Barbara Cook, Kennedy Center honoree at last

Barbara Cook

GALLERY: Click the image above to see more photos of Barbara Cook throughout the years.

The Kennedy Center showed taste and maturity in (finally) bestowing one of its Honors on the sublime Broadway songbird, Barbara Cook. The singer-actress—83 and still chirping with amazing vigor—has been crooning professionally since (gulp) the presidency of Harry Truman. With this award, the center recognizes one of the standout figures of the Golden Age of the Broadway musical: She is, after all, the “The Music Man’s” original Marian the Librarian, Meredith Willson’s vision of downy-and-plucky small town American womanhood.

The Atlanta-born Cook is a magnificent interpreter of musical-theater standards, as anyone knows who has experienced her renditions of composers ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein--ever heard her sing “It Might as Well be Spring”?--to Stephen Sondheim. My love affair with her voice began with the original cast album of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s 1963 “She Loves Me,” on which her nonpareil soprano is showcased to exhilarating effect in the luscious “Vanilla Ice Cream.”

Here she is, singing it again just a few years ago. For this song and so many others Cook has made unforgettable, we melt.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.

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