Spade Cooley

Spade Cooley, the “king of Western swing,” is best known for his musical success and the murder of his wife.


Spade Cooley was born December 17, 1910, in Pack Saddle Creek, Oklahoma. He moved with his impoverished family to Oregon for work and began playing the violin for extra money. He transitioned his talent into becoming one of the most popular fiddlers of the time. In an unexpected turn of events, he was convicted of murdering his wife in 1961.

Early Years

Born Donnell Clyde Cooley on December 17, 1910, in Pack Saddle Creek, Oklahoma. Spade Cooley was raised in an impoverished family. When he was four, his family moved to Oregon, and four years later, Cooley, who was part Cherokee,  was sent to the Chemewa Indian School. From a long line of fiddle players, he became adept at the fiddle and was soon playing at local dances.

Music and Acting Success

In the 1930s, Cooley was living in Los Angeles, where he took up acting and served as a stand-in for Roy Rogers, whom he resembled.

A quintessential American Western swing musician and big band leader, Cooley performed a record-breaking 18-month engagement at Santa Monica's Venice Pier Ballroom in the early 1940s. He is known for several hit singles, including "Shame on You," "Detour" and "You Can't Break My Heart."

Cooley, who nicknamed himself the "king of Western swing," parlayed his enormous popularity as a musician into a career in acting. He appeared in 38 westerns and hosted a syndicated television show called The Hoffman Hayride from 1949 to 1959.

Murder Charges

Spade Cooley's career came to a screeching halt in 1961 when he was charged with murdering his wife, Ella Mae Evans, after she expressed her wish to divorce him. Cooley suffered a heart attack during the trial when he was delivered his prison sentence. On November 23, 1969, while on temporary release from prison to play a benefit concert, he suffered a second heart attack, this time fatal.

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