17 September 2011

Wilma Lee Cooper, 1921-2011

The Bluegrass Blog announces the sad news of the death of Wilma Lee Cooper (90) of West Virginia, another of the generation of rural American musicians who were playing professionally before the emergence of bluegrass, and came to be a valued part of it. As with Wade Mainer, obituaries of her are appearing widely - for instance, on the Great American Country website.

Wilma, whose maiden name was Leary, married fiddler Dale T. 'Stoney' Cooper in 1939, and they performed together, with their Clinch Mountain Clan band, till his death in 1977. They were early admirers of the new style of Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, and Neil Rosenberg's Bluegrass: a history states that Stoney told Bill Monroe how they had enjoyed his song 'Wicked path of sin' and had recorded it themselves. Monroe's reply shows his attitude at that time to being imitated, however respectfully, and perhaps also reflects his lifelong emphasis on being original: 'Don't it seem to you a little when you sing other people's songs, after a while you sort of get yourself patterned like them?'

Wilma Lee Cooper was for decades in the forefront of women bluegrass performers, and the strength of her vocal style and of the material that she and Stoney performed, make her example well worth following.



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