Remembering Louis T.K. Cook

Louis Cook, not long after he completed six years of service with the US Navy. Pictured on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. (Photo courtesy of Ray Cook.)

Louis Cook, not long after he completed six years of service with the US Navy. Pictured on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. (Photo courtesy of Ray Cook.)

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.”


With some of the NCPR staff, back in our old Payson Hall studios, probably late 1980s. Front row: Peter Euler, Lamar Bliss, Jackie Sauter. Back row: Steve Gotcher, Ellen Rocco, Louie Cook, Martha Foley, Radio Bob, Kathleen Fitzgerald.

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 more recently. (Photo courtesy of Ray Cook.)

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)





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12 Comments on “Remembering Louis T.K. Cook”

  1. Jackie Sauter says:

    Sad to say, like many of us I lost track of Louis years ago. I knew he’d moved to Pine Ridge to start a new life and a new family. He moved on, as most of us do at some point in our lives. But all these years later, every now and then I still come across an LP or CD here at the station with his handwriting on it, noting the date he played a particular tune on Jazz Waves. That’s how I will always remember him — late nights in the control room with his jazz, deep into the melody or the player or the beat. The man really got into the music and he took us there with him. Thanks, Louis. Keep grooving.

  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    This remembrance came in from Peggy Berryhill, one of the leading voices in public media from the Native community. I share her message with you in its entirety:

    Hey All Native radio family: I want to take a few moments to introduce you to Louis Cook. Louis was one of those little known pioneers of Native public radio. He was a jazz DJ, a documentarian, and host of “You Are On Indian Land” at WSLU. He believed in sustainable living, community gardens and he was also a pioneer in his belief that we, as Native people , could become healthy and like so may others, his gentle soul was troubled. Today I learned that he has transitioned after a terrible car accident. It is with a heavy heart, wet eyes and deep sighs that I write a few words in his memory. Although we met and worked together briefly, he did what he did best, he connected with you. And he connected me with Ellen Rocco, a public radio life time friend, acquaintance, occasional advisor.
    I met and worked with Louis briefly in Canton New York. at WSLU, now known as North Country Public Radio. Today we seem surprised that there are Native DJs interested in jazz or other genres, but not so, perhaps during the 70’s and 80’s we had more freedom and less internal stereotyping. I don’t know but we both loved jazz, still do.
    To be honest about it, I think both of us were confused about the roles that brought us together and I never knew if his project was competed but a bond was formed. It was a dark time for Louis and I was coming out of my own troubles but radio was catalyst, a shared passion, a way toward our individual salvation and perhaps, for our communities.
    At times like this it seems we remember sharing foods; I remember he cooked and fed me a wonderful winter soup with a golden squash in it. I’d never had squash in a soup and it brought home that I was in a land of people (Native) people with whom I knew so little about. This was during the days when Akwesasne Notes was still around and some of us “Western” Indians were learning from our Eastern Brothers and Sisters. It was amidst a cold, wintery, ivy covered campus backdrop that I met and shared some time with Louis.
    He left a quiet footprint, a legacy that should be remembered, it was among the time of reel-to-reel tape, cassette machines as big as bread boxes and when mutlti-tracking meant multiple machines. We both went on our adjacent paths affiliated in our desire to use radio as a means of teaching and educating Indians and non-Indians and having some fun. Louis did finally tame his demons and he continued to work with the earth, literally, at Pine Ridge. Thank you Louis for sharing a time with me and leaving your legacy.

    Mvto, Peggy

  3. Peter says:

    I have many fond memories of Louis – some from Payson Hall (for some reason I picture him laid back in an old chair or couch) – but mostly that quiet voice coming over the airwaves, introducing the next song or program. His is one of the voices that I’ll always associate with the station, and I trust that his spirit will live on through the many people he touched (before, during, and after his radio years). I send condolences and wishes for peace to all those he leaves behind.

  4. Alex Jacobs says:

    I was with Akwesasne Notes for 3 tours around Indian Country, 70s 80s 90s, when we started AKWEKON and INDIAN TIME and we had 3 deadlines going, we learned a lot from Louie Cook. His sister & brother Katsi and Tom were big parts of NOTES then, but Louie was always behind the scenes, we listened to him while we worked, after we worked, as laid back as he was, he could also direct people because we believed him, trusted him. He was a craftsman, an artist, a technician, a scientist, a teacher, as it related to his work and passions. He was also always a brother. When we started AKWEKON one of my favorite features was the review section where we got to cover all this emerging Native Talent in all the arts. RADIOACTIVE INDIANS was Louie’s name for his program on contemporary native music, so he asked him if we could use it and he was happy to say yes and to give us leads, info and insight. I missed not being able to drop in on him, as all us bro’s separated doing whatever it is we do at our age. So now it’ll be that much tougher knowing we won’t see him when we finally start to slow down and appreciate the stuff of life. Seeya down the road buddy.

  5. Jennifer Vincent-Barwood says:

    Once upon a Hallow’s Eve, I stopped by the station (then located in Payson Hall) in full outlandish costume, to see Louie. As usual, late on a Friday night, the control room door was open so I was able to sneak in. He was on air as I leaped into view beyond the control board. Though his eyebrows rose precipitously, he didn’t miss a beat announcing the intro for his next selection, covering his laughter as I cavorted for his entertainment. It was fair play, because he used to try to distract me when I was on air.
    Louie taught me how to record the satellite feeds and how to produce our locally-recorded programs. In those days, that required splicing tape on reel-to-reel recordings, getting the timing just right between segments. With softspoken wit, he patiently showed me his techniques: find the right part to take out, place the tape just so in the block, make sure the razor blade is sharp, cut with a sure, swift stroke, keep it in place, seal with the splice tape, rub to make sure it’ll stay.
    We lost touch after he moved away, but I fondly remember Louie’s long hair, sweet smile and love of music. I’m so glad we got to work and play together. Thanks for the fun times shared, Louie. You’ve reached the end of this Earthwalk, your Good Red Road. May your spirit rest in beauty with the Creator.

  6. Robin says:

    Even though I didn’t know Louis well, he is one of those people with a very special place in my life. Whenever I would see him, he would pass on some wisdom that didn’t come from words but just from how he was being, and I didn’t get it until much later, sometimes years later. His show during the Steinman Festival remembering the Vietnam era was by far the most moving set of music I have ever heard. More than even knowing veterans who returned with PTSD, it showed me the wounds. It made me realize that I could only see them and that I could never know them but in realizing that, I might possibly help heal them.

    Often my memory of most people fade and become less frequent, but while I don’t think of him often, I think of him regularly. When I do, I am filled with humility as if standing at the feet of giant. It was almost as if he was as if he was filled with knowledge of the human condition, not just of his Mohawk and native community but of the whole world, and felt his role was to make it better. No wonder he struggled, but he touched everyone who knew him. I am a better person for having known this gentle giant.

  7. Ellen Rocco says:

    Alex–good to see your message. Hope all is well with you. If you’re in the Canton area, stop by and see us.

  8. Ray Cook says:

    I love my brother and miss him mightily. In my life, in my successes, I often stand on the shoulders of giants. Louie was one such gentle giant in my life. The law is in the seed. My eyes are clouded and my thoughts are scattered and my ears are plugged and my throat is closed. It will take a while to get over this.

  9. Jim Benvenuto says:

    Louie Cook and Miles Davis’s “On Green Dolphin Street” forever entwined in my mind. A tune long enough to go out for a smoke. Things change but the memories last. Thank you, Louie.

  10. Andrea de Leon says:

    Louis spinning jazz on the turntable, his friends slumped silently around the control room when he introduced his next tune, illuminated minimally by the blinking lights of the equipment….the definition of cool.

  11. Buck Cook says:

    To everyone who remembers Pops, (Louis), I want say thank you so much. I remember the times at WSLU when I would visit Pops in Canton or Potsdam. By the way, when he lived in Canton, he lived on BUCK street. Very proud of that. I was real young when I would visit Pops and go to the radio station with him. Around late 70’s to the early 80’s. I got to know Pops really well at this time. He usually did several things at one time. He would be on the air, tearing the latest news off that annoying printing machine in the corner of the main office when you get to WLSU, (First door on the left), setting up a recording in the production booth for a later show, dodging in and out of the towers of vinyl, grabbing the albums for his show. and still finding the time to take me to the “Turkey Bin”, upstairs to snag rock records for me. Aerosmith, Kiss, Ted Nugent. What every 9 year old wants. You know, the GOOD stuff, Hee Hee! Then he would show me how to work the equipment in production, the room across from the air chair. It was a very cool set up man. All those huge dials with the aluminum, colored centers. Red, green, and gold. Carpeting all over the counsole for absorbing sound. Wall light switches built into the counsole to activate the turntables. The mics, the headphones, the Reel to Reels. The splicing tape, the razor, the chop block. And ofcourse, my little stack of Rock records to my left. All was right with the world. Some of you may be aware that I sort of followed in Pops footsteps. I’m a radio personallity for 97.3 ckon out of Akwesasne. I remember one or our announcers was saying what a pain in the ass it was to get a program together. All they were doing was literally pressing a few buttons. The News, weather, and commercial spots are all programed into a computer. Listening to them rant and rave would immediately take me back to WSLU, and remembering how effortlessly Pops made all of that look, running around the station. There are many things I appreciate about Pops. I was with him in Pine Ridge a year ago from last winter, and we had a great time. we went everywhere. And everywhere we went, people were always happy to see Pops. We was doing well. I really feel lucky to have had the time with him that I did. Yes, there are many things that I appreciate about Pops. I especially appreciate the wonderful memories and good feelings that all of you have shown and shared on this page. Thank you all.

  12. Ellen Rocco says:

    Good to hear from you, Buck. We all remember you at the station with your dad. We all send our condolences and love.

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