“Miss Lucy Keith”

During the latter half of the 19th century shaped note singing became very popular.  Singing schools were found all though the South, and singing conventions would be held for three days at a time, or even as long as a week.  These events were part of what has been called The Great Awakening in which revivals or camp meetings were held where, along with the preaching, much singing would take place.

This song is about the great-great-grandparents of Lucy Cooper (1980-2015), Cowan “Dusty” Cooper (1843-1925) and Lucy Calhoun Keith (1859-1919).  They were an unlikely match since Cowan was a ne’er-do-well and more than 15 years older, while Miss Lucy Keith was a dignified young lady, the heir to her father’s banking fortune.  But they happened to meet at an opportune moment.

Because Lucy was a somewhat intimidating lady, suitors had never succeeded in winning her hand, and by now seven years had elapsed since she had attained marriageable age.  At the same time, it was 1885, Cowan Cooper had become dissatisfied with his life as an itinerant gambler and con-man and was ripe for change.

After becoming aware of Miss Lucy Keith, and seeing that she was strikingly beautiful, and destined to become rich, Cowan began to make himself available wherever she might be, including one of these camp meetings. Although at first his motives might not have been exactly honorable, that changed rather quickly.

They officially met at a group singing event held by the river in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  As he joined in the singing, Cowan felt himself being born again and from then on he and Lucy Keith began courting seriously. Cowan grew into a proper gentleman and eventually met with the approval of Old Man Keith, who took him on at the bank.

Cowan and Lucy married, raised three children, and lived happily together for 32 years.

(F.D. Leone)

I buried Lucy yesterday
After thirty-two years together
But I am getting ahead of myself
I mean to tell you how I met her

My name is Cowan Cooper
Been a grifter my whole life
I was making a pretty good living
With cards and dice

I come from Jackson, Mississippi
Born in 1843
But I cared nothing about
Preserving the Union or slavery

While other boys fought and died
I bought myself out of the war
Dealt poker in a Vicksburg saloon
And lived with a whore

I met Lucy in 1885
By then the war was twenty years gone
I was tired of the gambler’s life
But it’s all I’d ever known

Miss Lucy Keith was the talk of Vicksburg
Her flashing green eyes and long red hair
They said she can look right through you
Made you feel like you weren’t even there

I was intrigued by this young lady
And would appear wherever she went
Until one night I found myself
At a camp meeting, under a tent

Now I was raised up in the church
But learned more songs in less sacred places
There was a feeling in that tent
A light radiated from all the faces

I sat down next to Miss Lucy Keith
She kindly indicated to me the hymn
We shared a Sacred Harp
Leaned in close and sang “Jerusalem”

I can’t explain what came over me
The singing mixed with Miss Lucy Keith’s perfume
From the fragile scent of lilac
I felt myself rising up in the room

In the weeks after that night
I was often seen with Miss Lucy Keith
My former friends couldn’t understand
And stared at me with disbelief

I threw away my cards and dice
Having no use anymore for them
A wretch such as I had been saved
When Lucy Keith and I sang “Jerusalem”

So now you’ve heard my story
And it’s all I have to tell
I walked away that old hymn book
Somewhere, it's sitting on my shelf

Those shaped notes may be old-fashioned
I hope there’s still some power left in them
Save your old Sacred Harps
My life was changed when I sang “Jerusalem”

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.