It has been said that while the rest of the world went forwards in one direction, Raymond “Ray” Malcolm Cooper always went backwards! Ray was a man who lived his life controlled by very little besides his love of music and entertaining, so he is certainly not to be hemmed in by a boring obituary in death.
Born on March 19, 1927 in Davenport, England, Ray was determined to become a professional drummer when he grew up. He did just that at the very green age of 14, when he left school to join the Gilroy Stage and Dance Orchestra. World War II put everything on hold for the entire world, and Ray found himself in the British Army, well-placed in the North Staffordshire Regimental Band. This was Ray’s ticket out of England…to India! He and the band travelled all over, playing, and while in seemingly a remote part of the world at the time, this experience led to the beginning of Ray truly making a name for himself.
Once the war was over, Ray began his long-term relationship with the RMS Queen Mary, a relationship that would span at least two oceans and many decades. While on the beautifully historic ship his first go-around, Ray signed up with the Edmundo Ros Orchestra. Many key names showed up in the next few chapters of Ray Cooper’s life after that: He played with the Phil Tate Band, spent nearly a decade with the Joe Loss Orchestra, and often found himself involved with many BBC/ITV projects and programs.
One of the biggest catalysts in Ray’s life was his immigration to the United States in 1961, as he found himself working with top household names such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante and Boris Karloff during his four years in Miami. From there, he hopped to Las Vegas and then again to California, where in Long Beach with great pride and esteem, became the band leader of The Ray Cooper Orchestra. Next, Disney talked him into a brief sojourn to Orlando to work alongside Tessie O’Shea. Afterwards, Ray returned to Long Beach in order to perform in his own One Man Show and rekindle the flame, so to speak, with the RMS Queen Mary once more.
It was in Long Beach that Ray met his ‘Leading Lady” and perfect counterpart, Valerie. Both had lost their spouses, yes, but there were so many more things in common between the two to draw them together. Valerie so much in her own right has lived quite an exciting and elegant life, paralleling Ray in that she started chasing her destiny at the age of 14 as well, her first job being at Rolls-Royce Aerospace. It was there at Rolls Royce where she continued on at their school years later, all before trying her hand at pageantry. Maybe you’ve seen some of her work before? Miss England in 1964? Miss Great Britain in 1965? Those are but the tip of the iceburg. Charming, smart as a whip and probably funnier than many of the comedians Ray worked with over the years, Valerie matched her husband step for step in The Dance of Life. Over the years, this dynamic duo performed at The Mayflower Club in North Hollywood as well as such establishments of notoriety as The Roxbury Club.
Unfortunately, all of the greatest shows on earth must one day come to a close. It is however the lingering thoughts of bright stagelights, the soft buzz of a microphone, and the echoes of laughter and applause that is “showbusiness” that will keep its key-players warm on cold nights long after the final curtain-call. Ray Cooper was indeed in the throes of writing his memoires before his sudden passing on May 12, 2018. After he and Valerie had settled in nicely to Oak Run of Ocala, Florida, Ray had been organizing decades of photographs and memories to accompany his special brand of story-telling, and he was motivated by seeing his history recorded in typeset before him. (To be fair, if by writing, we mean Ray’s frustration in trying to use the computer, giving up, and buying a typewriter which Valerie swears he never touched once after that, then yes, he was indeed writing.)
It is a grave understatement to say that Ray Cooper will be missed. Perhaps it is better to say that “they just don’t make ‘em like Ray Cooper anymore”, but the world was also so very lucky to have him while we did.