Abriea “Abbie” Mitchell Cook (25 September 1884 – 16 March 1960), also billed as Abbey Mitchell, was an American soprano opera singer who sang the role of “Clara” in the premier production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 1935, and was also the first to record “Summertime” from that musical.
Mitchell was the daughter of an African-American mother and a Jewish-German father from New York City’s Lower East Side. She was reared by a maternal aunt, Alice Payne, in Baltimore, Maryland, where she attended a convent school.
After finishing her school education in Baltimore, she started studying voice in New York in 1897. The next year composer Will Marion Cook and lyricist Paul L. Dunbar cast her in their musical comedy Clorindy; or, the Origin of the Cakewalk. It was so successful that it ran for the whole season at the Casino Roof Garden. She married Cook a year later, and appeared in the lead role in his Jes Lak White Folks (1899). She also appeared in his production The Southerners (1904).
Cook and Mitchell had a daughter, Marion Abigail Cook, in 1900, and a son, Will Mercer Cook, in 1903. Their daughter, raised by family members as had been Mitchell herself, married dancer Louis Douglas. Their son became a professor at Howard University and United States Ambassador to Niger and Senegal.
In London she premiered the principal role in the 1903 musical In Dahomey, produced by the team of George Walker and Bert Williams, with music composed by her husband Cook. The cakewalk, considered old fashioned by the cast, was almost cut from the show, but proved popular with audiences and became a fad in the United Kingdom. Mitchell received international acclaim for her performance, and was invited to appear at a command performance for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Buckingham Palace.
Content + Photo: Wikipedia