One could say Clay has been groomed all his life for his current position as host of his own show ” Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express “. Born to a musical family in Wylie, Texas, his grandmother played the piano for the Wylie Baptist Church, and gave piano lessons for twenty years. His dad played guitar and performed at all local Opry shows.
Clay fIrst began singing at the Wylie Opry at the age of fourteen, and continued to perform there until 1986, when he then joined the Texas Goldminors and moved to Branson, performing at the Ozarks Country Jubilee.
Since 1986, Clay has worked for many area shows, including the Ozark Jubilee, the Country Review Show in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the Down Home Country Show, the Buck Trent Show, the Jim Owens Show and Country Tonite, where he spent nine years as lead vocalist and emcee. In 1989, Evergreen Records released a single by Clay titled, “A Little Ground in Texas” which went to #60 on the Cash Box Charts.
In 2003, Clay joined his buddy, Paul Harris, as the featured male vocalist in Paul Harris Live. Clay and his wife, Tina, began Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express in 2005 as a morning show in Branson, Missouri. Both Tina and Clay are truly thankful for the opportunity to continue performing with such a talented cast.
Oklahoma’s own, Tina Cooper, was born to perform! Tina began dancing at the age of three at her mom’s studio in the garage of their home! Tina continued her training through high school and graduated with a BFA in Music Theatre from the University of Oklahoma. Tina worked at Frontier City and Opryland amusement parks. She worked for Holland America Cruiselines for two years and then headed for Branson, Missouri. Tina has been seen on several Branson stages performing in shows including Country Tonite, Celebrate America, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Dino’s Christmas Spectacular, Red, Hot, and Blue!, and Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express. Tina met Clay when working at Country Tonite and they married in 1999. They had Colt in August, 2003. Tina wants to thank her father, John, for believing in her dreams and in her husband. She would also like to thank her Heavenly Father for the talent she has received.
Colt Cooper made his debut performance at 14 months in the Paul Harris Show of 2004. Being a native to Branson and the son of entertainers, Colt felt at home on stage and continued performing in Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express when it was derived in 2005. Colt has become an audience favorite, and has now found a love for comedy! After all, his two best friends are his Godfather, Paul Harris, and his comedic partner, Matt Gumm! Colton also enjoys singing in the show and can even whip out a cool dance move or two! When Colt’s not on stage, he is spending time playing football, basketball, or baseball, depending on the season. He loves playing games on the Wii and enjoys watching TV shows like Pair of Kings and Kickin’ It. Colt is in the 2nd grade and loves spending time with his classmates.
Caden Cooper is our rising star! At 2 ½ years old, Caden made his debut performance as Captain America in Clay Cooper’s Christmas Show! Currently Caden is between talents, switching back and forth between, dancing, drumming, and singing. Caden has been inspired by Michael Jackson, The Wiggles, Colt Cooper, Daddy Cooper, and Mommy Cooper. When he is not practicing and putting on shows, Caden enjoys reading, playing the Wii, and watching TV! He also loves football, basketball, and baseball and enjoys hanging at the house with his Marvel Heroes Action Figures. Caden is an expert on the iPad and has taken up photography! We are very excited to watch Caden grow over the next many years!
Johnny Lonestar’s high energy Wild West variety act has been entertaining people around the world for years. This Rope-twirling, Gun-spinning, Whip-cracking cowboy started his career at the age of 15.He amazes audiences with his lightning speed, precise technique, and magnetic personality. Johnny’s first professional job was on the Las Vegas strip at the age of 20. Since then he has performed in Branson, Mo. in many of the great stage shows including, Country Tonite, Silver Dollar City, Celebrate America, and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. Some of those shows have taken Johnny to Japan; Pigeon Forge, TN; Atlantic City; Biloxi, MS; and other venues. For the past six years, Johnny has been performing as the variety act in the Clay Cooper Country Music Express show. Through the years, you may have seen Johnny Lonestar appearing on different Television shows. Some of those include the Jerry Louis Telethon; The Willard Scott Amateur Hour; Mucizeler Gecesi (Night of the Miracles) in Istanbul, Turkey; a Las Vegas series show starring Country Tonight; the TV Guide Network; and Comedy Central. And most recently he competed on NBC’s #1 summer show, America’s Got Talent, where he placed in the top 20 out of more than100,000 contestants. In January 2000, Johnny married his wife Catherine. They had their first son Dominic in June 2005. Their newest addition to the family is Baby Brooklyn, born December 2009.
Matt Gumm literally grew up around variety shows at Lake of the Ozarks, so at the age of 30, he takes to the stage like a seasoned pro. Of course, growing up with Thom “Gabby” Gumm as your dad & mentor didn’t hurt. In fact, he learned so well, Matt was added to the Main Street Opry act at the age of seven. Long before that, though, he seemed to know what he was going to do with his life. His mom will tell you that he spent everyday up on his bed, with a make-shift curtain that hung from the ceiling, with wigs and props doing his “show”. It was in these very early years that a family friend thought it would be “funny” to buy Matt a toy set of drums. Well, the joke was on him, because Matt started playing those things and he was a natural! All that practice may have been painful at times for the family, but it definitely paid off. While in High School, Matt was the only student chosen out of his class to attend the Missouri Fine Arts Academy because he excelled in Music, Art & Drama. Fresh out of high school, Matt spent 5 years developing his own reputation as a gifted comedian and musician on the stage of the long-running Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry in Osage Beach, Missouri. Once again, his family ties drew him back to work along side his dad and mom Sandy at the Main Street Opry in Osage Beach. There he honed not only his comedy skills with his dad, but he came into his own with his impersonations. He’s brought the house down with his take on such artists as Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Rod Stewart & Sammy Davis, Jr., just to mention a few. Clay Cooper caught his act and knew he wanted to be the first to introduce Matt to Branson. Currently, he is the craziest addition to Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express where you can experience Matt’s family friendly, high energy fun, visual humor, surprising abilities on some unusual instruments. Recently he married R.P. Harrell’s daughter, Katie.
R P was raised in Lufkin, Texas, where he began playing professionally in 1967. By 1969 he was on the road full time, with regular appearances at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. During the early 70′s he also began a career in the recording industry, which led him to his first love of producing, engineering, and performing on recordings. He married his wife, Debbie Sue, in 1972, and they toured the U.S. and performed together through 1982.
Through the 80′s he alternated touring and recording careers. Since moving to Branson in 1992, R P performed and toured with Rex Allen, Jr. and Roy Clark. In 1994 he joined “Country Tonite” when it opened in Branson. During his ten years with the show, he was the director, musical director, pianist, vocalist, and production manager. He either produced or co-produced several seasons of the show as well. He was voted Branson’s “Piano Player of the Year” for three consecutive years, and inducted into the Branson Entertainer’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
Joey Riley was born and raised in Wylie, Texas, and became good friends with Clay the first day they played together as children. His parents, George and Clara opened the Wylie Opry and Joey began performing there every weekend at the age of eleven years old. At 16, he accepted a job with the Gene Stroman Band and traveled all over Texas and Oklahoma playing steel guitar and fiddle. Joey moved to Eureka Springs in 1990, but this time he added “comedian” to his long list of talents at Warren Stoke’s Country Revue. He stayed there for a couple years before moving to Branson to join the Texas Goldminors. Shortly after, he was asked to join Mickey Gilley on stage and stayed by his side for 20 years, loving every minute of it! While working with Mickey, Joey began his own show, Joey Riley’s Comedy & Music Revue and continues to perform his own show at Music City Centre. Joey has a beautiful wife, Kelly, and one dog, his rising star, Leroy, who you can find on facebook! Joey plays fiddle and steel guitar, sings, and makes you laugh out loud in Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Clay is thrilled to be working with Joey again.
Born in Santa Ana, California, David started playing bass guitar in church at the age of 13. Dave played music part-time on weekends, and drove a laundry truck during the week. It wasn’t until he moved to Branson in 1996 that he started his full-time music career. Dave has played and sung with Boxcar Willy, Buck Trent, Doyle Dykes, Lost in the 50′s, Stuck in the 70′s, The Platters, and Barabara Fairchild. Dave is an amazing vocalist and bass player and Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express is thrilled to have him in our cast! His wife, Janee’ is also a part of the Clay Cooper Family, working in our Group Sales and Marketing Department.
Jimmy Hyde, originally from Hibbing, Minnesota, is definitely a favorite here in Branson. Jimmy left high school and received an Associate of Arts Degree in English Literature. He spent another year of school at the University of Minnesota. Jimmy then moved to Nashville and toured as the drummer for several artists including Kitty Wells, Exile, and many others. He spent 20 years working for Eddie Rabbit. Jimmy came to Branson in 2002 as the new drummer for Country Tonite and continues to work there today. In his spare time, Jimmy enjoys solving crossword puzzles, watching the History Channel, and riding his bike. This is Jimmy’s sixth year with Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express.
A native of Ft. Smith, AR.; Mark learned to play guitar at an early age and moved with his musical family to Nashville, TN where his father, Larry Morton, played guitar professionally with many popular artists including Danny Davis and The Nashville Brass…He also produced many artists which put Mark in the studio where he fely right at home. His mother, Ann J. Morton, a successful singer/songwriter performed with several artists including Floyd Tillman and The BlueBonnet Playboys and then went on to write songs for for artists, Charley Pride, Gene Watson and Hank Thompson. This inspired Mark to write and record his own songs which landed him a staff writing position at Scott Siman and Tim Mcgraw’s publishing company for several years. Fate brought Mark to Branson where he played in many shows before finding a home at The Clay Cooper Theatre. Mark loves live music! Rock on!!
John Lance was raised in a musical family. John’s older sister Lynda was a Nashville recording artist and his brother was an opera singer. By the age of 14, John was already a regular male vocalist on the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree. In 1990, John was playing keyboards with Ray Stevens when Stevens brought his show to Branson. Through his years in Branson, John has performed with Stevens, Country Tonite, Paul Harris, and is proud to be in his seventh season with Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express!
Jenn Turner grew up dancing in Rochester, NY. She continued to study at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she received a BFA in Dance Performance. After graduation, she landed the role of Velma in “West Side Story”. From there, she began to perform as a singer/dancer with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Ready to settle down with fellow entertainer, Tony Turner, she came to Branson, MO and joined “The Kirby VanBurch Show” as a dancer and magic assistant. The pregnancy with her first child, Savannah Ray, put Jenn on the production side, doing direction and choreography for “The Kirby VanBurch Show” and The “Road to Rock”. Shortly after, she was right back on stage performing as a singer/dancer in “Celebrate America”, “The Promise” and “Country Tonite” at The Mansion Theater. Her second pregnancy with son AJ brought on another break from the stage, but once again, she came back to perform as a dancer in “Dino’s Christmas Extravaganza!”. Jenn then went back to “Country Tonite” for another season, but in a new venue, The Oak Ridge Boys Theater. During this past season, she had the amazing opportunity to travel overseas with Operation Iraqi Children, which provided many children with shoes and school supplies. On this trip, she performed for troops in Baghdad, Iraq, and Ramstien, Germany. She is very excited to be joining the cast of “Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express” this season and is looking forward to a wonderful year and a great experience!
Kelly Smith has been singing and dancing professionally for nearly 20 years. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Vocal Performance/Music Education (is still a loyal Hawkeye fan!) and has been dancing since she was 6. Some of her favorite performance credits include “Hello Dolly”, “A Chorus Line”, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, “La Boheme”, and 2 world tours with Up With People. In her spare time she enjoys being at home with her husband Zack and their 1 year old daughter Elyse. She praises God every day for the gift of family and friends and a for job that she absolutely loves!! There’s nothing like living your dream!
Jill is from Washington, MO and has been dancing since the age of five. In addition to dance, she has competed in artistic and rhythmic gymnastics at the state and national levels. Jill graduated cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in Dance and Physical Education from Lindenwood University. She has danced literally across the country while performing on two national tours with Sesame Street Live. Other career highlights for Jill include apprenticing with Mid America Dance Company (MADCO), choreographing for Geneva Glen Camp in Colorado, and traveling to Iraq and Germany as part of Operation Iraqi Children to perform for the U.S. troops. While in Branson, she has performed in “Country Tonite”, “Dino’s Christmas Spectacular”, and “The Shoji Tabuchi Show”. She is married to Brett Fitzpatrick and they have two sweet kitty cats. Jill is thrilled to be a part of Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express!
Kristen Chandler may be new to Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express, but she is definitely known as an incredible dancer here in Branson. Kristen was born in Dowagaic, Michigan and began dancing at the early age of three. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Dance Performance from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Kristen spent her summers performing in several theme parks during college, and moved to Branson shortly after her graduation in 2001. Kristen became a show favorite quickly here in Branson, as she landed jobs with Shoji Tabuchi, The Promise, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Celebrate America, and Country Tonite. Kristen enjoys spending her time with her husband, Justin, and her sweet little girl, Kylee. She also enjoys working out, knitting, and baking. Welcome to the Family!
Tommy D’Amico was raised in Walnut Creek, CA and began dancing in high school. He received a B.A. in Dance and Performing Arts from Penn State, graduating with honors, then continued his dance studies in Middlesex University in London, England. After graduation, Tommy moved to NYC, spending time as a dance teacher and choreographer. He has performed all over the country as well as cruise ships. Tommy is a veteran performer here in the Ozarks as many have seen him in various Branson shows including: Celebrate America, The Promise, Legends in Concert, Andy Williams, and Dino’s Christmas Extravaganza. Currently you can also see Tommy in Yakov’s Dinner Adventure Show! When he has free time he enjoys boating, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching movies. We are thrilled to have Tommy on board!
We are delighted to have Elizabeth Harris join The Country Express Dancers! Born and raised here in Branson, Mo., Elizabeth began dancing and performing as a child. At age 14, she joined the cast of the Jim Stafford show in Branson and went on to work at Shepherd of the Hills, The Gatlin Brothers Show, and Silver Dollar City. In high school, Elizabeth developed a passion for colorguard. She continued colorguard as a member of the Missouri State University Pride Colorguard in Springfield, Mo., traveling all over the United States. During that time she also worked to earn her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Elizabeth now teaches colorguard at Marionville High School and Missouri State University. When she has some time to herself, Elizabeth enjoys reading, arts and crafts, and spending time with family and friends!
A native of New Jersey, Sean has been performing in Branson since 2005. His Branson credits include Celebrate America, The Promise, Dino’s Christmas Spectacular, Country Tonite and Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby. Spending most of his career performing in and around the New Jersey, Philadelphia, New York area, his professional east coast credits include The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, ACBT’s The Nutcracker, Spirit of the Tiger…. with a few minor shakespearean roles in ACT’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sean has also worked as a choreographer, stage manager, and dance instructor. When not on stage, Sean spends his time studying in hopes to pursue a career in health care.
Lara Moffett Menard
Lara Moffett Menard hails from Illinois and grew up singing and dancing while helping her family raise beef cattle on their farm near Mt. Zion, Illinois. She has performed all over the country and abroad in various musicals, on cruise ships, with symphonies, and most recently with the world renowned Radio City Rockettes for 8 consecutive seasons. She spends most of her free time with her husband and 5 month old baby girl in Branson, Missouri. When not singing and dancing in the Clay Cooper’s Country Express, Lara can be seen performing in the morning show, Red, Hot…& Blue right here in Branson, Missouri! In addition to performing, Lara maintains a busy schedule adjudicating and choreographing for various competitive showchoirs throughout the Midwest. She loves working with children of all ages and believes it is important to continue to keep the fine arts alive in our communities.
Matthew Smith, is new to the Branson area, coming from Thatcher, Arizona. He is the second youngest of six siblings and looks forward to spending time with his family and friends either in person or through the Internet and skype. Matthew is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, serving in several callings in the Aaronic Priesthood and achieving his Duty to God Award. He is also a member of Boy Scouts of America where he achieved the rank of Life Scout. Matthew began dancing at the age of 5 years old, learning all styles of dance. He worked as an assistant dance instructor at Safford Dance Academy and as a gymnastics coach at the local gym before his move to Branson. Dancing has always been Matthew’s passion and he hopes to continue his career in dance while meeting new people and gaining new life experiences. His time in Branson has been fun and exciting and he is thankful for the opportunity to perform in his first professional show! .
Sarah Blackerby started her career as a young entertainer in second grade. She was active in the American Kids Organization, singing and dancing in several different shows around the Midwest. She was a child performer with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a featured soloist in Ricky Boen & Texas Mudd, and Tiny Tim in Silver Dollar City’s production of a Christmas Carol. Sarah met Tina through the American Kids Organization and Tina quickly began teaching her all styles of dance. Now she attends Midwest Dance Academy where she improves her performance skills four days a week. Sarah will be a senior at Forsyth High School this fall with plans to continue her dancing career after graduation.