Music, School of


Date of this Version



Lefferts, Peter M., 2017. Chronology and Itinerary of the Career of Will Marion Cook: Materials for a Biography. White paper, UNL DigitalCommons.


Copyright (c) 2017 Peter M. Lefferts

This document is one in a series---"Chronology and Itinerary of the Career of"---devoted to a small number of African American musicians active ca. 1900-1950. The documents are fallout from my work on a pair of essays, "US Army Black Regimental Bands and The Appointments of Their First Black Bandmasters" (2013) and "Black US Army Bands and Their Bandmasters in World War I" (2012; rev. version, 2016). In all cases I have put into some kind of order a number of biographical research notes, principally drawing upon newspaper and genealogy databases. None of them is any kind of finished, polished document; all represent work in progress, complete with repetitions, missing data, and the occasional typographical error. I invite queries, amplifications, and corrections, which may be directed to The present document is a first draft of October 2017.


Will Marion Cook (1869-1944) devoted his creative life to the musical stage as composer, conductor, arranger, orchestrator, producer, director, violinist, pianist, librettist and lyricist, as well as making important contributions as an author and educator. One of the foremost American musicians of his generation, and regarded by many in the African American community of his day as its leading composer, he was, in contemporary eyes, an eccentric, irascible genius of great heart. This document assembles a chronology of the principal public events of his life.

A biography of Will Marion Cook by Marva Carter, Swing Along (2008) is an excellent place to start for anyone interested in Cook. Carter relied heavily on Cook’s unpublished typescript autobiography, and interviewed family members. Bill Reed’s book chapter on Cook in Hot In Harlem (2010) is the best recent treatment of him at that length. The present effort extends their work principally by trolling through available electronically searchable newspaper databases. The material in this chronology will be supplemented in due course by a short series of on-line documents about particular aspects of Cook’s career, including brief synopses of the careers of other family members, his involvement with the “tab show,” his involvement with La revue nègre, his involvement with education, his involvement with a repertory company at the Lafayette Theatre, his involvement with writing and representing on stage the history of African American music, and a chronology of his shows and songs.