Vic Smith, from the Royal Oak Folk Club in Lewes, has written an obituary for our local 'Sussex Express' newspaper:
Bob Copper (6th January 1915 - 29th March 2004)
With the death of Robert James Copper, English traditional song has lost its inspirational doyen. On 25th March, Bob went with son, John, daughter Jill and son-in-law Jon Dudley to Buckingham Palace to be invested with his richly deserved M.B.E. For all four, the rich experience was hugely enjoyable. Three days later the four of them came to Lewes for a celebratory lunch; another great occasion and one that was full of laughter. In the afternoon, Bob became unwell and was taken to hospital where he died the following afternoon with his close family around him.
Bob will be mainly remembered as the superb interpreter of his family's fine heritage of traditional songs that can be traced back through the generations to the eighteenth century, but he was also very successful as writer, poet, painter, illustrator and song collector. Despite the modesty that pervaded every conversation with him, he showed rare personal qualities that enabled him to motivate and encourage all the many people who came to talk with him. He, himself, was profoundly pleased to see that he had ensured continuity in the family's cultural legacy by seeing his children and Jon and six grandchildren carrying on singing the songs.
In his later years, Bob and the Coppers had enjoyed widespread recognition for their unique family harmony singing and they had travelled far and wide to sing them including a number of trips to the USA. Bob has received, in recent years, an honorary degree from the University of Sussex, a Gold Badge from the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Good Tradition Award, a lifetime achievement award from the BBC; all testimony to his predominant and outstanding contribution to the furtherance of English folk song.
"We will never see his like again" is a phrase that has become clichéd, but in this case it is true. Bob has been that important link in the continuity of the songs from the days of a relatively healthy state around the First World War, through the difficult years of the 1930's when he and cousin Ron seemed to be part of a tiny minority to maintain enthusiasm for the songs, through to a time when there has been a revival of interest and a long overdue recognition of the part his family has played. National newspapers and TV and radio stations on three continents have carried tributes to the man.
Many friends and fans as well as his supportive family have been left feeling bereft and Sussex has lost one of its greatest sons.