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 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 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. Clay loves the little town of 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 in Texas. 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 Music Express. Tina met Clay when working at Country Tonite and they married in 1999. They had Colt in August, 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 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 plays competitive football or basketball. Colt enjoys time at home playing on video games, watching the NFL network, and playing with his brother, Caden. He is currently in 4th grade and just received the 4th grade Champion of Character, recognizing his outstanding Character at school.
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 free time, Caden likes to play video games, basketball, and football with his brother, and he loves to read with his mommy. He also enjoys a great game of hide and seek with all the kids at the theatre!
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, 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 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, and America’s Got Talent, where he placed in the top 20 out of more than 100,000 contestants. In January 2000, Johnny married his wife Catherine. They had their first son Dominic in June 2005 and their first daughter Brooklyn in 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 passed away July 19th 2013 after a quick battle with colon cancer. Joey and Clay grew up together in Wylie, Texas and were best friends from the start! His parents, George and Clara opened the Wylie Opry and Joey performed 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. His next move was the position of Mickey Gilley’s side-kick and he remained by Mickey’s side for over twenty years before joining the Country Express Cast. Joey will always be remembered for his quick-witted humor, his endless talents as a singer, musician and comedian, and his ability to make people laugh and feel good! Joey said he always wants to be remembered as an entertainer and an entertainer he was!
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 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!
John Lance was raised in a musical family in Smithfield, Pennsylvania. 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 Ray Stevens, Country Tonite, Paul Harris, and Clay Cooper’s Country Express! John has one son, Trevor, and when he isn’t doing shows, he’s spending quality time with his son.
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, SC, where he performed on a prominent stage show. From there he moved to Branson and has worked on several Branson stages with Joey Riley, The Rankin Brothers, and now 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 with Mr. Mel Tillis. He has also performed on the Grand Ole Opry numerous times including 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, Samantha, Shayla, and Maudie, and his grandkids Xavier and Leyton.
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. This will be her fifth season with “Clay Cooper’s Country Music Express”! 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 often find them running around the theater with the Cooper kids! 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 Zack, they have a little girl Elyse and a baby boy named Jacob and 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 her sweet little girls, Kylee and Emma. She also enjoys working out, knitting, and baking.
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 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. She also works several jobs in town as she prepares for her wedding day this October! When she has some time to herself, Elizabeth enjoys reading, arts and crafts, and spending time with family and friends!
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. 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 might see Sarah not only dancing in the show, but singing as well! Sarah is currently the understudy for all female vocalists in the Country Express Cast.
Ezrah Noelle joined the Clay Cooper Show in May of 2012. She is an extremely energetic 11 year old singer, dancer, yodeler and songwriter. Ezrah hails from Kingfisher, Oklahoma where she began her singing career in church when she was 20 months old. She was introduced to the American Kids organization at 2 years old opening the door to many singing venues across Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. She has been televised on Sprint, Local Oklahoma Weather, Relay For Life commercials and has been a special guest on the Rodeo Opry show which airs all across Oklahoma. Her YouTube videos have scored well over 3 million hits and contains many of her career performances. Ezrah taught herself to yodel when she was 7 years old. When she isn’t performing, Ezrah takes dance, place video games, and enjoys time with 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.