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Leroy Cooper Musician in Charles Band Dies

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Leroy Cooper played baritone saxophone with the Ray Charles band in the 1950s through the '70s. His tenure with the band included recording sessions that yielded the film theme In the Heat of the Night and Charles rendition of America, the Beautiful."

Leroy Cooper, 80, who played baritone saxophone for Ray Charles from the 1950s through the 1970s and at times served as bandleader for the R&B pianist, died of heart failure Jan. 15 at his home in Orlando, Fla., the Orlando Sentinel reported. Cooper spent two decades with the Charles band, a stretch that began in 1957. His tenure included the recording sessions that yielded the film theme “In the Heat of the Night," “Crying Time" and Charles' stirring rendition of “America, the Beautiful." Cooper also contributed to a wide array of other recordings, including blues man Lowell Fulson's classic “Reconsider Baby," and sessions with Dr. John, Joe Cocker, Kenny Neal and Lightnin' Hopkins. He also toured with the Righteous Brothers for a time. After leaving the Charles band in 1977, Cooper moved to Orlando for a job at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. He was a bandleader and performer on Main Street U.S.A. for about 20 years. The son of a bandleader, Cooper was born in Dallas on Aug. 31, 1928. He learned to play the sax as a child and also became proficient on the clarinet and flute.

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