You may have heard Rose Cooper singing while she rides her Harley-Davidson throughout Greater Lansing. We spent an afternoon with her to bring you her story.
Matthew Dae Smith, Lansing State Journal
LANSING — Occasionally, Rose Cooper sees a post on social media about a woman who rides a motorcycle through Lansing while blasting the radio.
It’s not a radio. It’s Cooper singing.
“I have my mother’s lungs,” said Cooper, 56.
The Lansing resident spends hours every day riding her Harley-Davidson. She plugs in her headphones and sings along to her iPod playlist, which is mostly Prince, jazz, gospel and show tunes.
Her vocal stylings attract honks, waves and the occasional middle finger. But, she keeps her eyes on the road and hardly notices the reactions.
“People think it’s an act,” Cooper said. “I’m not acting. This is just what I do.”
Singing calms her when she’s feeling exposed on the open road.
“It’s kind of scary out there,” said Cooper, who began riding motorcycles nearly 30 years ago. “Feels like everybody’s trying to kill you.”
If Cooper has hesitations about riding, she doesn’t show it. Robin Miner-Swartz, a longtime friend, calls Cooper “fearless.”
Miner-Swartz, a former film critic for the Lansing State Journal, met Cooper when Cooper was reviewing films through a blog called “3 Black Chicks.”
“She has so much happiness and enthusiasm oozing out of her,” Miner-Swartz said. “She has not taken a traditional path through life.”
After dropping out of college decades earlier, Cooper graduated from Michigan State University at age 49 with an emphasis in Korean language.
Cooper’s passion for the language developed when she traveled to South Korea to see her son, who had married a Korean woman after being stationed abroad through the military.
Cooper returned to Korea in 2011 for a study abroad program. There, in her late 40s, she had to adjust to dorm life with a curfew and a 16-year-old roommate.
A sign outside her dorm in Korea warned students that singing was prohibited on campus. Cooper broke that rule to stand on the lawn and sing a goodbye song.
“I figured, I’m leaving. What can they do?” Cooper said. “It was just something I wanted to do as a thank you to my fellow students.”
When she returned to MSU, Cooper took the university’s then-President Lou Anna Simon for a motorcycle ride. Simon was shy about belting out MSU’s fight song, but Cooper made it clear singing was non-negotiable.
Her bike, her rules.
“I cannot make myself ride and not sing,” Cooper said. “The only time I don’t have joy on my bike is when my iPod dies.”
The Detroit native is cutting back on motorcycle rides this week so she can rest her voice for her role as a steelworker in “Sweat” at the Riverwalk Theatre.
Cooper acts and performs spoken-word poetry, although she has no formal theater training. Her nickname in slam poetry circles is “Sonic Boom.”
She retired from an IT position at MSU last year and plans to spend her free time making art.
“I’m not your typical actress,” Cooper said. “I’m an older woman. I’m overweight. I wear my hair naturally. I don’t wear makeup. Everything about me is anti-stage, anti-theater, anti-fame and somehow I think I still fit in this world.”
She added, “I think it’s because I’m real and people see that.”
Longtime Lansing resident Merrill Jennings has noticed Cooper for years, although he never knew her name.
“I knew this woman was driving along and singing very loudly,” Jennings said. “That’s good to see.”
Alexis Rosado, another Lansing resident, has admired Cooper from afar.
“I’ve seen her singing and I was like, ‘I wanna talk to that girl,”https://www.google.com/” said Rosado, the owner of a Lansing-based marketing agency. “But, she’s always riding so I’ve never had a chance to talk to her. I guess you could say I’m a fan of Rose.”
It’s baffling, Cooper said, to be treated like a local celebrity.
Cops have pulled her over, she said, which made her nervous until it became clear she wasn’t going to get a ticket. They just wanted to meet Lansing’s singing motorcyclist.
Spotting Rose riding through town is a local pastime, akin to the excitement of “catching a rare Pokemon,” said Masaki Takahashi, who met Cooper through MSU’s Slam Poetry Team.
Cooper clocked more than 70,000 miles on her first Harley Davidson. It broke her heart when her mechanic crashed that bike, but now she has a new Harley that she calls “Minwoo” after the Korean name of her six-year-old grandson. One day, he’ll inherit the bike.
Cooper lives in the Tecumseh Park neighborhood with her husband, another motorcycle enthusiast. Her two grown sons and their families are nearby.
Cooper rides rain or shine. As long as there’s no snow on the ground, you might catch her cruising through Lansing with her long dreadlocks flowing the wind.
You’re unlikely to see Cooper on a Lime scooter, however. She tried riding one of the dockless vehicles and doesn’t plan to repeat the experience.
“I’m a badass biker chick, but those scooters scare the crap out of me,” Cooper said.
Contact reporter Sarah Lehr at (517) 377-1056 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SarahGLehr.
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