Ferriday native, country singer Mickey Gilley dies at 86

Published 9:04 pm Saturday, May 7, 2022

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FERRIDAY — Country singer and native son Mickey Gilley died Saturday. He was 86 and living in Branson. Born in Natchez, he grew up in Ferriday until he turned 16. 

His first cousin and former Vidalia mayor Hyram Copeland said he moved to Houston at a young age and got married. Two weeks ago, he had spoken to him on the phone and had no idea he was sick. Ever since Gilley broke his neck in 2009, he never complained about his situation, Copeland said. They were really close. 

Copeland actually lived with Gilley’s parents for a few years. Gilley’s music career began with Ferriday native Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart and was born out of the Assembly of God in Ferriday. The families were close knit, Copeland said. It was the gospel songs and a local cafe that got them started playing music. 

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“They would go up to the cafe and listen to the juke box and come back to my aunt’s piano and play a song just by what they listened to,” Copeland said. “They all played by ear when they first started. The talent just blossomed from there.” 

Professionally, Gilley got his start at clubs in Pasadena, Texas. His song “Room full of Roses” was his first hit and launched his career. In 1970 he opened up a honky tonk called Gilley’s Club, which inspired the movie Urban Cowboy. 

No matter how far away from home he got he never forgot about the place that made him. 

“I took his mother and daddy to Jackson when Urban Cowboy first came out. He sold the coliseum completely out,” Copeland said. “He told me I never thought I would be here playing in front of thousands of people like I am tonight. He came from Ferriday and was proud of it. He always took care of his family.” 

Ferriday meant so much to him he would return to the Miss-Lou to play concerts. If the tour bus passed close to Ferriday Gilley would make a detour by his mother’s house. She loved to cook for the band, Copeland said. 

What made the country star different from others is the man he was yesterday is the same he was today. Gilley rarely met a stranger. A special person, he left a long lasting impact on the community reflected in the calls Copeland got Saturday night from people in Ferriday. 

“He was an entertainer, it was what he enjoyed more than anything else,” Copeland said. 

In 2002, he was inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame which is in Ferriday.