Ruth Cooper (1928-2016) of The Cooper Four

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Ruth Cooper, a lead singer of The Cooper Four, passed away August 12, 2016.  She was 88.

Ruth and three of her siblings–twin brother Reuben (d. January 12, 2016), sister Maria (d. 1996), and brother Walter–started singing in 1935, at their log cabin in Hillsborough, NC.  By 1954, The Cooper Four were singing live every week on WSRC, Durham’s first all-Black radio station.  They continued to harmonize every Sunday morning on the radio for well over fifty years.

The group’s rootsy traditional singing style, simple guitar accompaniment, and distinctly deep singing voices amassed both a local and regional following in their heyday, including 12 year-old Shirley Caesar, who appeared at one of their anniversary programs.  In the 1960s, WSRC Records released a 45rpm single featuring the quartet and the sides “This May Be My Last Time” and “Stay in the Field Until the War is Ended.”  

GMF extends condolences to Ruth’s brother Walter and to other Cooper family members and friends.

Reuben (Bill) Cooper, original member of the Cooper Four, makes transition

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Reuben (Bill) Cooper, original member of the Cooper Four, passed yesterday (January 12), after an extended period of declining health.  He was 87 years old.

The Cooper Four’s brand of folksy traditional gospel, minimal musical accompaniment (often only guitar), and notably deep voices made the sibling foursome–Bill along with Walter, Maria (d. 1996), and Bill’s twin sister Ruth–a regional favorite at the peak of their popularity. 

The group began singing in their rural Hillsborough, NC home in 1935.  In 1954, they began singing live weekly on Durham’s first all-Black radio station, WSRC.  As of 2011, the group could still be heard live each week on WRJD radio in Durham.

The Cooper Four’s early 1960s vinyl single, featuring “This May Be My Last Time” and “Stay in the Field Until the War is Ended” still receives occasional airplay.

GMF extends condolences to Bill’s wife Ella, daughter Rubena, grandchildren, siblings, and host of family members and friends.  He will be remembered fondly.

Help Is On The Way – New Creation

New Creation
Help Is On The Way
Woods Productions (2011)
[email protected]

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

While their debut 12-track project is entitled Help Is On The Way, RuBena Cooper-Woods, Tonya Woods, Karen Foust, and Devon Torain churn out their numbers knowing intuitively that their Help has arrived!

For New Creation, music is as much legacy as it is ministry.  As the pedigree goes, group members are the products of three popular NC based singing aggregations: the Cooper Four, the Faithful Travelers, and the Torain Family.

Accordingly, Help Is On The Way is loaded with tasty, homegrown gospel tunes, starting in high gear with “Praise Him,” written by vocalist/keyboardist Tonya Woods.  RuBena Cooper-Woods handles the lead on the brisk call to celebration.  New Creation then forges ahead with a mix of slow as well as velocious original songs and hymn arrangements.

Throughout the album, Cooper-Woods and Woods exchange lead chores as well as the writer’s hat on most of the pieces.  Easily among the project’s highlights are its tangy, pew-burning title track blazed by Cooper-Woods, followed by the slow yet simmering “God Specializes,” which is very appropriately suited to Woods’ velvety vocal texture.  “I Made It” is another one with plenty of spice, and Cooper-Woods seizes every available second of this hammering groove to celebrate all that she has overcome and to acknowledge that “it was You, Lord, that brought me through!”  Along with arrangement help from her brothers Thurman, Eric, and Derrick (New Creation’s producer, lead and bass guitarists, respectively), Woods shines again on a pop-soul flavored version of “Heir of the Kingdom,” from which she crafts an anthem for all who are in line to inherit.  Her stylings hint to India.Arie and the background vocals are light, lively, and crisp–a refreshing departure from the quartet vibe that powers the rest of the project.

Pastor George Crews, III also makes a pair of appearances on album–first, offering a passionate prayer and exhortation in “Everything You Need” (penned by Thurman Woods, Sr.) and later, crooning a remake of the Temptations’ “Christmas Everyday” to round out the project, declaring that Jesus “make[s] it Christmas, even in the fall.”

With Thurman “Peanut” Woods at the helm of production on this all-around delicious debut, the only suggestion I’d make is that a couple of the songs’ reprises be reserved for live performances.  Re-cranking a number tends to be most effective when the audience perceives it to be spontaneous rather than expected.

A CD launch like this makes one thing certain though: Help is just one of the many wonderful things on the way for New Creation.

“Help is on the Way” – “God Specializes” – “Heir of the Kingdom”

Fever Meter
SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

GMF Sightings – Reuben "Bill" Cooper of NC's legendary Cooper Four

Reuben “Bill” Cooper of the golden era’s Cooper Four was eyed after the CD release musical of New Creation, of which he and his wife Ella’s only daughter, RuBena Cooper-Woods, is a lead singer.

The Cooper Four’s brand of traditional gospel made the sibling foursome a regional favorite at the peak of their popularity.  The group has been a mainstay, singing live weekly on the radio since 1952.  They can still be heard live on Durham’s WRJD-AM each Sunday morning.  In addition to Cooper, the group currently consists of its original members Walter and Ruth Cooper (who was also in attendance at the musical), as well as Stephanie and Cheryal Lipscomb, granddaughters of deceased original member, guitarist Maria Cooper-Whitted.

Editor’s Note: RuBena Cooper-Woods relayed the background information shared with GMF in this piece, including the year the group began singing on the radio.  An interview with the group, which appeared in The Herald Sun in 2006, notes the group began singing at WSRC in 1954, the same year the station launched.