ABT Negro Unit’s Black Ritual and Muriel Cook
The American Ballet Theatre’s all-black Negro Unit, which was founded in 1940 as part of the Federal Theatre Project, included Muriel Cook, along with Lawaune Kennard, Lavinia Williams, Anne Jones, Dorothy Williams, Elizabeth Thompson, Evelyn Pilcher, Edith Ross, Leonore “Azelean” Cox, Edith Hurd, Mabel Hart, Maudelle Bass, Clementine Collinwood, Carole Ash, and Bernice Willis. The Negro Unit only performed one ballet during its existence—Black Ritual or Obeah, which was choreographed by Agnes de Mille and premiered in 1940.
Muriel Cook performed with members of Black Ritual in other works. Cook and Leonore “Azelean” Cox were both members of the original Broadway cast of Flying Colors, which opened in 1932. Then in 1939, Muriel Cook, Clementine Collingwood, Lawaune Kennard, Edith Hurd, and Bernice Johnson performed in the original Broadway cast of Swingin’ the Dream. In the same year, Cook, Edith Ross, and Edith Hurd were part of the original cast of Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds.
More about Muriel Cook
Born in 1915, Muriel Cook was a member of the Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre. She was a part of the original cast of Agnes de Mille’s Black Ritual (1940). Cook performed in the original Broadway casts of Flying Colors (1932), Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1939, Swingin’ the Dream (1939), and Big White Fog (as Claudine Adams, 1940). Cook worked as a singer, performing in Harlem clubs, at Broadway revues, and on tour in South America and Europe.
She passed away in 1976.
“Black Ritual” Ballet by Agnes de Mille for the Ballet Theatre, Museum of the City of New York
Muriel Cook, Playbill
Bass, Maudelle, with Muriel Cook, Lawaune Kennard, and Dorothy Williams in Black Ritual (Obeah), Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Maher, Erin K. “Ballet, Race, and Agnes de Mille’s Black Ritual.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 97, no. 3, Fall 2014, pp. 390-428.