Martin Alfred Cook obituary
By Tim Gardner
Martin Alfred Cook, a native and resident of the Caney Fork Community in Cullowhee, and one of professional Southern Gospel Music's all-time legends, gained his angel's wings and was promoted to Heaven on February 23, 2002, from the home of his youngest son, Michael Cook, in Washington, GA. He was 85 years old.
A Memorial Service will be held at 7:00PM, Monday, May 9, 2022, at Trinty Baptist Church 216 Shelburne Road, Asheville NC.
Martin, who was born on June 29, 1936, is survived by his wife of almost 62 years, Ora Blanche Shuler Cook. And besides Michael Cook, Martin is also survived by another son, Myron Cook, a former upright bass guitarist for the Inspirations Quartet, which Martin founded in 1964 and served as its manager, pianist and emcee for 53 years (2017), a daughter-in-law, Jennifer, and four grandchildren-Caleb, Hannah Grace, Josiah and Abigail.
Additionally, Martin is survived by a legion of countless friends, his music colleagues and Southern Gospel fans from across the nation and around the world.
Martin was preceded in death by a daughter, Marcia Cook, a former secretary to the Inspirations, his parents, John and Ellen Cook, a brother, Candler Cook, and a sister, Arbie Cook Rhodes.
There, Martin will be laid to rest on a beautiful hillside, overlooking the homeplace of him and his family, the old home where he was raised and the peaceful valley below, as well as Balsam Grove Baptist Church, of which he was a member for more than 75 years and also served as its pianist and as a deacon for many years.
The Celebration of Life graveside service will be officiated by Balsam Grove Baptist Church pastor, Reverend Mike Queen. The family has requested that masks be worn due to the Covid pandemic.
Martin established himself at the top of Southern Gospel music in success and stature. A recipient of many awards and accolades, including Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame enshrinement (Class of 2003), Southern Gospel Piano Roll of Honor induction (2005) and the Marvin Norcross Award (2002), the most elite honor given by Singing News magazine, further validate Martin’s professional standing in his chosen profession.
In 1957, Martin began his practical Gospel music experience as the first pianist for the Kingsmen Quartet. He served two tenures with this renowned group and also played piano for the Silvertones Quartet. Additionally, Martin sang lead and played piano for the Smoky Mountain Quartet before forming the Inspirations.
Martin, then a science teacher at Swain County High School in Bryson City, NC, and four of his students held nightly singing sessions in his home, purely for their love of Gospel music. They soon went on the road as the Inspirations--a four-part harmony group with an unmistakable sound, striking the medium of traditional Southern Gospel and country. During a service at First Baptist Church in Brownsville, KY, Martin listened to a preacher hold forth on divine inspiration. Before the sermon was finished, Martin determined that “Inspirations” would be the perfect name for his singing group. So he named the group as such with the rest of its members in agreement that the name aptly fit them.
Martin had to retire from school teaching only a few years after forming the Inspirations due to the heavy work and tour schedule the group maintained. The Inspirations truly took Southern Gospel music by storm and became a famous name in any musical genre and models of consistency in the Southern Gospel music world, while maintaining tremendous popularity and success.
With Martin booking a high volume of their concert dates as group manager, the Inspirations traveled nearly five million miles to sing to Americana in seemingly every place from the smallest hamlet in the middle of nowhere to the major cities. They have sung in almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as in Canada. They have also hosted tours to Europe, the Bahamas and the Holy Land. Additionally, the Inspirations have sung to the Florida State Legislature, at the North Carolina State Fair and the National Quartet Convention for many years.
The Inspirations have had dozens of songs, including several number one and Songs of The Year, listed on national radio airplay charts. The Inspirations' song repertoire includes many classics they introduced in Gospel music, including: “What A Wonderful Time (Reunion In Heaven)," "Touring That City," "When I Wake Up To Sleep No More,” "More To Go To Heaven For," "A Wedding Invitation,” "Thank You Lord” and “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” termed the “Top Song of The 20th Century” by many knowledgeable analysts.
Besides producing songs people wanted to hear, four other happenings significantly boosted and helped maintain Martin’s and the Inspirations rise in Southern Gospel music: appearing twelve consecutive years (1969-’81), on the “The Gospel Singing Jubilee,” broadcast in every major television market in the United States and viewed by millions weekly; being featured on the CBS-Television Evening News in 1970; becoming the first group to sell more than a million records on the Canaan record label; and being featured with the Happy Goodman Family in noted gospel music promoter J.G. Whitfield's "Battle of Songs" that packed arenas across America every weekend in 1974.
But the Inspirations’ most noted accomplishment in Southern Gospel music may have been developing their homecoming “Singing In The Smokies,” which began in 1966 and grew to become the largest Gospel singing festival in America. The Inspirations’ first such homecoming singing was held on the old Sylva-Webster High School football field in Sylva. The homecoming singing eventually became multi-day concerts several times yearly, and in 1970, was moved it to the Sossamon Airport in Bryson City. Four years later (1974), the singing relocated to the old, defunct Bryson City Airport between Bryson City and Cherokee, which overlooking a majestic panorama of the Great Smoky Mountains and was renamed “Inspiration Park.” The homecoming singing then moved indoors to the plush Smoky Mountain Performing Arts Center in nearby Franklin, NC in 2009. It moved back to Inspiration Park in 2012, where concerts were held through 2018. Most of Gospel music’s headliner groups and several of its leading regional groups have joined the Inspirations in appearing at the Singing In The Smokies. And the Fourth of July week Singing In The Smokies festival in 1976 was recorded in the North Carolina history books as one of the state's great celebrations of our nation's bicentennial.
Another milestone achievement was singing for the world famous Reverend Billy Graham at his home in Montreat, NC in 1970.
Martin and the Inspirations were also the subjects of two books—"The Inspirations,” published in 1971, and “What A Wonderful Time-The Story of The Inspirations,” published in 1999.
The Inspirations have received more than two dozen Singing News (the printed voice of Southern Gospel music) Fan Awards as a group and individual singers and musicians, including Favorite Gospel Group and Favorite Male Quartet multiple times and Martin twice as Favorite Musician.
Martin often declared his life’s greatest achievement was witnessing countless people accept Christ as their personal savior through his Gospel music and church work.
Martin attended elementary and high school in Jackson County and earned Bachelor of Science and Master’s degrees from Western Carolina University. He was a school teacher for many years. He also served our nation in the United States Army in Korea and he worked for the United States Park Service at the Great Smoky Mountains, NC and Mammoth Cave, KY National Parks.
Additionally, Martin served on the Jackson County Board of Education and he and Ora Blanche helped fund scholarships for students to attend Western Carolina University through the New Century Scholars program. He also taught piano lessons to aspiring pianists and pianists who wanted to play at a higher accomplished level.
In lieu of flowers, Martin's family requests that contributions be made in Martin's memory to the Southern Gospel Music Association (SGMA) Hall of Fame, PO Box 6729, Sevierville, TN 37864. They may also be made by calling (865) 908-4040 or on the SGMA's web site: sgma.org.
Cards, letters and notes of sympathy can be mailed to: The Martin Cook Family, 8037 Caney Fork Road, Cullowhee, NC 28723.
Appalachian Funeral Services is assisting the Cook Family.