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In memoriam: Eugene Cooper, 68

Eugene Cooper specialized in Chinese folk customs, speaking fluent Mandarin and Cantonese.

Indeed, as an accomplished musician and lover of bluegrass, Cooper had an unusual talent: singing Chinese folk songs in fluent Mandarin. In 2005, he was flown to Beijing as a finalist on the TV series, Arts of Our Land, a weeklong talent show featuring non-Chinese people performing Chinese arts.

He had impressed the show’s producers months earlier at his audition in Los Angeles, singing a famous Cultural Revolution song, bluegrass-style, in perfect Chinese. At the show’s finale — a live broadcast on Lunar New Year — he sang a country and western rendition of “Lift Up Your Veil,” a Chinese folk song about a husband’s first encounter with his bride, accompanying himself on guitar, to a television audience of more than 100 million. He took second place.

True to his beliefs

A diligent and stimulating adviser, Cooper read and responded to students’ work with interest, insight, speed and wit. He received the USC Mellon Award for Mentoring in 2008-09.

“He spoke his mind and challenged others to do the same,” Cool said. “Under the Brooklyn-tough exterior, he was always a mensch, a champion for social justice, whether on the scale of the world system or of nominating colleagues for recognition.”

Professor Andrei Simic was in Serbia when he heard of Cooper’s death.

He was in truth spontaneous, unself-conscious and authentic in a way that very few people are.

Andrei Simic

“The word that immediately comes to mind when thinking about Gene is ‘authentic,’ and he was in truth spontaneous, unself-conscious and authentic in a way that very few people are,” he said. “He was always true to his beliefs and values, which he expressed with courage and passion, even in the face of opposition and disapproval. Yet, at heart, he was a sincerely empathetic and kind human being whom I will miss more than I can adequately explain here. When I return to the department in January, I will do so with a heavy heart and will surely be conscious of the emotional and intellectual vacuum that has been left by Gene’s death.”

Cooper is survived by his sons, Raphael Cooper and Gabriel Cooper, his younger brother, Robert Cooper, and his wife, Xiao Zhen Zhang.

A private family cremation will be held on Oct. 26. A memorial service is being planned for a later date.

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