Then, Now and The Future, Stephanie Cooke celebrates golden jubilee
A musical exploration of love, for life, self, people and even God, has been the hallmark of the intensely heartfelt music Stephanie Cooke has created over the past two decades plus.
Over the years the bulk of her music has been released under the iconic Kingstreet Sounds label.
This has seen Stephanie gaining recognition among the notoriously hard-to-please Soulful House
Music community as not only a talented singer and a writer, but an artist of exquisite abilities.
Join us in this first of two parts as Stephanie reflects on her musical beginnings, an undeniable “love for love”, as well as career pinnacles like writing music for luminaries such as Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.
Music wasn’t something I really pursued. It’s like it sought me out and pulled out of me what I didn’t even realise was there.”
You will be celebrating your golden jubilee (50 years) of being alive. Such a landmark no doubt comes with a lot of reminiscing and reflection. Looking back what were your dreams and aspirations when you started out in music?
Stephanie Cooke: My birthday was actually on the third of March and yes I turned 50.
There have been so many ups and downs in the 25 years that I’ve been doing this music thing.
In the early days, honestly I wasn’t expecting to have the kind of success I had.
I remember writing songs and feeling kind of in shock that they were coming from me.
Music wasn’t something I really pursued.
It’s like it sought me out and pulled out of me what I didn’t even realise was there.
So I didn’t really have aspirations.
I guess I just went with the flow.
Opportunities just seemed to find me.
Just like so many other girls who can hold a note, you sang in the church choir and in small groups. At what point did you realise that maybe, just maybe, you could make a career out of music?
Stephanie Cooke: I did sing in the choir and in groups and being in the choir gave me a good foundation that eventually helped shape the way I do my vocal arrangements.
A desire for a career in music however came many years later.
It was when I realised that songwriting was something that I HAD to do and something that I was pretty good at, that I knew I needed to make this a primary focus career wise.
Still in retrospect, what are some of the life and career experiences that will always make you smile?
Stephanie Cooke: Nothing makes me smile more than standing on a stage in front of thousands of people who are singing my song.
A song I wrote out of my own life experiences and recorded, never knowing if it would even be heard by anyone.
That’s the best feeling!
But even more, it warms my heart to have so many people say to me that my songs have touched them, affected them in a positive way, and helped them through rough times.
That is priceless.
If someone who has never heard your work before were to ask you to recommend the song/s that best represent your essence as Stephanie Cooke…Which song/s would you recommend?
Stephanie Cooke: “Love Will” is a song I wrote when I was going through so much.
I poured every emotion I was feeling at the time into this song.
I was feeling deep love, deep disappointment, betrayal, hurt, but more than anything I felt hope.
And I think that’s what comes through the most with this song.
When people tell me how this song makes them feel, hope is what I hear the most.
With that being said, I would definitely recommend “Love Will”.
“I Thank You” is another song I’d recommend.
It is my ultimate love song to God.
I can remember getting teary eyed while writing it.
Talking about “love”. Love, whether for a lover, other people or for life itself, seems to be the central theme of your music. To what extent have your personal experiences contributed to this artistic “obsession” with the most powerful yet also most “confusing” emotion?
Stephanie Cooke: LOVE is who I am.
I don’t know any other way to answer.
I have been asked that question so many times and in the 20 plus years of being a songwriter, I have tried several times to not write about it, but I always go right back to LOVE.
Love is my mission, my ministry, my purpose.
It’s who I am.
To call it an “obsession” is no exaggeration.
It is definitely the single most powerful force in the universe.
I’m not confused one bit.
I get it.
I live by it. [Laughs]
There is a timeless element to your music whether its earlier releases like “Everything” or more recent offerings like “Beautiful Life”. How exactly have you approached your craft to make it, almost as it were, exist outside of time?
Stephanie Cooke: For me, when it comes to creating, I have always followed my heart.
Beautiful melodies are what made me fall in love with music.
Just thinking about “Songs In The Key of Life” [legendary Stevie Wonder album] takes me to a place mentally and emotionally that is so sweet.
I tend to write with these things in mind.
I think a great melody stirs up emotions.
I want people to feel what I feel when I am in that moment.
I truly believe that this is a major ingredient to a timeless piece.
I guess I could say that writing for other artists gave me credibility.”
A lot of people might overlook the fact that you have actually written for Diana Ross, Jody Watley, Tyrese and Aretha Franklin among a host of other celebrated artists. Hold up! This is Aretha Franklin The “Queen of Soul”! Tell us a little about this particular project?
Stephanie Cooke: Well I actually have never met Aretha.
I was invited to assist in writing the song by Jermaine Dupri.
She wasn’t present in Atlanta through the writing process.
She recorded her vocals later in Detroit.
But just to listen to the song and here her singing words that I wrote was so exciting.
How about writing for Diana Ross!?
Stephanie Cooke: Diana Ross was present in the studio when we started recording the vocals.
I have always loved her so seeing her and shaking her hand was one of the highlights of my entire career.
How has writing for these and other singers contributed to your development as an artist?
Stephanie Cooke: I guess I could say that writing for other artists gave me credibility.
As I’m sure you can see from this interview, I am more of songwriter than I am a singer.
As a songwriter, I just didn’t get the respect from labels and publishers that I really wanted until I had written on certain projects and had songs featured in television and films.
Working with producers and artists showed that I could handle writing on a professional level.
As an artist, working with other artists help me to determine what I was and was not going to do.
Also how I was going to present myself as an artist.
I learned quite a bit and developed more confidence in the process.
Chemistry between the producer/s and artist is such an important part of the creative process. Which producers have always gotten you instinctively and brought the best out of you?
Stephanie Cooke: I generally produce me vocally.
It’s a rare occasion when someone else is giving me direction.
In my earlier days of recording, it was different.
These days most of the producers I work with are hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away.
So I’m usually writing to tracks and sending vocals via email.
When things are not quite working with a producer or collaborating artists do you let them down gently or it’s straight up, “your vibe isn’t working for me”?
Stephanie Cooke: I have grown a lot in this area.
There was a time when I would just grin and bear it, but now I have no problem saying “hey, I’m not feeling that. Maybe we should try it this way.”
Or just explain what I’m not feeling.
You have released possibly the bulk of your work under King Street Sounds, one of the flagships for that lush Soulful House sound. In what way has working with King Street Sounds added value to you as an artist?
Stephanie Cooke: Kingstreet was where it all started.
Without that label, I can’t see how I would have ever even gotten into House Music.
I didn’t know what House Music was until I did “Excuses” which was my very first release anywhere as a solo artist.
Kingstreet is the foundation of everything I’ve done in this genre.
Join us in the second and last part of this interview when Stephanie Cooke talks about the present day music industry, establishing her own record label as well as deeply personal life incidents such as beating breast cancer.
Watch this space…
WITH STEPHANIE COOKE