Country singer and instrumentalist Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, passed away on September 13 at her home in Sweetwater, Tennessee. She was born Wilma Leigh Leary in 1921 in Valley Head, West Virginia. Her gospel-singing family, who performed as the Leary Family Singers, represented West Virginia at the Washington folk festival organized by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1938. On the same trip, they made recordings for the Library of Congress.
In 1942, she married fiddler Dale T. “Stoney” Cooper, and the two began performing as Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan. They were regulars on WWVA from Wheeling. The Coopers found success as recording artists on the Rich R Tone, Columbia, and Hickory labels, and had four Billboard top-ten hits in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Wilma Lee continued to perform after Stoney died in 1977. She recorded solo albums for Rebel and Rounder, and gave her last performance in 2001 at the Grand Ole Opry. The International Bluegrass Music Association recognized Cooper with its Award of Merit, and the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America inducted her into its Preservation Hall of Greats. She was a member of the Opry for more than 50 years.