Grand Ole Opry matriarch Wilma Lee Cooper died Tuesday (Sept. 13) at her home in Sweetwater, Tenn. She was 90 years old and had never recovered fully from a stroke she suffered on the Opry stage in 2001. She did, however, return to the Opry on Sept. 28, 2010, for its grand reopening following its inundation by flood waters the previous May.
Born Wilma Lee Leary on Feb. 7, 1921, in Valley Head, W.Va., she became best known as the intense, hard-driving lead vocalist of the mountain music group, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper & the Clinch Mountain Clan. The Coopers joined the Opry in 1957 and performed together until his death on March 22, 1977. Their daughter, Carol Lee Cooper, has also played the Opry regularly since 1975 as leader of the Carol Lee Singers backup quartet.
As recording artists on the Hickory label, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper scored the Top 5 country hits “Come Walk With Me” (1958) and “Big Midnight Special” and “There’s a Big Wheel” (both 1959). In 1961, they went to No. 8 on the Billboard country songs chart with “Wreck on the Highway.” They also recorded several songs that, while not charting, still became gospel standards, among them “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” “Legend of the Dogwood Tree” and “Walking My Lord Up Calvary Hill.”
In addition to her daughter, Cooper is also survived by two granddaughters. According to an announcement issued from the Grand Ole Opry, the singer requested she not be accorded a memorial service.