Clara James “Penny” Copeland Passes at 90

Clara James “Penny” Copeland

NASHVILLE, TN — Mrs. Clara James “Penny” Copeland transitioned Friday, March 27, 2020, at the age of ninety.  Mrs. Copeland was one of Nashville’s premier gospel singers for more than seventy years and the widow of the late Reverend John L. Copeland, former pastor of Zion Baptist Church.  She retired from George W. Hubbard Hospital of Meharry Medical College as a licensed Medical Technician after thirty-two years of service.  Mrs  Copeland was also a member of the board of directors for the Phyllis Wheatley Homes.  She was known for her beautiful smile and her sweet and loving spirit.  Mrs. Copeland was a faithful member of the Zion Baptist Church, where she served as a mother of the church and was a former member of the Voices of Choir.

It was longtime Nashville disc jockey Clarence “Gilly Baby” Kilcrease who called her Nashville’s “First Lady of Gospel Music” during the 1970s.  Kilcrease frequently played her favorite rendition of “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” on his daily gospel program at radio station WVOL.  It was the golden era of Traditional Gospel music in Nashville, the 1970’s when she was the featured soloist on the 27th Anniversary album of the Voices of Zion.  Mrs. Copeland (throughout her seventy-plus years of singing in the Music City,) was a frequent soloist at worship services, gospel concerts, social gatherings, weddings, and funerals.  For more than fifty years, a Musical Anniversary Concert that was started by her friend and fellow gospel singer, the late Joseph Maples, was held in her honor.  Each year on the second Sunday in April, people would come to show their love for the royal lady of the gospel who never said: “No.” The crowd sat faithfully to the end to hear her sing songs like “My Heavenly Father Watches Over Me,” “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow,” and her two favorites, “How Great Thou Art,” and “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

She was always willing to use her gift of song to bring joy and comfort to others.  Mother Copeland, as she was affectionately called, loved people and spent her life helping and serving others.  Even when the years progressed, she still drove throughout the city singing and spreading joy whenever and wherever she was called.

Those left to cherish her memories are six loving children, Melba (Freddie) Carpenter, Alfred (Patty) Brown, Adriene (Shannon) Sanders, Stephen, Joyce and George Copeland, several grandchildren, a several other relatives and a myriad of dear friends.

A private service was held at Zion Baptist Church followed by burial at the Nashville National Veterans Cemetery, Madison, Tennessee.  A Musical Celebration will be held in her memory at a later date. 

Services arranged and directed by A. Brandon Starks, 615-329-9880

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