IU professor Tyron Cooper takes home two regional Emmys for his music

Tyron Cooper is an assistant professor in Indiana University’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and serves as the director of IU Soul Revue. He’s also a devoted mentor, composer, ethnomusicologist and performer.

Tyron Cooper 2015

Tyron Cooper is the director of IU Soul Revue. Photos by Eric Rudd.

And, since Saturday, he is the winner of two regional Emmys.

Cooper won an award in the Musical Composition/Arrangement category for his original score for the WFYI documentary “Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier.” He also won in the Historical/Cultural Program or Special category as part of the WFYI and SALT team that created “Strange Fruit.”

“It is gratifying to know people are experiencing your work and acknowledging something you created,” he said.

Two sides of the state

In their own ways, both programs are Indiana stories.

Leonard was born in Terre Haute and played basketball on Indiana University’s 1953 NCAA national championship team. But, he didn’t stop there. He overcame his early hardships and eventually played professional basketball, coached the Indiana Pacers and later became a beloved announcer.

“Strange Fruit” tells a more somber story. The segment from “The Art of the Matter” commemorated the 75th anniversary of Billie Holiday’s signature song, sharing the dark and haunting story behind it. Despite its lyrics mentioning “the Southern breeze,” the song was based on the 1930 lynching of two young black men in Marion, Indiana.

At the end of the segment, Marietta Simpson, a professor of voice at the Jacobs School of Music, delivered a moving version of “Strange Fruit” with Cooper accompanying her on guitar. She also won a Lower Great Lakes region Emmy.

Team effort

“Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier” also earned Emmys for its writer and producer, Ted Green, in the Documentary and Writer-Program categories.

“Working with Ted Green is a new and refreshing experience every time,” Cooper said. “We have created a very unique relationship. He is an awesome producer and a really genuine person, which makes it so easy to go beyond the parameters of what I was hired to do. I welcome and value every opportunity to work with Ted.”

Tyron Cooper with an Emmy

Tyron Cooper won regional Emmys for his work on “Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier” and “Strange Fruit.”

On Saturday night, Green was the one who shared the good news — by text message:

“You just won an Emmy brother!”

Cooper’s first words back to him were “Get out of here!!!! For what?”

Before the premiere of “Bobby ‘Slick’ Leonard: Heart of a Hoosier,” Cooper spoke about his writing process in an Art at IU article.

Now, as he looked back, he said, “It challenged me to pull from everything I understood about the social and political aspects of various historical moments over the span of his (Leonard’s) lifetime.

“In the process of producing the soundtrack for his life experiences, I identified so much more about the broader American fabric. That, in turn, sparked my creativity to the fullest extent that I could offer at the time,” he said.

“More importantly, I gained so much respect for Mr. Leonard as a standup man of integrity and warm heart, who touched the lives of his players and broader community.”


Cooper said he greatly appreciates the opportunity to combine teaching with his other musical endeavors.

“I really thank my department and the head of the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Valerie Grim, who is very supportive. I also would like to thank my colleagues in the African American Arts Institute, who are all cheerleaders for each other. I want to make sure they know I am grateful they allow me the freedom and the autonomy to express my creative activity along with my scholarship.”

He also said he is indebted to his partner in music and life. “I am also grateful for my wife, Joii Cooper, who manages my performance career outside of the academy. We make a great team!”

Another Bloomington award

In other regional Emmy news, WTIU also won an award for the “Renew and Reclaim” episode of “The Weekly Special.” Among other stories, the program featured Delta Upsilon cyclist Tom Larson, who raced in the 2014 Little 500 after receiving a triple organ transplant.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,