Hubert Cooke passes

Hubert Cooke of the Cooke Duet and the Singing Cookes passed away on Monday afternoon, March 12, 2018, due to a heart attack. He is thought to have been 83 years old and he passed away shortly before a birthday tomorrow, March 16. 

He was a native of the Norton area of southwest Virginia. 

His father played the claw-hammer banjo and he was a distant relative to old-time musician Dock Boggs. 

Cooke grew up as part of a big family in an area where employment seemed to be limited to working in a coalmine. One of his nine siblings was younger brother, the late Jack Cooke, who devoted a few decades to playing bass and singing with Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. 

His early involvement in music saw Hubert and Jack Cooke play together as the Cooke Brothers and, later, as the Ramblin’ Mountain Boys.  

While Jack Cooke took the bluegrass route in music Hubert (with his wife, Jeanette) turned to working for the Lord, ministering and singing in the southern Gospel style. 

In May 1962, after 16 years in the coal mines, Hubert and Jeanette, the daughter of a preacher, Rev. Gordan Freeman, formed The Cooke Duet in the town of Wise, Virginia. At first, they used two red Hummingbird guitars for accompaniment and sang in church revivals in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia. Their music library was quite small at that time and Jeanette recalls once when they sang This Little Light of Mine repeatedly, as that was the only song they knew. 

He continued to work as a coal miner during the duo’s early years until when, in 1965, he felt the conviction to leave his coal mining job, and so they hit the road singing full-time. 

With $135 from an income tax refund, they made their first recording, self-titled The Cooke Duet, released in 1967. That original album was repressed in 1969. 

From those early recordings were There Must Be A Power, I’m Longing for Home and I’m So Happy, with his wife, and A Place I’ve Never Been songs all composed by Cooke. Other songs by him include Family Circle, Banks of Jordan, There Must Be A Power, and the autobiographical Memories of the Coal Mine

Eventually, they began playing in Jenkins and Pikeville, Kentucky. 

In the late 1960s the duo’s music became popular in Dayton, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, giving them their first urban exposure due, in part, to their beginning to place records with radio stations. Although by now they had three young boys to supervise, they travelled to those states where they sang in churches and at revivals. 

As their sons reached the age of 14 years, each joined the group, eventually expanding to a quintet, with name changes to Cooke Duet & Sons and, finally, to The Singing Cookes.  

Their eldest son, James, plays the bass guitar, while Ronny plays keyboards and Donny is the drummer. They performed separately as the Cooke Brothers as well as with their parents. 

The Singing Cookes gained national attention in the mid-1970s with a song entitled He Rows Me Over the Tide. The recording stayed on The Singing News’ national chart for 22 months. That was followed by Moses, which climbed to No. 3 in the southern Gospel charts. Earth’s Loss is Heaven’s Gain peaked at No. 10 and I Hope We Walk the Last Mile Together reached No. 14. The album that included both Earth’s Loss is Heaven’s Gain and I Hope We Walk the Last Mile Together reached No. 1 in the Gospel Voice distributors top sales chart in 1994. 

Their ministry has taken them to many places not only in the continental United States, but in Hawaii as well. They sang to welcoming crowds in the British Virgin Islands and have travelled to Canada to sing for thousands of Native Americans at the Rising of the Nations Spiritual Summit. 

During the 1970s Hubert and Jeanette Cooke played in nine countries during a tour of the Holy Lands. 

Today, they have well over 50 albums in their catalog, and are still one of the most endearing groups in southern Gospel music.  

The Singing Cookes celebrated 55 years of singing Gospel music in 2017. Their desire has been to see souls saved and for people to come together and praise God for His goodness and mercy. 

As requested by Hubert Cooke, who didn’t want a funeral, the family just had a graveside service, which took place yesterday, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Norton, Virginia. He was laid to rest alongside his parents and siblings in the family cemetery. 

R.I.P. Hubert Cooke – Earth’s Loss is Heaven’s Gain.  

A Discography  

Cooke Duet – 

  • Striving for That City (LP released in 1967)
  • The Cooke Duet (LP, 1967)
  • The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow (LP, 1969)
  • The Best of the Cooke Duet (Freeland FRC CD 641, released on 1994)
  • Early Cooke Duet (Freeland FRC CD 647, 1996)

Cooke Duet and Son – 

  • Cooke Duet and Son (Freeland FRC CD 659, released in 2002)

The Singing Cookes – 

  • Live in Kendallville, Indiana (Singing Cookes SC-LI, CD/DVD) 
  • Songs from the Appalachian Mountains (Singing Cookes SC-56)
  • Bluegrass Gospel # 2 (SC-47) 

The early recordings will have most appeal to bluegrass music enthusiasts. 

Information about additional albums can be found at The Singing Cookes’ website.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.