Charles L. Cooke (1891-1958)
According to those who knew Charles Leonidas “Doc” Cooke, he had begun composing music when he was only eight years old and organized his first combo when he was 15. Cooke had received early musical instruction from his mother, a music teacher, while attending public schools in Louisville, KY and Detroit, MI. When he moved with his parents to Detroit at the age of 18, he played both in Fred Stone’s Orchestra and Ben Shook’s Band. He continued his studies of music and music theory under other teachers (“Charles ‘Lee’ Leonidas ‘Doc’ Cooke,” n.d.) and eventually earned a Doctorate degree in music from the Chicago College of Music (“Charles ‘Doc’ Cooke,” n.d.).
By 1910 Cooke was working as a staff composer for Detroit publishing houses, before moving to Chicago and organizing his own band (“Charles ‘Lee’ Leonidas ‘Doc’ Cooke,” n.d.). Through his connection with Shook, Cooke became the conductor and musical director of the Orchestra at Paddy Harmon’s Dreamland Ballroom, the Municipal Pier, and the White City Ballroom in Chicago (“Charles ‘Doc’ Cooke,” n.d.).
“The Dreamland was a cavernous, barnlike dance hall/building which also functioned as a roller rink located beneath the Elevated Railroad tracks at the junction of Paulina and Van Buren streets on Chicago’s West Side (a site which today is the north embankment of the Eisenhower Expressway), and catered to an exclusively white audience / a mostly Jewish & Italian audience, being about equidistant from what is now called “Little Italy” and a nearby Jewish neighborhood.” -Mark Berresford (“Charles ‘Lee’ Leonidas ‘Doc’ Cooke,” n.d.)
The ensemble that Cooke toured with recorded under several names, from Cookies Gingersnaps, Doc Cook and his 14 Doctors of Syncopation, to Doc Cook’s Dreamland Orchestra (“Doc Cook,” n.d.). The ensemble scattered after their instruments were stolen during a break-in at a multi-week dance marathon at the Chicago Coliseum in 1930. Cooke chose to relocate to New York where he had several connections, and a previous orchestration of his had created demand for his arrangements. Soon, Cooke was put on staff as an arranger for Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) and Radio City Music Hall (Edwards, n.d.). He retired from these positions in the mid 1940s and proceeded to work on various projects until he had a stroke in 1954 at the age of 63 while adapting The Boy Friend, a British hit, to the American stage. The stroke partially paralyzed him, but Cooke learned to use his left hand in order to finish his work. He died in 1958 as the result of a second stroke.
Songs in the USF Libraries digital African American Sheet Music Collection: