NZ’s first rock-n-roll pioneer Johnny Cooper, 86, dies in Lower Hutt

johnny cooper
Photo: Audio Culture

Obituary from John Dix
New Zealand’s first rock’n’roll recording artist, Johnny Cooper, has died in Lower Hutt, aged 86.

Born and raised near Wairoa, Hawkes Bay, Cooper began performing around Wellington in the late-40s, singing country & western and billed as ‘The Maori Cowboy’. Signed to HMV Records in 1952, he had a string of country music hits, including ‘The Convict & The Rose’ and ‘One by One’. In 1955 he recorded a version of ‘Rock Around The Clock’; two years later Cooper recorded his own composition ‘Pie Cart Rock’n’Roll’, NZ’s first recorded original song in the rock’n’roll genre.

In the late-1950s and 1960s Cooper concentrated on a career as entertainment promoter; his Give It A Go talent quest introduced several newcomers of note, including Johnny Devlin (‘NZ’s Elvis Presley’) and Midge Marsden.

Since retiring in the 1990s, Johnny Cooper has lived a reclusive life. Despite the early stages of alzheimer’s, he remained independent until the end, living alone in a Lower Hutt flat.

Audio Culture: Johnny Cooper Page

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