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The Inspirational Barbara Cook

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Barbara Cook is coming back to sing at the Kennedy Center. This is her first time back with us since she received the Kennedy Center Honors last December. It was a memorable moment, as so many of Broadway's leading ladies came to pay homage to this truly spectacular artist.

I typically don't use this blog to promote upcoming Kennedy Center performances.

But Barbara's performances are sold out (naturally) so I feel comfortable making an exception. And Miss Cook is nothing if not exceptional.

It is not an overstatement that I work in the arts today because of Barbara Cook.

When I was four years old my parents brought my siblings and me to see Meredith Willson's The Music Man starring Barbara Cook.

I remember virtually the entire show -- where we sat, who was in the cast, the music and the story -- it made such a huge impression on me. I loved the barber shop quartet, the opening scene on a train and, of course, the seventy-six trombones. But I particularly remember Barbara singing "Goodnight My Someone" on the porch of her house while Amaryllis played the piano inside. At one moment the front of the house (made of scrim) was lit from behind and you could, magically, see into the house. That astonishing moment delighted, inspired and motivated me. I knew my life would be spent behind that scrim. I needed, somehow, to touch that magic. While I was not talented enough to perform, I was fortunate to find my way into a different aspect of the arts.

My experience was not unusual, I am sure. It is so clear that every day artists inspire children and adults. It is why arts education is so important to me. It is why I believe it is critical to make the arts accessible to every child. Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade became interested in dance when their school class went to see a performance of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

How different and how much poorer would my life have been if tickets to The Music Man had not been available to me? How much would the world have lost if Alvin and Carmen had not been able to go to the ballet? We must make these experiences available to everyone.

But while countless others have had their lives changed by the arts, my experience is unusual. Because now I have the privilege of working with Barbara -- some 55 years later! (Barbara curates the cabaret series at the Kennedy Center: Barbara Cook's Spotlight). One of my life's great moments has come full circle.

So for the many of you who disagree with the things I write and say, blame Barbara Cook. It is all her fault!

But I am full of gratitude and admiration for her artistry, her friendship, her wisdom and the way she changed my life.