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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Friends, fans remember musician Gene Cooper

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Because of health problems, it has been years since entertainer Gene Cooper has performed in public.

But on April 29, Cooper, who died on March 31 at the age of 73, showed he could still draw a crowd.

Cooper's friend, Ozarka College administrator Ron Helm, decided to organize a benefit concert at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.

Helm's goal was two-fold: to raise money to help Cooper's family with funeral and hospital expenses, and to give a chance for his many friends to say "goodbye."

Helm, a songwriter and music producer in his spare time, had no problem getting the area's top musicians to agree to perform.

"Gene had a very interesting life. He was well known in Nashville and the Ozarks as a singer and a bass player, a country comedian, a disc jockey, a salesman," said Helm. "But he always took time to mentor young musicians, including just about every one playing tonight."

Billy Joe French, Jerry Bone, Dennis Horton, and Chuck Young were among area musicians who took the stage.

They were joined by three nationally known artists.

Billy Don Burns, an "outlaw" singer-song writer from Stone County, interrupted a tour in the western U.S. to travel back home to honor Cooper, whom he met years ago in Nashville.

Strawberry resident Tim Crouch, a fiddle player who is currently one of the top session players in Nashville, also took the stage.

Crouch and a stage full of other players supported headliner, David Lynn Jones, a Fulton County native who hit the big time in the 80s as a songwriter and performer.

An energized Jones showed he was ready for a comeback, after years out of the spotlight.

"This isn't about us," said Jones from the stage. "This is about Gene Cooper. I love this man as much as one can love another."

Jones recounted how Cooper hired him as his guitarist at age 18.

"He is the reason I got into this business," said Jones. "He gave me a job and I made some money. Sometimes. No matter how little I made, Gene probable took less because he always had a big heart."

The musicians drew a good crowd, including many of Cooper's legion of friends.

"I'm here to hear the bands and remember Gene," said Jack Rowden, of Salem, who has known Cooper since their early years growing up in Oxford.

"He loved people," said Rowden. "He was an entertainer, who loved to ham it up, even as a boy."

Dwayne McCullough of Salem called he and Cooper "best of friends since high school," and laughed about how Cooper was always thinking of ways to get in the spotlight.

After he asked for a channel on Salem Cable, which McCullough owned, Cooper launched a television station that allowed him to pursue two specialities: interviewing people and giving up-and-coming musicians a chance to perform.

The broadcasts went worldwide on the Internet.

While there was no admission fee to the show, donations were accepted and plenty were made.

As the benefit wound down, a Yamaha guitar donated by Dennis Horton of Horton's Music, was auctioned off, and Helm took the microphone to announce that $2,000 had been raised over the evening.

He added that more funds would be coming in from people who were unable to attend the benefit.

Helm then introduced Lisa Cooper, Gene's wife.

Mrs. Cooper thanked friends for their support during Gene's long illness, and the audience and musicians for their love and generosity.

"I was a little concerned about finances and gave it to God," Cooper said, "and he gave it to the musicians."

"Gene would have been pleased. He would have loved the attention and to know how much he is missed" said Helm.

The night ended with all performers taking the stage for an emotional rendition of the gospel song, "Farther Along."

Donations to assist the Cooper family can be mailed to: Ron Helm, P.O. Box 159, Oxford, AR. 72576.

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