Peter Cooper, a Grammy-nominated producer, highly regarded Nashville journalist and Country Music Hall of Fame executive, died Dec. 6. He was 52.
His family confirmed the death, posting on Facebook that he died in his sleep after suffering a severe head injury following a fall late last week.
A South Carolina native, Cooper joined the staff of The Tennessean as its prime music writer in 2000 before moving to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014 as museum editor.
“He grew to assume the role of museum senior director, producer and writer, driving several important creative initiatives and bringing a poetic grace to them all,” the hall’s CEO Kyle Young said in a statement. “He developed and implemented mission-oriented programs, exhibitions, podcasts and, as a writer, elegantly described the rich character of the country music story. His talents were immense, but his heart was even bigger, and he touched the lives of those he encountered in immeasurable ways. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”
For all his talents, many saw Cooper first and foremost as a journalist, who brought tremendous empathy to the subjects he covered, including such titans as Johnny Cash, George Jones and Kris Kristofferson, who reportedly told Cooper that he looked “at the world with an artist’s eye, and a human heart and soul.”
Ricky Skaggs tells Billboard he considered Cooper “one of the most gentle and soft-spoken men I ever knew. His knowledge of music, the writers, the players and singers was really unmatched in Nashville. Our industry lost a vital voice for our times. He will be sorely missed!”
Best-selling biographer/journalist Alanna Nash added, “One of the many things that separated Peter from the rest of us who do this work, aside from just the breathtaking humanity that imbued his writing, was his side gig as a musician and his intimate understanding of the torment artists endure. He wrote journalism from the inside of the story, from its guts, because he lived all the wrenching passion and rode every threadbare highway. You don’t drive Hank Williams’ 300-mile ‘last ride’ from Knoxville to Oak Hill, W.V., as Peter did for a story about the 50th anniversary of Williams’ death, without feeling that same pain.”
Like Tom T. Hall, whom he revered, Cooper was, above all, a storyteller through his reported pieces and his own career as a performing singer/songwriter. An accomplished musician, he released several albums as part of the duo Eric Brace & Peter Cooper and was in the trio Eric Brace, Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz.
His songs had been recorded by John Prine, Todd Snider, Bobby Bare and Mac Wiseman, among others.
Cooper received a Grammy nomination in best children’s album for 2011’s I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, a tribute album to the songwriter’s story songs.
A memorial service will take place in early 2023. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made to the Baker Cooper fund to support his 12-year-old son’s education care of Wells Fargo Bank or to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
–Assistance in preparing this story provided by Jessica Nicholson.