Daughter of late country music legend makes surprise visit to memorial concert –
By Patricia Beech –
Fans of old style country music who gathered at the village Community Center in Blue Creek for the ninth annual Cowboy Copas Memorial Concert on Aug. 27 were in for a special treat when the iconic singer’s daughter, Kathy Copas Hughes, showed up to honor her late father and visit with the people from his home town.
Known as “the country gentleman of song”, Copas was a honky tonk singer and member of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He was born Lloyd Estel Copas in Blue Creek in 1913, and by age 14 he had mastered the guitar and developed his own unique style of playing with a thumb pick.
According to some accounts, he got his nickname as he walked onto a stage with his guitar while performing with Lester ‘Natchee the Indian’ Storer, a young fiddler from Peebles. “Let’s see what you can do, cowboy,” someone shouted from the audience, and the name stuck.
Hughes, like her father, is a natural performer with an easy going personality. During the memorial concert, she entertained the audience with stories and jokes, then sang several songs with the Randy Copas Band, Rosie Young, and Karen Boldman.
Hughes was a frequent visitor to Adams County when she was a young girl. Her mother, Edna Lucille Markins, was from the Peebles area and frequently attended the Evergreen Church in the Steam Furnace community.
“When I was a child I always loved coming to Adams County,” Hughes said. “My grandfather lived in Blue Creek, so whenever Dad was in West Union or Peebles, we’d always go to visit him. We didn’t get to go very often, but I always looked forward to those visits.”
During her teenage years she frequently accompanied her famous father on his concert tours across America.
“At 16 years old I had the privilege of traveling with him and really getting to know him,” she said. “It was exciting, I got to meet a lot of other country and western singers, but I also had to keep up with my school work so I could graduate on time.”
Her favorite singer, she says, was Red Foley, who produced a string of hit songs including, “Have I Told You Lately that I Love You?”, “A Satisfied Mind”, and “Night Train to Memphis”.
Hughes also spent much of her childhood playing back stage at the Grand Old Opry’s Ryman Theater when her father was in Nashville performing.
“Bill Monroe had a dressing room beside Dad’s, so I got to hang out at the Opry and see a lot of the best singers who were performing at that time.”
At 82 years-old, Hughes exudes an energy and enthusiasm that makes her seem almost ageless.
“I just saw my cousin Karen,” she says, her eyes lighting up as she points out a woman standing near the stage. “We knew each other as children, and she’s one of my favorite cousins because she’s a singer.”
Hughes is clearly moved by the community’s effort to keep her father’s legacy alive.
Copas died in a 1963 plane crash that also killed country stars Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins as well as his son-in-law, Randy Hughes, who was piloting the plane.
Hughes was 28 when her husband and father died.
“It was difficult because I also lost my husband at the same time, he was Patsy Cline’s manager and the pilot of the plane.”
The three entertainers had traveled to Kansas City in March 1963 to put on a benefit concert at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall for disc jockey Cactus Jack Call, who died the previous December in an automobile accident.
“They did the show on a Sunday night and planned to come home the next day, but it was snowing and they had to hop from one location to another trying to find a route that was dry,” Hughes recalled. “They ended up in Tennessee and as they started toward the Tennessee River, Randy lost control of the plane, he tried to get back to the airport they’d just left, but his instruments were telling him something he couldn’t believe, and he crashed into a tree.”
A 1963 edition of the Nashville Banner reported that a local farmer, Sam Webb, whose farm was near the dense woodlands where the crash occurred, said he saw the the plane circling his home about 7 o’clock that evening and that it was “revving up its motor, going fast and then slow, like it was attempting to climb.” Webb said the plane left his sight and then he heard something “like it struck the top of some trees.” The weather in the area at the time of the accident was “extremely turbulent.”
“I can talk about it now, but at the time it was such a terrible shock,” says Hughes. “I’d just talked to Randy on the phone and he said ‘We’re on our way home, and 20 minutes later they were gone.'”
She says it took faith and a lot of praying to work through her grief.
“I just made up my mind that I’m not the only person in the world whose lost two loved ones at the same time,” she says. “I had child to raise and with help and faith, I got through it.”
She says she now feels proud of all the people who died in the crash.
“They chose to go in the dead of winter to put on a benefit show for the family of a man who perished in a car wreck. That’s what Christianity is all about, we help each other, and by helping, we grow.”
For many of those attending the memorial concert, Hughes served as reminder of days gone by, but she says she isn’t looking back.
“Life is ironic – the things I never thought would happen, happened, and the things I thought I couldn’t live without, I do – and believe me,” she says with a wink. “I’ve got a lot of living left to do.”