook became a traveling one-woman band. She played gigs all over the country, all the while carrying her passion for music.

"I played the DuPont Plaza Hotel in DC and the Hawk Room in Chicago. In St. Louis I played the Commodore Hotel. Then back in New York I did a gig at The Pierre and The Lombardy Hotel," said Cook. "Most of the places I went for 2 weeks and stayed 2 years."

Cook says that she never imagined her career to last nearly a century, but her fans at the Friendship Heights Community Center in Chevy Chase are not surprised at all.

Julian Mansfield, manager of the center, says that Cook has become an integral part of the program and without her, it would not be the same.

"She's really remarkable. She has a great, friendly, bubbly personality. At 99 years old, she's still tremendously talented on a piano. She plays all of her music from memory for upwards of an hour," said Mansfield. "She's so regular here that she's just a fixture, a remarkable constant."

When she's not playing at the center, Cook is thinking of ways to promote her new album. While admitting it may not be a platinum best-seller, Cook still considers it to be a cherished keepsake.

When asked her favorite song on the album, Cook is quick to reply with "Take Your Happiness While You Can." She speaks the words as her voice can no longer hold the tunes.

"Take your happiness while you can/Cause it may never come again/ Take it now do not wait/ Because it may be too late."

Cook then pauses. Her breath shortens and her voice weakens. Her young spirit can no longer mask the reality of her age.

And yet, she laughs to herself.

"This is what keeps me going. I'm cheerful and it helps, you know?"