1917 – 1967
Madame Cooke “was a prolific recording artist she started in 1949 and recorded extensively (mainly for Nashboro) until her death in 1967. During her years with Nashboro she almost always recorded with a male vocal group but prior to that made a series of recordings with The Young People’s Choir.” Very little has been written about Madame Edna Gallmon Cooke. Most of the information on her are found in liner notes to various CD’s and the notes on the back of various albums. We do know that she was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1917. She died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 4, 1967. She was 49 years old at the time of her death. She is probably best remembered for her recordings of “Stop Gambler” and “Heavy Load.” The name Cooke was from her first marriage. It is our understanding that the marriage ended because of the death of her husband.
The liner notes to “Mother Smith and Her Children” describes Madame Cooke as “an exquisite stylist, with a sensuous appeal akin to Billie Holiday’s. [She is referred to as] rap music’s gospel progenitor; a penchant for rhymed, spoken chants produced her most famous recordings. Though she was born in Columbia, South Carolina, the daughter of a shouting Baptist preacher, Reverend Eddie J. Gallmon, she was more educated and musically trained than most gospel singers. As a young adult, she lived and studied in Washington and Philadelphia, attending Temple University and briefly teaching elementary school. She had contemplated a career in semi-classics and show tunes when she underwent a twin conversion. In the late 1930s, she heard Willie Mae Ford Smith. ‘I was shocked. The woman sang with such finesse until I knew I had to be a gospel singer.’ Shortly after, she entered the Holiness Church and the would-be pop star became preeminently consecrated (the Holiness Church bestowed the honorific ‘Madame’ to announce her devotion). During the forties she toured the southeast, billed as the ‘Sweetheart of the Potomac,’ belting out hymns and gospel songs in Willie Mae Ford Smith fashion, although her mezzo-soprano was simply to petite to duplicate Smith’s contralto blasts. So she elaborated on the style. Returning to home sources, she began using the sermonettes and spirituals Eddie Gallmon had performed in the twenties. She became a transcendent moaner and a mistress of that note-bending musicologists call melisma and church folks call ‘curlicues.’ ‘runs’ and ‘flowers and frills.’ She began recording in the late forties, accompanied usually by the choir of her father’s Springfield Baptist Church of Washington, DC. Her switch in styles occurred after her marriage to Barney Parks, Jr., a former member of the Dixie Hummingbirds and a founder of The Nightingales. They had met in 1951 when Marie Knight, Rosetta Tharp’s old partner, organized a tour featuring herself, Cooke, and The Nightingales. The tour’s fruits included three marriages: Cooke’s to Parks, the Nightingales’ manager; her accompanist Marge’s to Julius Cheeks, the quartet’s lead; and Knight’s sister Bernice’s to the quartet’s basso, Carl Henry.
Bio references www.scgospelquartet.com