Baritone saxophonist Leroy Cooper served two decades in support of R&B icon Ray Charles, including an extended stint as musical director -- the fruits of their collaboration include such classic Charles recordings as Unchain My Heart, Crying Time, and America the Beautiful. Born August 31, 1928, in Dallas, Cooper was the son of a professional musician -- as a teen he studied a series of instruments before sticking with baritone sax, which he played in his high-school band. (The band instructor was also responsible for bestowing upon Cooper the nickname "Hog," a moniker that stuck with him for the remainder of his life.) After touring the Southwest as a member of the Ernie Fields Band, Cooper played in the U.S. Army Band during the Korean War. On his return from duty he settled back home in Dallas, and in 1957 renewed his friendship with childhood pal David Fathead Newman, now playing saxophone behind Charles, the R&B superstar renowned for Atlantic Records blockbusters like I Got a Woman, Drown in My Own Tears, and The Night Time (Is the Right Time). On Newman's recommendation Cooper joined the Charles band, and remained its bedrock for 20 years -- as the lineup swelled to include as many as 17 members, Cooper assumed the reins of musical director, leading the orchestra on tours of Europe, South America, Australia, and the Middle East. In addition to myriad Charles recording sessions, Cooper also played on dates behind acts including Lowell Fulson (the classic Reconsider Baby), the Righteous Brothers, Dr. John, and Joe Cocker. Cooper left Charles in 1977, settling in Orlando, FL, and landing a job at the Walt Disney World theme park, where he performed in the marching band and other Main Street U.S.A. ensembles until retiring in 1997. He nevertheless continued playing live in various Orlando groups until his death from heart failure on January 15, 2009. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

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