GAC extends condolences to the family and friends of Grand Ole Opry member Wilma Lee Cooper, who passed away Tuesday, September 13 at her home in Sweetwater, Tenn. from natural causes. She had been a member of the Opry since 1957 and was 90 years old. Her last solo performance on the Opry was at the Ryman Auditorium on Feb. 24, 2001. Wilma Lee joined the Opry cast at the grand re-opening of the Opry House on Sept. 28, 2010 for a group sing-along.
Wilma Lee was preceded in death by her husband Stoney Cooper and is survived by her daughter Carol Lee Cooper, Hendersonville, Tenn.; granddaughter Vanessa Brusseau and her husband Mark of Hermitage, Tenn. and granddaughter Shannon Rogers and her husband Mark of Hendersonville, Tenn. Per Wilma Lee’s wishes there will not be a memorial service. She will be remembered for her music and her faith.
Wilma Lee spent nearly her entire life singing and entertaining. Born Wilma Leigh Leary, she began working early as a member of West Virginia’s regionally-famed Leary Family. Her celebrated delivery of gospel and devotional songs emerged at the same time. First achieving national prominence in the 1940s performing with her late husband, champion fiddler Stoney (Dale T.) Cooper, Wilma Lee sang and played guitar with a bursting-at-the-seams energy. From the outset, the Coopers had success with story songs, from “The Legend of the Dogwood Tree,” “Little Rosewood Casket,” and “Sunny Side of the Mountain” for Rich-R-Tone and Columbia Records in the 40s to “Wreck on the Highway” and “Philadelphia Lawyer” for Hickory in the early 1960s. It was likely Wilma Lee and Stoney’s rousing, old-style jubilee hits of the ‘50s and ‘60s including “There’s a Big Wheel,” “This Old House,” and “Big Midnight Special” that audiences have responded to most of all. Wilma Lee and Stoney were members of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
Wilma Lee continued performing with her group the Clinch Mountain Clan after Stoney’s death in March 1977, and was appearing on the Opry regularly until a stroke suffered onstage in 2001 forced her to cease performing.