Music at Leroy’s Memorial Service

© Susan Cross, 2009

At Leroy Cooper’s funeral, held at Faith World in Orlando on January 22, 2009, there was music. The memorial service would not have been complete without it. His coffin was set at the front of the chapel against the stage. As always, there was a glimmer of a smile on his face. Initially, Miss Jacqueline Jones was going to sing accompanied by pianist Michael Kramer. Both had played with Leroy in Orlando many times. There was a last minute change.

Through Leroy’s conversations with me he had spoken of a close friend named Don Peake, a young white guitarist who had joined Ray Charles in the early years. They had struck up a friendship almost from their first meeting. Leroy talked to me about Don several times. After one of those conversations I Googled Don and found him through the magic of the Internet. I called and introduced myself and told him of my closeness with Leroy and how fondly Leroy remembered him. Don was shocked and pleased. They had not spoken in 30 years. I gave Don Leroy’s phone number and they rekindled their friendship.

During the following year I had several conversations with Don. We became long-distance acquaintances with Leroy being the common denominator. If Don and Leroy were friends, and Leroy and I were friends, then, by default, Don and I were friends. Does that make sense? It did to us.

When I called Don to tell him of Leroy’s passing he asked when the funeral would be.

“I wonder if I can get a flight?” he said. Without hesitation I offered him my guest room and again, without a moment to think he asked, “Could you pick me up at the airport?”

“Of course,” I said. He booked the flight and called back with the details.

Don expressed a desire to bring his guitar and play a tribute at the service. After all, he was flying from Los Angeles to Orlando and had known Leroy from their younger days so it seemed fitting to me. I discussed this with Clemmie, Leroy’s widow, and arrangements were made. It was a little awkward explaining to Jackie Jones that Don would be bringing his guitar but we all agreed that they would work it out.

Leroy was sent home with music by an old friend from far away and two newer friends from close by as they played together. The song was a Ray Charles classic, “Georgia.” Leroy would have been pleased to see that racial tension had been overcome in his lifetime and was evident at his service. Miss Jones is African-American; Don Peake and Michael Kramer are white. The mourners were also “salt and pepper,” equally. Leroy was loved by them all.

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