A lifetime of playing various instruments at church services, bluegrass festivals, and other events earned Lonnie “Butch” Cooksey Jr. the honor of being named a tradition bearer by the Louisiana Folklife Commission and Louisiana Folklife Society.
As part of the society-sponsored Folklife Month, Cooksey, among an elite group of six tradition bearers from across the state, was honored for his accomplishments at the Faith Apostolic Church in Holden October 16.
Cooksey, who with his family has brought music to churches for six decades, was warmly welcomed by the congregation who gathered for a special tribute to a man who said he ‘loves to play for the Lord’ .
Reverend Marlin Arceneaux presented Cooksey with a certificate signed by Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser.
“I’m speechless. … I just don’t know what to say,” Cooksey said after receiving the certificate. “All I know is that I love music, my family and I love the Lord, and I’m honored by this honor.
Cooksey plays banjo, mandolin, guitar and Dobro, a guitar with a resonator attached, but he specializes as an upright bass player. He has performed and recorded with many artists such as Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Mac Wiseman and former Governor Jimmie Davis.
In 2015 Cooksey was named Bassist of the Year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America, and for 12 years was named Bassist of the Year by the Magnolia State Bluegrass Association.
He said that for him the banjo is the most difficult stringed instrument to play and he is still trying to master the violin.
“I have three fiddles and I keep trying, but I can’t get a good squark out of any of them,” he said with a laugh.
In an interview, Cooksey said music came naturally to him through his mother and father, Leona Wilson Cooksey and Lonnie Cooksey Sr.
“My mother was a preacher and a musician, so I had a very good teacher very early in life,” he said. “I was the youngest of 13 kids and we had a great family. Mum and Dad loved to sing and make music, so it was only natural that some of us kids learned it from them. “
Cooksey said he started playing guitar when he was 7 years old.
“I was watching mom and dad play and paying attention to where they put their fingers on the strings, and before long I was playing too,” he said. “I started traveling with the family to play music when I was young, and it just became a pattern that I would follow for the rest of my life.”
He said his parents were both exceptional musicians and could play and sing without being able to read a note. He said the Cooksey Family Band had never needed sheet music or printed copies of the songs they sang.
“My dad could sit by a campfire when the sun went down and sing and play music all night and never sing the same song twice. He never got tired of playing. … When the rest of us wanted to stop, he’d say, ‘Come on, just one more song.’ He was something else,” Cooksey recalled.
Both of her parents are deceased, but the family tradition continues. The Cooksey Family Band morphed into the Cooksey Family Legacy when Cooksey Jr.’s children joined the band. Son Floyd and daughter Carla perform with him regularly, and other family members join the band from time to time.
“He’s just awesome…just a wonderful man,” Carla Cooksey said. “I’ve been traveling and playing with him since I was about 10 and grew up with music. It’s been a wonderful life.
“We had a bus that we traveled from performance to performance, and we grew up on that bus,” Floyd Cooksey said. “As kids, we slept on the shelves and wherever we could on the bus. It was a great ride.
Cooksey Jr. was born in Baton Rouge, lived for a time in Denham Springs, and now resides in Independence. Over the years, however, he traveled with bluegrass, country and gospel music groups and spent time in Nashville, Tennessee, the cultural center of country and bluegrass music.
“I hung out there for a while and saw musicians 10 times better than me walking the streets looking for a meal,” he said. “When I saw that, I realized I’d better go home and sing with my family, and I’ve never regretted that decision. Making music with my family gave me the most great joy for all.
Despite the accolades he has won, Cooksey remains humble.
“I’m grateful to be so honored and I appreciate those who gave me this honor, but really, I’m just a country boy who loves the Lord and loves to make music,” he said. -he declares. “It is a great honor to play music in churches because music is a gift from the Lord.”
Cooksey added that he had much to be grateful for.
“My faith, my family, my friends, my music…all of that is a blessing beyond what I could have hoped for, and that blessing is all I want in life. It was a good life and I don’t know if I could ask for anything else.