Rhythm-and-blues singer Little Joe Cook built a musical home at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge during the late 1970s, when racial wariness was at its height in Greater Boston. It wouldn’t take long, however, before audience members of all ethnicities were united in their enjoyment of Cook’s pure falsetto. The diminutive singer, who died on April 15 at 91, continued to draw enthusiastic crowds to his frequent Cantab shows well into his mid-80s.
Cook, a South Philadelphia native, was an upbeat marketer who toured with some of the country’s musical greats, including B.B. King and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. His doo-wop hit, “Peanuts,’’ climbed the charts in 1957. Though he achieved national success, his legacy is largely local, including nearly three decades of regular appearances at the Cantab. Music fans often complain that there are precious few venues in Boston where people from different races and backgrounds mix freely and comfortably. For that experience, many fans cross the bridge to Cambridge, especially into Cook’s territory of Central Square. Cantab house guitarist Candido Delgado, a fixture on the local music scene for three decades, credits Cook with that accomplishment.
Former Globe music critic Steve Morse noted that Cook could be an exacting musician, as evidenced by the high bar he set at the Cantab’s jam nights. Many local musicians gained confidence in their abilities at those sessions. But few could match Cook, who inhabited the upper ranges when it came to singing, self-confidence, and community building.