July 30, 2009
Leroy Cooper was best known for his years as Ray Charles’ baritone saxman and bandleader. He was with Ray from 1957 through 1977 with a few breaks during that time. But like so many other dedicated musicians, he lived for the love of music. At 80 years old, he was still performing
On January 10, 2009 Leroy Cooper played a gig with the Josh Miller Blues Revue. He was a large man, big enough to handle the baritone, but that night he was blowing the alto sax. Josh Miller dedicated the evening to Leroy Cooper. He rearranged the sets to include many songs that Leroy had recorded over his lengthy musical career. That night, he played like a young man, blowing out solos in every song. Nobody knew that it would be his last gig but those who were there will never forget it.
Five days later he passed over and joined the Angels that he often mentioned when telling stories his stories. Those Angels were the same ones that kept him from going into the trenches in Korea the day before he was to be deployed. Instead, he was called up to the Army band. Another time he mentioned the Angels was when he saw the picture of the woman he would marry and with whom he would spend the last 33 years of his life, Clemmie.
Just over five years ago Ray Charles went home and now Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper. David ‘Fathead’ Newman joined him five days later and Hank Crawford ten days after that. Someday I hope to see Leroy and his fellow saxmen and friends and hear their music — if they let me in!
© Susan Cross, 2009