Q&A: Elly Cooke

The singer-songwriter talks about her family influences, her musical process, advice for other young performers ...and that time she sang live on stage with Keith Urban.

Q&A: Elly Cooke
Elly Cooke channels her life experiences into country-inspired songs. (Courtesy Elly Cooke)

Gettysburg native Elly Cooke considers her musical origins a family affair. The acoustic singer-songwriter has been singing since she could talk; as a child she’d perform shows with her siblings for family. She began writing her own songs as a preteen, and, with some fatherly influence on the guitar, she set to work on fulfilling her dream to be a musician.

The multi-talented 24 year old — she also plays the piano, ukulele and mandolin — is a burgeoning presence on the local music scene, with plenty of open mics and live music gigs under her belt. She performed live on ABC27’s Good Day PA! in December 2019. In February 2021 she collaborated with local AMP Studios in McSherrystown to produce the official music video for her single “Strangers.”

A solid alto voice, Cooke can sing as powerfully as she can sweetly, evidenced by covers of famous country female acts from Taylor Swift to Sara Evans to The Chicks. And she impressed a packed house at the Giant Center at Hershey in 2016 when she performed Keith Urban’s hit “Somebody Like You” live on stage with him.

You can catch Cooke up next at the “Kiss Me I’m Froggy” St. Patrick’s Day Party on March 17 at 7 p.m. at the Double Barrel Roadhouse in Red Lion.

Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: At what age did you start playing the guitar? What made you realize you wanted to sing and play together?
A: I started guitar when I was 14 years old.  One night after my dad got home from work he showed me a few chords on his guitar.  I loved it so much that I eventually turned to the internet to continue learning so that I didn’t have to wait for my dad to show me things. I would always sing along while I learned guitar, and I think that helped me to stay focused. I started writing song lyrics around age 11. I would get my dad’s guitar out and have it sitting next to me while I wrote my songs. I got to the point where I was writing a few songs a day, and I got frustrated because I wanted to be able to sing them with music.  That became my motivation for learning guitar.  

Q: Your brother is also a musician. How does that family element influence your music?
A: Yes, my brother, Drew Cooke, is an incredible musician. Drew taught himself to play guitar a few years after I learned, and he ended up playing guitar with me at my gigs for awhile.  We each play our own music now, but I’m grateful for the musical opportunities that we still have together.  I think it makes my music stronger when I collaborate with him simply because he’s my brother and he understands my music in a way that no one else will ever be able to.

We also have a younger sister Anna who can sing really well.  While growing up my siblings and I would put together shows to entertain our family during holiday gatherings.  We would practice together for hours.  I think the time spent practicing together really taught me the value of preparing and working hard in order to present the best performance possible.

Q: You've performed for family since you were a kid, but when did you start performing in public?
A: About a year after starting to play guitar I began performing at talent shows and open mic nights in my area.  Through the talent shows and open mic nights I made some connections which led to my first few paid gigs. The farthest I have traveled to perform is Manassas, Va.  I’m currently working on booking some shows that are a little farther away. My favorite thing about performing is getting to experience music in new places while being able to connect with people through songs.  I do get nervous from time to time, especially if it’s a bigger crowd.  Most of the time my nerves go away once I start performing.

Q: You had the chance, by luck, to sing on stage with Keith Urban at his 2016 concert in Hershey. How did that happen? What was that experience like?
A: I made a sign that said “Can I sing with someone like you?” He invited me on stage to sing ("Somebody Like You") with him! It was probably one of the most amazing experiences of my life! The energy in the room was incredible!

Q: You don't just do covers, you write your own songs. What's your process for songwriting?
A: My songwriting process varies depending on the song, but I tend to lean towards lyrics first and then the music.  I find most of my inspiration in my own personal life and the emotions that those life experiences create.  Songwriting is like therapy for me because it allows me to take negative feelings and emotions and turn them into something good.

Q: You also made a music video for your single “Strangers.” What was that process like?
A: My music video for “Strangers” was filmed in one day!  I worked with students from AMP (Academy For Media Production) at their school in McSherrystown for the first half of the video, and then we finished up the rest of the video in downtown Gettysburg.  I remember the weather was freezing cold that day but I had a lot of fun getting to work with the students.

Q: What are your goals for your music?
A: Music is such a universal language and it has the power to bring healing to so many people.  The ability to relate to someone else’s music during hard times has brought me so much comfort and helped me to feel less alone.  My goal for my music is that I’m able to be honest and transparent enough so that others can find the same comfort in the songs that I write.

Q: What advice do you have for other young people who want to pursue music and performance, possibly as a career?
A: My advice would be to get out and start gaining experience.  You don’t have to be in a specific area geographically in order to begin a music career. Never underestimate the amazing resources that are available online.  If you are a young, aspiring artist, find a balance between learning from others but also staying true to yourself and the music in your heart.

To find out more information, see live performances and follow along with Cooke's upcoming performance schedule, you can find her on Facebook and Instagram.