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The Cope Brothers
WCRK Morristown, TN
WKPT Kingsport, TN
WNOX Knoxville, TN

About The Group

Among numerous brother groups in country music, one of the most interesting if not especially well remembered is the east Tennessee Cope Brothers. There were three brothers and a son that played under that name. Clay, the oldest Cope (born 1904), was followed by Lester (born 1911), and Charlie (1916-1976). Clay's son, Wallace (born 1926), also worked some as one of the Cope Brothers.

The three brothers were all born in Edison, Tennessee, but in 1931 the entire family relocated to Bean Station where they attained a degree of local prominence. When various brothers began to play music at local functions, they were known as the "Bean Station Bean Beetles." As Clay Cope reminisced about events of some forty years before, he quipped, "We was [sic] the first Beetles that ever come out. When them [British] Beatles came out, they didn't have a thing on us."

An article in a 1936 newspaper provides an early mention of their 'name'. The article told readers that the Cope Brothers had come from Sneedville to provide the music at a birthday party of Miss Jessie Lee Burdine and were known as "The Tennessee Bean Beetles."

In 1941, the Cope Brothers were part of a large group of entertainers led by Cas Walker of WNOX for the "Empty Stocking Fund." The group of performers were to entertain audiences from 9 in the morning until 8 in the evening. The premise was that songs (requests?) would be sold by the 'foot.'.

"For every foot of dimes placed on the Mile, one good solid song of the hills will be played. Hot Shot Elmer's Pig will grunt long and loud after the accumulation of every dollar. Hot Shot Elmer said he would grunt for fifty cents and give you twenty cents change."

The Empty Stocking Fund's purpose was to bring good cheer to under privileged children of the area. It should be noted that Hot Shot Elmer and Rosco the Pig were part of the Carlisle Brothers act at that time.

With the passage of time, Charlie and Lester Cope began to play professionally and spent more time away from Bean Station. Clay operated a service station, restaurant, and barber shop so never ventured much farther away than Knoxville. His two younger brothers performed and/or appeared on radio in Bristol and Johnson City. They were more or less regular at the Saturday daytime Barrel O' Fun show at Elizabethton, a program that also helped launch the career of Old Joe Clark, the Bailey Brothers, Tater Tate, and perhaps others.

Charlie and Lester also went to Baltimore for several weeks and worked with Happy Johnny. In 1945, Charlie and Lester went to WSM Nashville as band members with Danny Bailey's Happy Valley Boys. At WNOX they played with Kentucky Slim (Charles Elza), Chet Atkins, Ray and Willie Brewster, and accordion player Tony Cinnciola.

Promo Ad - Cope Brothers - Big Stone Gap VA - September 1945
Promo Ad - Cope Brothers - Hillbilly Jamboree - Cope Brothers - Morristown TN - February 1948

In late 1946, the Copes went to Cincinnati and recorded for King and Federal. They cut twelve songs, two of which were never released. Their best-known number was an east Tennessee topical ballad, "She Sleeps Beneath the Norris Dam." Wallace sang lead on only one song, "I'll Have a New Life." Later Charlie left for a time and played mandolin for the Bailes Brothers, once in Shreveport and once in Little Rock. Eventually all of the brothers drifted out of music. Charlie and Lester drove trucks. Clay always had his local business interests, and Wallace entered local politics and served several terms as County Court Clerk.

In early 1948, the Cope Brothers took part in a contest that was part of a fund raising effort for the local March of Dimes. There was to be a big 'billbilly show' on Saturday, February7 in the Morristown High School Auditorium. It was expected local popular bands would take part, including the Cope Brothers from Bean Station, along with the Newport Ramblers and Tex Climer's Hillbilly Mountaineers. It was noted that three other bands would also appear. Each band was to play and the final winner would be selected by popular applause.

The following day, in addition to the three groups previously mentioned, other participants were the Helton Brothers Quartett, Cherokee Mountain Boys, Tom Blair and his Morristown Ramblers, Silvertone Quartette, Waldon Hopper and his electric guitar and an unnamed gospel quartette. Weather was reported to be inclement, but the show still had a good audience.

Tex Climer and his Hillbilly Mountaineers won the first prize of $25.00. The Cope Brothers took second place and won $10.00. The Silvertone Quartet and the Helton Brothers tied for third and were awarded $5.00 each. An article later explained how the contest worked. Each competitor did one song and then a second number was done by each. It was the applause at the end of the second round that determined who the the crowd liked. Three judges had been appointed and were in the audience. The judging criteria was both in length of applause as well as volume.

Billboard magazine reviewed their King Release of "Wednesday Night Waltz" b/w "Mary, Dear" in the September 10, 1949 issue:

"Real backwoods brother harmony and string instrumentation should do well among the hill buyers. Tune is a simple waltz.

Flip side: Weepy sweetheart song projected in same fashion as flip. Another for buyers of the authentic hill ware."

  • Clay Cope
    Born: December 10, 1904
    Died: February 22, 1987

    • Wallace Cope
      Born: April 4, 1926
      Died: February 17, 1992

  • Charlie Pope
    Born: June 24, 1916
    Died: November 1976

  • Lester Cope
    Born: April 1, 1911
    Died: December 14, 1993

Cope Brothers - Knoxville Girl - King - 589
Cope Brothers - The Old Country Church - Federal - 10028AA

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
  • Birthday Dinner; October 8, 1936; Rodgersville Review; Rogersville, TN
  • Cas Walker and Mountain Music To Take Over Mile o' Dimes All Day On Saturday; December 12, 1941; The Knoxville News-Sentinel; Knoxville, TN
  • March of Dimes - Auction Sale; February 1, 1948; Morristown Gazette Mail; Morristown, TN
  • March Dimes Goal Raised Now To $4000; February 8, 1948; Morristown Gazette Mail; Morristown, TN
  • Saturday 'Dollar and Dimes Day'; February 9, 1948; Morristown Gazette and Mail; Morristown, TN
  • Record Reviews; September 10, 1949; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH

Read More About The Group

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Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

Rec. No. Side Song Title
  10028 A The Old Country Church
  10028 B Don't You Cry Over Me
  1007 A I'll Have A New Life
  1007 B Gathering Buds
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  589 A She Sleeps Beneath
  589 B Knoxville Girl
  670 A Hills Of Roan County
  670 B My Main Trial Is Yet To Come
  806 A Too Young
  806 B Wednesday Night Waltz

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