Sam Cooke

The late, great American gospel, R&B, soul, and pop singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur Sam Cooke was born January 22 1931 in Clarksdale Mississsippi United States. The family moved to Chicago in 1933. Cooke attended Doolittle Elementary and Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that Nat “King” Cole had attended a few years earlier. Sam Cooke began his career with his siblings in a group called the Singing Children when he was six years old. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway QC’s when he was a teenager, having joined the group at the age of 14. During this time, Cooke befriended fellow gospel singer and neighbor Lou Rawls, who sang in a rival gospel group.

In 1950, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R. H. Harris as lead singer of the gospel group the Soul Stirrers, founded by Harris, who had signed with Specialty Records on behalf of the group. Their first recording under Cooke’s leadership was the song “Jesus Gave Me Water” in 1951. They also recorded the gospel songs “Peace in the Valley”, “How Far Am I from Canaan?”, “Jesus Paid the Debt” and “One More River”, among many others, some of which he wrote. Cooke was often credited for bringing gospel music to the attention of a younger crowd of listeners, mainly girls who would rush to the stage when the Soul Stirrers hit the stage just to get a glimpse of Cooke.

His first pop/soul single was “Lovable” (1956), a remake of the gospel song “Wonderful”. It was released under the alias “Dale Cook” in order not to alienate his gospel fan base; there was a considerable stigma against gospel singers performing secular music. Art Rupe, head of Specialty Records, the label of the Soul Stirrers, gave his blessing for Cooke to record secular music under his real name, but he was unhappy about the type of music Cooke and producer Bumps Blackwell were making. Rupe expected Cooke’s secular music to be similar to that of another Specialty Records artist, Little Richard. When Rupe walked in on a recording session and heard Cooke covering Gershwin, he was quite upset. After an argument between Rupe and Blackwell, Cooke and Blackwell left the label. In 1957, Cooke appeared on ABC’s The Guy Mitchell Show. His first hit, “You Send Me,” released as the B-side of “Summertime,”

In 1961, Cooke started his own record label, SAR Records, with J. W. Alexander and his manager, Roy Crain. The label soon included the Simms Twins, the Valentinos (who were Bobby Womack and his brothers), Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm named Kags  before leaving Keen to sign with RCA Victor. Singles released by Cooke included “Chain Gang”, “Sad Mood”,”Cupid”,”Bring it on Home to Me” (with Lou Rawls on backing vocals), “Another Saturday Night”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away”. In 1963 Cooke signed a five-year contract for Allen Klein to manage Kags Music and SAR Records and made him his manager. Klein negotiated a five-year deal (three years plus two option years) with RCA in which a holding company, Tracey, Ltd, named after Cooke’s daughter, owned by Klein and managed by J. W. Alexander, would produce and own Cooke’s recordings. RCA would get exclusive distribution rights in exchange for 6 percent royalty payments and payments for the recording sessions. Like most R&B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles. Cooke was a prolific song writer and wrote most of the songs he recorderded which included 29 top 40 hits on the pop charts and more on the R&B charts. He also had a hand in overseeing some of the song arrangements. In spite of releasing mostly singles, he released a well-received blues-inflected LP in 1963, Night Beat, and his most critically acclaimed studio album, Ain’t That Good News, which featured five singles, in 1964.

Consequently Cooke is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music and is sometimes referred to as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music. His contribution in pioneering soul music led to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and popularized the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown. Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, and a further three after his death. Major hits like “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Cupid”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away” are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Sadly though Sam Cooke was fatally shot on 11 December 1964 by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and that the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. The first funeral service for Cooke was held on December 18, 1964, at A. R. Leak Funeral Home in Chicago; 200,000 fans lined up for more than four city blocks to view his body. Afterward, his body was flown back to Los Angeles for a second service, at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church on December 19, which included a much-heralded performance of “The Angels Keep Watching Over Me” by Ray Charles, who stood in for grief-stricken Bessie Griffin. Cooke was interred in the Garden of Honor, Lot 5728, Space 1, at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Two singles and an album were released in the month after his death. One of the singles, “Shake”, reached the top ten of both the pop and R&B charts. The B-side, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, is considered a classic protest song from the era of the Civil Rights Movement .It was a top 40 pop hit and a top 10 R&B hit. The album, also titled Shake, reached the number one spot for R&B albums. After Cooke’s death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke’s daughter, Linda, later married Womack’s brother, Cecil.

Bertha Franklin said she received numerous death threats after shooting Cooke. She left her position at the Hacienda Motel and did not publicly disclose where she had moved. After being cleared by the coroner’s jury, she sued Cooke’s estate, citing physical injuries and mental anguish suffered as a result of Cooke’s attack. Barbara Womack countersued Franklin on behalf of the estate, seeking $7,000 in damages to cover Cooke’s funeral expenses. Elisa Boyer provided testimony in support of Franklin in the case. In 1967, a jury ruled in favor of Franklin on both counts, awarding her $30,000 in damages.

Since his tragic death cooke has received many posthumous honours; In 1986, Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1986, funk supergroup Cameo performed a concert in Los Angeles to commemorate what would have been Cooke’s 55th birthday. The performance consisted of Sam Cooke hits and Cameo originals with lyrical changes to honor the singer. The performance closed with a mash-up of Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away” and Cameo’s “Word Up” and the band leading the audience in singing Happy Birthday to Cooke. In 1987, Cooke was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1994, Cooke received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the music industry, located on 7051 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1999, Cooke was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 16th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and In 2008, Cooke was named the fourth “Greatest Singer of All Time” by Rolling Stone. In 2011 A portion of East 36th Street near Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago, was renamed “Sam Cooke Way” near a corner where he hung out and sang as a teenager. In 2013 Cooke was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University. The founder of the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame Museum, LaMont Robinson, said he was the greatest singer ever to sing. The Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame Museum will be built in Cooke’s hometown of Clarksdale, MS.

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