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Finding Aid for the Spade Cooley papers, 1940-1970
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This collection includes photographs, business documents, media, and memorabilia relating to the entertainment career of the “King of Western Swing,” Donnell “Spade” Cooley, as well as correspondence and other personal materials, and periodical coverage of his 1961 murder trial. After being “discovered” by Roy Rogers in 1934, Cooley went on to appear in over forty Westerns, front a successful Western swing big band, and enjoy a brief period of popularity as a local television personality in Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. His song “Shame on You” enjoyed the No. 1 spot on the country billboard for several months in 1945. After a series of real estate ventures—including the ill-fated “Water Wonderland” project which sapped Cooley’s financial resources—Cooley was convicted of the murder of his second wife, Ella May Cooley. He spent eight years at the California State Prison Medical Facility in Vacaville before suffering a fatal heart attack during a three-day furlough in 1969.
Donnell “Spade” Cooley was an American actor, television personality, and Western swing big band leader and musician. Born in Oklahoma, 1910, Cooley was relocated to Salem, Oregon by his parents, John and Emma Cooley, in 1914. There he attended the Chemawa Indian School, picking up both the fiddle and cello under the tutelage of music teacher Hans von Sietz. At Chemawa he also picked up the nickname “Spade” (supposedly for his propensity to win poker games with flushes of spades). In 1930, the family relocated again, this time to Modesto, California, where Cooley worked as a farmhand and continued to fiddle. This was also the year Cooley married his first wife, Anne. After a few failed attempts to establish himself as a musician in Los Angeles, he took a variety of small jobs in Western bands (Chuck Woods’ Southern Stars and the Colorado Hillbillies), and eventually made his way back to southern California.
25 document boxes (10 linear ft.)
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