Ralph Cooper the 1st was born on January 16, 1908 in Harlem New York City. He was an African American actor, screenwriter, choreographer, dancer and entertainment administrator who is best known for starting the Amateur Night at the Apollo theater, not only as the founder of this event at the historic venue, but also as the original master of ceremonies in 1934. Ralph Cooper the 1st, was cast in Hollywood feature films in supporting roles such as the 1932 movie Blonde Venus, and Lloyd’s of London and White Hunter in 1936. The film “Poor Little Rich Girl”, staring Shirley Temple, was choreographed by Cooper also in 1936.
Ralph Cooper the first, known as “Dark Gable” in the 1930’s is due to his courteous good looks, he stared in several African American Films alongside the likes of Lena Horne and Duke Ellington.
The author of over ten screenplays, and involved in the business side of music, he was “special consultant” for the film The Cotton Club in 1984. His son Ralph Cooper the 2nd took over as master of ceremonies at the Apollo Theater when he fell ill and eventually died of cancer on August 4, 1992.
Ralph Cooper the 2nd not only continued his father’s legacy at the Apollo, became a mover and shaker as a producer in music and the entertainment industry. I had the privilege of conducting this exclusive interview with Ralph Cooper at a private photo shoot of his current rising star and amazing singer Amanda Holley at Hudson Pine lofts in midtown Manhattan.
Ralph Cooper grew up in a very famous New York theater music legacy, his father invented Amateur Night at the Apollo and found the icons of American music, who came up with the idea in 1933 and put the show on in 1934. His mother was a singer in the 1940’s who was the leader and drummer of her band, “Which was very unheard of for women at the time whether black, white or any ethnicity, it was just anti-woman as far as the music industry and women working was concerned.” Ralph said to me that he “feels from the bottom of his heart that he is very blessed to have been raised by pioneers.” His father as “a producer, invented shows, launched careers, made things happen, looking back on American history where would our whole culture be without Ella Fitzgerald or Billy Holiday? These were the icons, the base of American music, I like to say I’m a freedom fighter, a pioneer, I want to blow open the doors, I’m an artist, but I use that art to further the culture.”
I asked Ralph why does he do what he does? “Less and less people are doing it, in a digital evolution revolution, less people that can stand and really create something out of nothing. I think the digital revolution allows us to be very creative. The money faster, the communication is faster, and the ideas can travel longer; but you still need the human nature of being able to stand in the storm, be a lighthouse, stand out and create your own math, create your own island and create your own dream making it a reality. There is less and less of those people around, so I’m very blessed and thankful that I’m able to still do that in various forms of the arts, music, film, television, and by de-facto you are creating a lot of jobs. “Not only are you telling a lot of stories, your employing a lot people long term, and many people who have worked for him in productions have told him that they were very thankful to be working because they to are artists and without this opportunity to express themselves they might not have a platform to do so. The digital outlet can be a very crowded digital highway.”
I asked Ralph about his experience at the Apollo and he had this to say. “I grew up there as a child as a baby crawling across that stage, I heard that stories in the background as a kid growing up, which was an ongoing evolution. I experienced being on the laps of some of the greatest of the greats, but it is a piece of history that I know extremely well. I was very happy to produce alongside my dad, and actually learn from him in a way. I was with him all day everyday as a kid, so I was able to really learn things, which have hit me later on in life. I mean even after being 30 or 40, and was wow, that something I learned back when I was 12 because I sat in on a situation or this piece of history means something to me and is motivating me to do this, because I was there as a kid when Martin and Malcolm met, and I know that the American Black Culture is being directed towards something here, there or everywhere. The Apollo being the lighthouse beckon of black entertainment worldwide is very important to me not only growing up in the legacy but to continue the legacy.”
During my interview with Ralph, I asked how he came about managing and producing Amanda Holley, and what he had to say was very inspiring. “I sort of made a left turn, after signing a lot of act’s and after getting a lot of record deals over a period of time during my career, with Island records, signing Ice-T with Sire, having my own label with Universal, Amanda came to me at a time I when let the label go at Universal. I had made a left turn in motion pictures, I moved to L.A. then moved back to New York, I had totally retired from music managing, I was not doing it; I had my rap group on Capital. I had done everything in that business that you can do. I heard Amanda’s signing, and her artistry, and the people that contacted me about her were overwhelmed, and did not know what to do, and I was blown away. I said to her, you are an immortal artist. You can have a legacy like Aretha Franklin or Billy Holiday.”
“So I was literally brought out of music management retirement to help direct a career that I thought was a huge legacy art, that 50 or a100 years from now people would know her name and if they didn’t know her music exactly they would at least know who that artist was and what that artist represented. The way that we can stop a 21 year old and millennial on the street and say “Billy holiday” they might not be able to recall any of her songs, but they will know who Billy Holiday is.
That kind of over art, that kind of immortal art, is where I thought everything was with Amanda. She is an amazing talent, in an amazing time, she’s an old soul, she’s got a five-octave range, she’s got perfect pitch and sounds like nobody else right now. She sounds like someone twice her age, with how she writes, how she sings it, what she feels and how she approaches a song. She too young to know the depth of the pain that she writes about. She grew up with a songwriting father and a mother who is a concert cellist, so I believe it is all channeled through her. I think her depth of writing will have a worldwide impact and surprise on pop culture. Amanda’s poetry has been, published by Columbia press at the age of 14, and sang with Les Paul. Amanda vocal trained Lauren Hill, who sought her out for lessons.” All this from a young woman who had a rough childhood.
Code Media Group Inc.
Amanda Holley’s Photographer: James Weber
Hudson Pines Lofts
Record Label: Tommy Boy Records