Musician. Called the "First Lady of Bluegrass", she was a longtime star of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. Raised in central West Virginia, she took to music early and was a part of her family's gospel group The Leary Family from her teens. Following her 1939 marriage to Dale "Stoney" Cooper she toured as 'Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper' performing both country and Christian songs while simultaneously earning a degree from Davis and Elkins College. In 1947 the pair began appearing on WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia's answer to WSM, Nashville, and were regulars on the "WWVA Jamboree". Their period of greatest success dates from the 1956 hit "Cheated Too" on Hickory Records; in 1957 they joined the Grand Ole Opry and soon had a number of best sellers including "Come Walk With Me" (1958), "Big Midnight Special" and "There's a Big Wheel" (both 1959), and a 1960 cover of Stuart Hamblin's "This Ole House". Wilma Lee was designated "First Lady of Bluegrass" by the Smithsonian in 1974 and continued her career solo following Stoney's 1977 death. Forced to retire by a 2001 stroke, she remained in Tennessee and was to make a final Grand Ole Opry appearance in 2010 singing with a large group. A member of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, at her death her recordings remained available, those cut with The Leary Family in 1938 from the Library of Congress and the later ones on the Smithsonian's releases and on various commercial labels.
Bio by: Bob Hufford