Stepping center stage and singing the blues and torch songs of Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Giudice, a homemaker, would disappear beneath the outrageous sequins, satin, boas and wigs of a robust entertainer who kept the late-night crowds in Philadelphia shouting for more.
Little did her audiences realize she was drawing strength from them to stave off a ravaging illness. But it was that illness that drove her to a rendezvous with a childhood fantasy.
Married just weeks short of her 16th birthday to C. Anthony Giudice, she left high school to be a homemaker. She later earned a GED diploma. For a time she worked as a secretary for a franchise business, Drain-Masters. She finally took over the business and was successful with plumbing, as she was at anything she turned her hand to, said her husband.
Tony Giudice said his wife was "a renaissance woman" who could cook gourmet food, run a business or sketch a scene. He said, "She ruled the roost. She was president and chairman of the board."
Then, 10 years ago, she was diagnosed as having ovarian cancer. She sold the drain-cleaning business and took stock. As a youngster, she had sung on a radio program, "Stairway to the Stars," broadcast out of Steel Pier in Atlantic City. The bug to perform, to sing, never left her, she said.
"She didn't know how long she had," her husband said, "but this was something she wanted to do all her life."
She wouldn't consider it while our son was young. Now she wanted to see if. . . "
Cookie & Company, with Ed Massa on piano and Judy Hopson on drums, took to the nightclub circuit. At first, it was just her pounding on doors and begging for a chance. She put together her own act, costumes, bookings and publicity, calling it "New Orleans-style jazz," complete with parodies and comedy.
Tony Giudice, a trial commissioner in Common Pleas Court, admits to being a rather reserved and "traditional-type person." He said he told her at the outset: "I don't think you sing well enough for anybody to pay you." But she ''proved me wrong many, many times," he said. Her son, Anthony David, also became as big a fan as her husband, evolving into her "roady," traveling with her and setting up her equipment.
She played them all: the Chestnut Cabaret, Rick's Cabaret, Joe's Speakeasy, LaSpada's Cafe. She also was in demand at large corporate functions. She did this without having two days in a row without pain.
She performed at a recent fund-raiser at the Franklin Institute and was so weak she stayed in a wheelchair until it was time to perform.
Tony Giudice said he never saw his wife sing.
"I heard tapes," he said, "kept scrapbooks full of reviews, letters from people. I'd send other people to see her. We understood that this was a separate part of her life, she was the central figure and one shouldn't intrude on the other."
Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
December 9, 1987 COOKIE' GIUDICE, 41, SINGER