Louis (Louie) Cook, former NCPR jazz host and producer, died on Monday, May 13, 2013 from injuries suffered in a car crash last week. Louie worked at the station from the mid-’70s into the early ’90s. Listeners will remember him as the late night host of “Jazz Waves,” and as the innovative producer of the Native issues and culture series, “You Are On Indian Land.”
Louis played an important role in training and mentoring many young radio producers, particularly those from the Native community, including his first cousin Ray Cook.
When I called Ray after hearing the news of Louie’s passing, Ray said, “Louie was the brother I never had.” Ray described Louie as a lifelong teacher and as the person who was responsible for getting him into radio and media. (Ray is Op/Ed editor at Indian Country Today Media Network.)
For those of us who worked at the station with Louie, our memories are very vivid. Radio Bob said, “Louie was full of life, he had tremendous energy, he was passionate about his music–really, he was bigger than life.”
Martha Foley remembers Louie as “a wild guy!” and said, “He introduced me to jazz–he was the perfect late night jazz host.”
And Martha reminded me of another role Louie played at the station: he taught us about Native rights, sovereignty and dignity. As Martha put it, “He taught us on both professional and personal levels.”
I remember a staff meeting, probably sometime in the early or mid-’80s, when a colleague used the expression “Indian giver” in reference to someone who had taken back a present. Quietly but firmly, Louie pointed out the inherent ethnic insult in that common phrase, and that led to a conversation about other elements of everyday language that advanced negative racial stereotypes. (I actually recall the example of “gypped” being discussed as a slur against the Roma people.)
Early in my public radio career, I wrote an application to the New York Humanities Council on behalf of a project Louie was working on. We got the money and Louie produced a three-part series about Ray Fadden, the founder and then-director of the Six Nations Iroquois Museum in Onchiota. During the months of production, Louie would always ask the rest of us to stockpile old bread and other simple foodstuffs for him to bring to recording sessions at the Museum: Ray Fadden rarely asked for money from visitors, but always welcomed food for the bears and other animals he fed on the land around the Museum. The Museum is still going strong today under the direction of Ray’s grandson.
From Louie’s cousin Ray Cook, I’ve learned more about Louie’s childhood, and about the work Louie has been doing in recent years. Louie’s mother was born and raised at Kanawakeh, the Mohawk reservation outside of Montreal; his father was raised on the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation further up river on the St. Lawrence. Louie’s father served as a Marine pilot in WW II and returned to the service as a flying instructor during the Korean War. He died in a training action when Louie was about 10; Louie’s mother died around the same time of a heart attack. He was raised by his extended family at Akwesasne, served six years in the Navy and was trained as a lab technician during that time. He went to college after the service and began working at WSLU (NCPR’s original name when we operated just a single transmitter in Canton) in the late ’70s.
A few years after leaving the station, Louie moved to South Dakota, remarried, and began working with a nonprofit organization that helps Pine Ridge reservation families build and maintain gardens. Louie was a self-trained botanist and I’d be lying through omission if I didn’t tell you that he learned many of his agricultural skills through years of developing growing techniques and seed varieties for the cultivation of marijuana. According to Cousin Ray, at Pine Ridge, Louie was associated with Alex White Plume, former President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe at Pine Ridge, who has worked for years to develop seed and growing techniques for the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Louie had his demons. Indeed, Ray Cook used those very words when I talked to him. The good news is that he pushed his way through the emotional and psychological challenges and came out the other side: successful, to my mind, because he spent so many years helping other people.
Bucky Cook, a youngster when Louie worked at the station, is known throughout the Mohawk community at Akwesasne as a host and producer at CKON and as an emcee. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I’ll keep adding to this post as more old friends, colleagues and family members weigh in with their memories and stories of Louie. Please add your comments and memories, too.
For all at the station, our condolences go out to Bucky and other family members, and to Louie’s friends and extended family at Akwesasne and Pine Ridge.
Skennon. (“peace” in Mohawk–thanks to Ray Cook)