One could say Clay Cooper has been groomed all his life for his current position as host of his own show “Clay Cooper’s Country 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 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 Express in 2005 in Branson, Missouri. Clay loves Branson and feels privileged to do what he loves while actively raising his boys, Colton and Caden. His oldest daughter, Cassidy is currently attending college. Both Tina and Clay are truly thankful for the opportunity to perform with such a talented cast and supportive staff.
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 Express. Tina met Clay when working at Country Tonite and they married in 1999. They had Colt in 2003 and Caden in 2005. When Tina isn’t performing or managing the theatre, she enjoys working out and spending time with her family. Tina thanks her father, John, for believing in her dreams and in her husband. Tina and Clay thank God for the opportunity to do what they love with their family right here in Branson, Missouri!
Colt Cooper made his debut performance at 14 months in the Paul Harris Show in 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 Express in 2005. Colt is 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 plays competitive football or basketball. Colt enjoys time at home playing on video games, watching the NFL network, and playing with his brother, Caden.
Caden Cooper is no stranger to the entertainment world. His days are spent with singers, dancers, musicians, and the techs at Clay Cooper Theatre. Some of his best advice comes from his pal, Mel Tillis. Caden enjoys singing, dancing, and making people laugh. He is influenced by Bruno Mars, Michael Jackson, and many Disney Stars including Cody Simpson and One Direction. During his free time, Caden likes to play video games, basketball, and football with his brother, and he loves to read with his mom. He also enjoys a great game of hide and seek with all the kids at the theatre!
From the moment she skips on stage, you’ll find that Ezrah Noelle is an extremely energetic singer, dancer, yodeler, and songwriter! She hails from Kingfisher, Oklahoma, where she began her singing career in church when she was 20 months old. Ezrah was introduced to the American Kids organization at 2 years of age, opening the door to many singing venues across Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri. One of her favorites was the Centennial Rodeo Opry in the stockyards of Oklahoma City. She taught herself to yodel when she was 7 years old. In May 2012, Ezrah joined the cast of Clay Cooper’s Country Express. In 2016, she traveled to Los Angeles and was a featured performer on NBC’s newest show “Little Big Shots”, produced by Ellen Degeneres and Steve Harvey. Ezrah’s YouTube videos have scored nearly 8 million hits and contains many of her career performances. When she isn’t performing, Ezrah is on the competitive dance team for Dance Branson School of the Arts, and she loves to visit the local attractions and enjoys spending time with her friends and her sweet sister, Rosie. Ezrah believes that God gave her voice to be a blessing to others and hopes that you will be blessed by her performances.
Rosie Cheek is known for her bubbly personality and heart full of joy. Rosie hails from Kingfisher, Oklahoma, and began performing with the American Kids organization at 4 years old. She performed in the Clay Cooper Christmas Shows beginning in 2012. In 2015, Rosie performed in Sight and Sound Theatres production of Jonah as several different characters. She also served on their prayer team often praying with people after each show. Rosie became a full time cast member in Clay Cooper’s Country Express in March 2016. She absolutely loved her first year singing a duet with Caden Cooper and trick roping with Johnny Lonestar and his son Dominic! Rosie enjoys singing all different types of music, but recently has taken an interest in singing classically and learned an Italian Aria and a song in Hebrew. Rosie is on dance team at Dance Branson School of the Arts, with Hip Hop as her favorite style of dance. In her free time, Rosie loves to swim, spend time with her friends and theatre family, make crafts, and is a Junior Reporter for Kid’s Connection which is featured on the Travel Channel. Rosie is thankful for all of the doors that God has opened for her and her prayer is that He will continue to use her.
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, Missouri, in many of the great stage shows including, Country Tonite, Silver Dollar City, Celebrate America, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Some of those shows have taken Johnny to Japan; Pigeon Forge, TN; Atlantic City; Biloxi, MS; and other venues. Johnny Lonestar has appeared on different Television shows including the Jerry Lewis 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, and America’s Got Talent, where he placed in the top 20 out of more than 100,000 contestants. Johnny loves performing with his son Dominic and Ezrah’s sister Rosie.
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 Sandy 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 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 Express where you can experience Matt’s family friendly, high-energy fun, visual humor, and surprising abilities on some unusual instruments. When he’s not performing, he enjoys spending time with his wife Katie and daughter Norah Sue.
Kari Garrison was born and raised in Denison, Texas, in a musical family where harmony-filled living room jam sessions with her dad and other family members were a part of her daily life. It was there Kari developed her love and passion for singing. After high school, Kari moved to Virginia and over the next 5 years she shared the stage, as well as the recording studio, with many of the industry’s most promising bluegrass artists. Then in 2001, following a dare from her younger sister, Kari moved to the Branson. After performing in several shows in town, Kari took a job at “The Paul Harris Show,” which changed her life forever, as it was the first time she met Clay and Tina Cooper. While working for Paul, Clay and Tina’s son Colton and Kari’s son Drew were born 11 days apart. Since that time, there has been a “family” connection that is still as strong as ever. Kari went on to sing with the legendary entertainer Moe Bandy for eight consecutive years. After years of working down the “76 Strip” from each other, Clay and Tina brought Kari into the Country Express family and love working together!
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.
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 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 spent 20 years working for Eddie Rabbit. Jimmy came to Branson in 2002 as the new drummer for Country Tonite and joined the Country Express cast in 2007. In his spare time, Jimmy enjoys solving crossword puzzles, watching the History Channel, and riding his bike. You have to have a great drummer when performing live music with singers and dancers, and we are all very thankful to have Jimmy!
Barry Bales, originally from Alton, Missouri, began playing the guitar in the late 60’s and was highly influenced by guitar greats such as Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Don Rich, Roy Nichols, Hank Garland, Leon Rhodes & Joe Pass just to name a few. After several years of playing night club circuits all over the country, he landed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where he performed in a prominent stage show. From there he moved to Branson and has worked on several Branson stages with Joey Riley, The Rankin Brothers, Red Hot & Blue, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Barry has played guitar with the likes of Moe Bandy, Joe Stampley, Jean Shepard, Leona Williams, Pake Mclntyre, Wanda Jackson & was a member of the world renowned Statesiders band with Mel Tillis. He has also performed at the Grand Ole Opry numerous times including during their national television broadcast on GAC Network. When he has a little free time, Barry enjoys spending time with his wife, Jenny, their three daughters and his grandkids.
Jonathan Black was born in Jasper, Alabama, and is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. He moved to Branson in 1995 to perform with Barbara Fairchild. Jonathan has since performed with Lost in the 50’s, Stuck on the 70’s, Cowboys Heroes and Friends with Canadian artist Eli Barsi, The Buck Trent Morning Show, The Baldknobbers Jamboree, Grand Gospel Jubilee, Grand Country Jubilee, The 70’s Music Celebration starring Barry Williams, and Hot Rods & High Heels. Jonathan also had the opportunity to perform with such artist as Glen Campbell, Ricky Skaggs, Chubby Checker, Bebe Winans, Mark Lowry, Gary McSpadden, Lulu Roman, Tony Orlando, Billy Dean, Leona Williams, and Michael Peterson. In 2017 he joined the band of Clay Cooper’s Country Express playing saxophone and keyboard. He is listed in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame as a musical achiever and was awarded 2016 Branson’s Best Keyboard Player Terry Award and 2011 Critic’s Choice Best Keyboard Player of the Year. In his spare time, Jonathan practices martial arts. He is in the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2010 for Outstanding Martial Artist and won 2012 Black Belt of the Year.
Jenn Turner grew up dancing in upstate NY where she received a BFA in Dance Performance from the State University of New York at Buffalo. 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. She then came to Branson, MO where she has performed in “The Kirby VanBurch Show”, “Celebrate America”, “The Promise”, “Dino’s Christmas Extravaganza!”, and “Country Tonite”. In 2009, she had the amazing opportunity to travel overseas with Operation Iraqi Children. On this trip, she performed for troops in Baghdad, Iraq, and Ramstien, Germany. She also teaches at local studio Dance Branson School of the Arts. During her spare time, she enjoys working out and spending time with her children, Savannah and AJ. You can find them performing in the Clay Cooper’s Country Express Christmas show! She loves sharing the stage with all of the wonderfully talented cast members and loves being a part of this amazing theater family.
Kelly Smith has been singing and dancing professionally for over 20 years. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in Vocal Performance/Music Education, (is a loyal Hawkeye fan), and has been dancing since the age of 6. Favorite performance credits include Hello Dolly, A Chorus Line, La Boheme, and the world tours of Up With People’s Roads and A Common Beat. Locally, you may have seen her in The Shoji Tabuchi Show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Celebrate America, The Promise, 50’s at the Hop, or Andy Williams’ Christmas Show. She’s also choreographed productions of Crazy for You, West Side Story, Annie Get Your Gun, Bye Bye Birdie and The Music Man. Kelly loves being a part of Clay Cooper’s Country Express and is thankful that coming to “work” is so much fun! Kelly is married to her husband Zack, and they have three beautiful children. She praises God for a job she absolutely loves!! There’s nothing like living your dream!!!
Kristen Chandler 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, Country Tonite, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. Kristen enjoys spending her time with her husband Justin and their two lovely girls. She also enjoys working out, knitting, and baking.
Hailey Denton has been dancing ever since she was a little girl and performing was always her dream. She started dancing professionally at the age of 16 at Silver Dollar City, then moved on to perform for the Magic of Rick Thomas, traveling across the country as well as in his show in Branson, Missouri. In 2015 she joined the cast of Clay Cooper’s Country Express as a dancer, and she also works in our box office during the day. When she’s not working at the theatre, Hailey teaches dance at Premiere Dance Academy in Hollister, Missouri. In her spare time she loves being outside and playing with her two fur babies, Sylas and Samson. Hailey is so grateful to be a part of the Country Express cast and gives God the glory!
Born and raised here in Branson, Missouri, Elizabeth Harris 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 color guard. She continued color guard as a member of the Missouri State University Pride Color Guard 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 color guard 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 her husband Derek.
Sarah (Blackerby) Bittner 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. Her senior year of high school, Sarah played the leading role Millie, in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. Sarah is now attending college to obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Choreography and currently teaches dance at the MidWest Dance Revolution. You will see Sarah not only dancing in the show, but singing as well! In her spare time, she enjoys owning her own wedding coordination business and spending time with her husband Nate, who is also a singer/dancer at the Clay Cooper Theatre.
Nate Bittner grew up in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area in Illinois. Coming from a musical family, it was natural that he wanted to perform. Country music was something that Nate gravitated to, although as he pursued more classical vocal training, his taste in music broadened. He started his professional performance career at the age of eleven with the St. Louis Muny. During high school Nate was not only involved in the theatre department, but he sought to improve the community by creating a special program for elementary students in the local area, “Just Gotta Be Me,” an anti-bulling and self-esteem centered program. He continued his career around the U.S. from Carnegie Hall in New York City all the way to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the opening of “South Pass” The Musical and then to Branson, Missouri. Nate now performs in Clay Cooper’s Country Express with his wife Sarah Bittner, one of the female dancers, and Hot Rods and High Heels. When he’s not performing, he is pursuing his Bachelor’s Degree in Management. He is so excited to be returning to the CC Theatre for his fourth season!
Nathan Applegate is a “true blue” local, having been born and raised in the Ozarks. Growing up in the Branson area provided several performance opportunities for him as a young entertainer. After graduating high school, he headed to New York City to study at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy under many veteran and current actors from Broadway, film, and television. After living and working in the Big Apple entertainment industry for five years, Nathan was ready to come home to the Branson stage once again. He has been blessed by the opportunity to perform at the Clay Cooper Theatre for several years in both Clay Cooper’s Country Express and Hot Rods & High Heels 1950’s show. He also has the privilege of giving back to the area youth as a choreographer for the Hollister School District. When not on stage, you can find Nathan exploring and enjoying the beautiful Ozark Mountains with his family, friends, and his camera!
Colton “Red” Williams grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and has been dancing since he was 12 years old. In the beginning, Colton was bribed by his mom to start dancing as a way to stay active, but he ended up loving it and wanting to make a career out of it. In the summer of 2015, Colton was handpicked to be one of fifty dancers to attend Kidz Roc hosted at the Clay Cooper Theatre. That’s when he first got to work with Tina and later found out about the opportunity to work for the Coopers. He’s been extremely grateful that God put him in that position to get the chance to work at Clay’s. When he’s not dancing in the Country Express show, Colton enjoys teaching dance at Tiffany’s Performing Arts Studio in Republic, Missouri.
Jeremiah Eugenio was born and raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of 16, He moved to Branson and got his first job as an assistant for the magician Kirby VanBurch. By age 18, Jeremiah was Kirby’s lead assistant, stage manager, assistant tiger handler, and associate producer. From 2010-2013 Jeremiah worked at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede as a trick rider, and from 2013-2014 he was the General Operations Manager at Branson’s Wild World. In 2015 he joined the Clay Cooper Theatre team as backstage manager and then as a dancer in the Country Express show. In his spare time, Jeremiah enjoys teaching others horseback trick riding, watching the sunset, and eating apple pie.