From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Cooper, Opal D.

(born: Feb. 3, 1881  -  died: Dec. 9, 1974) 

Opal Cooper was born in Cromwell, KY to Louis and Ellen Cooper. The family moved to Chicago, IL, and by his late teens Opal was a professional tenor soloist performing in concerts and recitals.

In 1915, he appeared in Darkydom, a musical that opened in Harlem as a part of Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles' vaudeville act. Cooper continued performing until he enlisted in the army, where he served as a drum major during World War I; his unit returned to the U.S. in July 1919.

Six months later, Cooper took a job with the Seth Weeks Jazz Band so he could return to Europe. Realizing how much money they could make, Cooper and the other musicians formed their own group, the Red Devils; their itinerary included various European cities. When the group broke up in 1923, Cooper remained in Europe and continued to perform with other performers. He returned to live in the U.S. at the beginning of World War II.

Cooper could play a number of instruments, and he continued to sing and perform into the 1960s, later becoming a cab driver.

The Opal Cooper Collection, 1915-1974 is at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York and the Opal Cooper Collection is at the New York Public Library.

For more see chapter 26 in Lost Sounds: blacks and the birth of the recording industry, 1890-1919, by Tim Brooks; and photographs of Opal D. Cooper and The Red Devils at Passport Photos - Jazz Musicians on flickr.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Lost sounds: Blacks and the birth of the recording industry, 1890-1919

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry: From Kentucky to France and Back, 1870-1920

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Cooper, Opal D.,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2024-01-03 21:21:21