Friday, September 16, 2011

Longtime Grand Ole Opry Member Wilma Lee Cooper Passes

Wilma Lee Cooper, who teamed with husband Stoney Cooper as a top country duo for some three decades and earned the title "The First Lady of Bluegrass," has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. She died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Sweetwater, Tenn., The Grand Ole Opry announced Friday.

Elizabeth Cook probably said it best this afternoon, "Sad to know of the passing of Wilma Lee Cooper, a personal hero and original punk rockin honky tonk girl."

She and her husband began recording in the late 1940s, then performed regularly on the Opry from 1957 until his death in 1977. She continued as a solo singer on the show until 2001. With her husband, they had such hits as "Cheated Too," ''There's a Big Wheel" and "Come Walk With Me." The two were members of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

Wilma Lee was known for her big voice and boundless enthusiasm. In 1974, the Smithsonian Institution honored her as "The First Lady of Bluegrass."

She had a stroke at age 80 in 2001, leaving her voice and speech affected. After that, she lived in Sweetwater with a caretaker. In February 2005, she walked onto the stage during an Opry show at the Ryman Auditorium and received a standing ovation. She also joined in a group sing-along in September 2010 when the Grand Ole Opry House reopened after being closed four months because of flooding.

Cooper was born in Valley Head, W.Va., and sang with her parents and siblings as the bluegrass and gospel group The Leary Family.

The Opry said she asked that there be no memorial service. "She will be remembered for her music and her faith," the Opry statement said.

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