Michael Anthony Cook

Age 47 Former Glen Burnie resident performed for 24 years with the Mighty Clouds of Joy gospel group.

July 23, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Michael Anthony Cook, a former Glen Burnie resident who had performed for more than two decades with the Mighty Clouds of Joy, a Grammy Award-winning gospel group, died Friday of undetermined causes at Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He was 47.

"We are waiting for the results of the autopsy as to the cause of death," Diana Gaither-Peterson, a sister-in-law, said yesterday.

Mr. Cook was born into a musical family in Halifax, Va.

His father and uncle had co-founded the Fantastic Heavenly Five, a gospel group, in 1947, and his mother played piano.

"We were born into it and have been singing all of our lives," said Mr. Cook's brother, Thomas Cook III of Rustburg, Va. "We sang all the time at home, and people who called us the Cook Family would ask us to sing at their homes, or we'd go to churches. Gospel was our roots. That's where we come from, and it was instilled in us."

Mr. Cook said his brother began singing when he was 5 or 6 and had no formal musical training.

In high school, he played bass guitar in the school's stage band and sang in the choir.

"Mike could sing in any voice and fit into any group. I guess if you wanted to compare him to an R&B singer it would have to be Smokey Robinson," his brother said.

"He loved doing a falsetto tenor voice, and we'd do trick singing together. We'd switch off and swap the parts. Most folks can't do that."

After the death of his mother, Mr. Cook dropped out of high school.

At the urging of his father and his older brother, he returned to school and earned his General Educational Development diploma in 1980.

"He used to say, 'If I don't sing, I'll starve to death,' " his brother said. "He certainly had charisma."

In 1984, Mr. Cook moved to Baltimore when he joined the Melodiaries.

He remained with the group for a year before joining the Mighty Clouds of Joy, a contemporary gospel group that was founded in Los Angeles in 1955 by Joe Ligon.

Mr. Cook brought not only his fabled falsetto tenor voice to the Mighty Clouds of Joy but also talented songwriting skills.

His version of the hymn, "Love Lifted Me," was incorporated into the group's Catching On, Album II, and he was known for his inspirational rendition of "Walk Around Heaven All Day."

Mr. Cook, who had been a member of the gospel group for the past 24 years, earned a Stellar Gospel Music Award.

The Mighty Clouds of Joy was presented a Grammy Award in 1992, has earned in recent years four Grammy nominations and was inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 1998.

"Michael had been an intricate part of the Mighty Clouds of Joy," said Zachary L. Glickman, a Baltimore native, who has managed the group since 1974. "He had a very distinctive voice and just wasn't another voice in the background."

Mr. Glickman described the group as "innovative."

"It was the first gospel group to bring electric instruments into churches, and they traveled all over the world performing," he added.

"They opened for such performers as Aretha Franklin; Earth, Wind & Fire; Paul Simon; Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones at the old Capital Centre in Landover. They also appeared on many network TV shows."

He added: "He was just a really sweet and caring guy. My phone hasn't stopped ringing, and I know that people from the West Coast and the East are coming for his services."

Mr. Cook, who lived in Glen Burnie from 1988s through 1999, would often be on the road performing 10 months a year, according to his brother.

In addition to singing, he was also an accomplished bass guitarist, drummer and keyboard player.

In recent years, Mr. Cook lived in West Orange, N.J., near New York City.

"While he loved his music and performing, he was a devoted family man," his brother said.

A musical tribute to Mr. Cook's life will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m tomorrow at Living Waters Worship Center, 8262 Lokus Road, Odenton.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, 11400 Glenn Dale Blvd., Glenn Dale.

Also surviving are his wife of 19 years, the former Valerie Gaither; two sons, Michael A. Cook II, 9, and Cory Cook, 5; a daughter, Ashley Cook, 16; his father, Thomas Cook II of West Orange; and several aunts and uncles.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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