Town & Country Health and Rehab (T&C) residents got a special treat from one of their own for Christmas. Grammy Award winners Cox Family performed for residents, friends and guests at T&C's Resident Christmas Party on December 15.
Willard Cox, father, vocals and fiddle player of the famous group, has been a T&C resident since around September 2010. His family members have become regular visitors, too.
All in attendance enjoyed the performance, according to T&C resident Lois Lowe.
"They were wonderful," she said. "He can really sing, Mr. Cox can. I could listen to them every week. I love good singing."
Lowe said that she, Cox and a few others regularly play a version of dominoes called Chicken Foot.
"It was real funny when they started singing," she said. "He said something about chicken foot. We play chicken foot and he plays with us. So we all stood up and waved, there were about four or five of us."
Resident Leslie Avant, Jr., a fellow Cotton Valley native with the Cox Family, echoed Lowe's enjoyment of the performance.
"It was fine...fine," he said. "Half the people from Cotton Valley came. Anytime the Cox Family performs, at churches or a get-together, everybody shows up."
Avant spoke highly of the elder Cox, a sentiment clearly shared by all those at T&C who know him.
"I admire the man," he said. "He's a religious man and he hasn't given up."
Cox and wife Marie were in a car accident in July, 2000. Her injuries, while serious, were not as bad as his. His injuries still require him to be under almost constant care.
"The car wreck just put everything on hold," he said. "We had a lot of engagements on the books until a log truck run over me and my wife up in Cotton Valley. Broke my back and broke her up pretty good ... her collarbone, ribs and legs.
Cox said that despite her injuries being less severe, the accident exacted its own price on his wife.
"She had had breast cancer, and it finally took its toll on her," he said. "She never did quite recover from the wreck."
Marie Cox passed away in February of 2009.
The accident took its toll on the family's performing careers, as well.
"That pretty much shut the music down," Cox said. "The kids do a lot of shows, but they don't like to do them without me. I love to do it myself, and I try to encourage them to go on.
"We had the program worked up around all of us," he continued. "We all did singing and playing. It was kind of hard for them to start back over late in the game."
Cox said he was certain the group would be able to go on without him, because they all love the music too much.
"We all started together years ago when they were just starting in school," he said. "I always loved country music and it has become a way of life with me. I never wanted to be a star, I just love to be around people that played it."
Schoolwork was not as interesting to Cox when he was young. After World War II, entertainment was limited, and he was drawn to country and gospel music.
At around age 14, he became part of a school band.
"We'd play up at the school every Friday night," Cox said. "We never did make any money doing it, but we had a lot of fun."
He and Marie played together before they married in 1958, performing at houses of family and friends. Then came the children.
"They were integrated into the music business just by sitting around and listening to us," Cox said. "They learned the songs that we were singing."
The children eventually joined their parents, each learning an instrument and some multiple instruments. According to Cox, all took to the life of music performance as naturals.
The family first performed professionally at a schoolhouse in Calhoun, Arkansas around 1970. They then learned to promote themselves, booking shows around the region. Things took off from there, according to Cox.
Then, in the early 1990's, the Cox Family performed at a festival in Perrin, Texas on the same bill as Alison Kraus. She was highly impressed with the family.
Cox's son Sidney had already written a song, "I've Got That Old Feeling," which Kraus released in 1990 on an album of the same name.
"She was instrumental in getting us a contract with Rounder Records," Cox said. "Ken Irwin was the man that you had to see, and he didn't want to fool with any more acts at that time."
Kraus convinced Irwin to give them a shot, and he ultimately gave them a recording contract.
In the following years, the Cox Family built a reputation as one of the most respected country groups with their blend of traditional country, gospel and bluegrass.
They gained wider exposure when they opened for a tour of the Counting Crows, and as part of the soundtrack of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".
Cox expressed great pride in his family's talent, dedication and love for music, yet was very humble about his own.
"I never could play the fiddle," he said. "I just wanted to play so bad, but I couldn't. I just couldn't make the double stops and notes on it.
"And I told Tilman Franks one time, I said 'I can't play that fiddle, but I try so hard to play.'
"He said 'No, you can't play that fiddle but you sure do sell it good, so stay with it.'"