Cooke, Sam 1931—1964
Sam Cooke 1931—1964
Sam Cooke was one of the first African American performers to bridge the falsely-created gap between “black” and “white” music in the 1950s. In a career that began with singing gospel in Chicago churches and landed him on the Tonight Show crooning R&B pop songs in the 1960s, the movie-star-handsome Cooke rose to become one of rock and roll’s earliest pop stars, and was among the most worshipped performers of his generation. His best-known hits were “You Send Me” and “Chain Gang,” and his success helped lay the groundwork for numerous African American performers to follow. Yet the singer was also a savvy entrepreneur who retained tight artistic and financial control over his career in an age when wide-scale cheating and fraud were common to the record industry.
Overshadowing his photogenic smile and business acumen, however, were Cooke’s distinctive tenor and his unique, shivery way of hitting the high notes; this style would later become a trademark of soul singers like Otis Redding and Al Green, but it was something he had perfected ages ago when singing lead in a gospel quartet that sometimes pitched their harmonies too high by habit. It was this borrowing from one African American musical genre to help create another that added to Cooke’s achievement, and made his untimely death all the more tragic. “Like Aretha Franklin … Cooke was one of the clearest embodiments of the tension between the sacred and the secular that continues to define the American cultural and political landscapes,” wrote The Nation’s Gene Santoro.
Cooke was born January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, the heart of Mississippi’s Delta country. His father, Charles Cook Sr. (the “e” was added later by his son) was a Pentecostal minister who also worked as a domestic servant. When economic repercussions from the Great Depression worsened the already-hardscrabble life in the Delta region, Charles Cook moved to Chicago and found work there as an assistant pastor, and soon sent for his family. Sam Cooke and his siblings—Mary, Hattie, Agnes, brothers David, L.C., and Willie—lived in an apartment on Cottage Grove Avenue located in what has been termed the nation’s first true African American urban neighborhood, Bronze ville. Their lives were regimented by church and school; a typical Sunday would
At a Glance…
Born Samuel Cook, January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, MS; died of a gunshot wound, December 11, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Charles (a Pentecostal minister and domestic servant) and Annie May (Carl) Cook; married Dolores Mohawk, October, 1953 (divorced, 1958); married Barbara Campbell, 1959; children: (with Campbell) Linda, Tracey, Vincent (deceased).
Career: Began as teenage singer with the gospel quartet the Highway QCs, late 1940s; joined the Soul Stirrers, 1951; made several gospel records with them and toured extensively; began solo career in 1957 with the pop single “Lovable”; formed own music-pubiishing company and management agency, late 1950s; signed with RCA Records, 1960; wrote and recorded several Top Forty hits in the early 1960s.
begin with church services at six in the morning and continue through the evening with more services, choir, and bible-study classes.
Cooke began singing in the church choir at age six. By the time he was in his teens, he and his siblings had formed a singing group that was actually earning them pocket money. Though his training was in gospel music, Cooke was also known to sneak into bars and sing for money by himself, providing him with a glimpse into another, less holy kind of urban life. In high school Cooke began singing with the Highway QCs, a gospel quartet and one of many in his hometown at the time. It was an extremely popular format: the quartets—with their tight vocal harmonies sung a cappella style—were a near-secular version of gospel music that played to packed church audiences. Cooke’s angelic lead voice, combined with his winning smile and onstage charm, made him a star from the start. He was a popular teenager at Wendell Phillips High School, and he had many girlfriends, but not long after graduation Cooke ran into trouble with the law and spent three months in Cook County jail. Some pornographic material then popular among teenagers had found its way into the elementary school classroom of one of his girlfriends, and the minister’s son was arrested on a morals charge.
The setback may have shown Cooke how easy it was to be lured into sin in the urban world, and how difficult it was to get back on track after an experience with the racist and extremely dangerous criminal justice system in a large Northern city. After his release, Cooke resumed his work with the QCs, and one of their first big breaks came when they were invited to Detroit to sing at the Reverend C. L. Franklin’s church. The New Bethel Baptist Church was already becoming a famous stage for gospel acts, and the exposure of Franklin’s young daughter, Aretha, to all of this would later make her a star. Another coup came when the QCs were invited to Memphis to sing on the radio on WDIA, at the time a well-known and influential black radio station in the South.
The Highway QCs, however, were but a copy of Bronzeville’s most famous gospel quartets, the Soul Stirrers, and when the Stirrers’ lead singer quit in 1951, Cooke was invited to replace him. Soon he was earning $50 a week on tour with the group, who enjoyed a far-flung fan base. The paycheck was hard-earned, however: the quartet crisscrossed the South—during an era when any African American in any kind of car was reason enough to be stopped and questioned by local police—to sing to sold-out church audiences. Some years they traveled up to 100,000 miles over twelve months.
The Soul Stirrers became extremely popular with Cooke as frontman; the original members were older, and Cooke possessed star appeal and loved to play to the crowd. Teen girls began crowding the stage at their shows, which was unusual in gospel audiences—though older women had no qualms about showing enthusiasm for the music; this was considered as evidence their music had rightly invoked the Holy Spirit. Soul crooner Wilson Pickett once noted, “Them sisters fell like dominoes when Sam took the lead,” according to Life. When Cooke joined, the Soul Stirrers had just signed a recording contract, and in short time they traveled to Los Angeles to record for the Specialty label, owned by a white gospel impresario named Art Rupe. These singles “capture his finest vocal moments,” wrote Joe McEwen in an essay on Cooke in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. “He never sang songs that were more erotic or buoyant than the love songs he sang about his Lord,” he added.
Cooke’s recording career with the Soul Stirrers faded along with the popularity of gospel during the 1950s. The singles—”Peace in the Valley” (1951, their first and most successful), “How Far Am I from Canaan?” (1952), “Jesus Paidthe Debt” (1953), “One More River” (1955)—became fewer and far between, and each sold less and less. But it was during this era that Cooke perfected a signature vocal trick that would later make him famous. One night in 1953, when he was singing “How Far Am I from Canaan?,” Cooke could not hit the high notes—sometimes the others pitched it too high out of habit for their former lead singer—so “he just floated under,” onetime Soul Stirrer and later Cooke’s manager S. R. (Roy) Crain remembered in You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. “The technique,” wrote author Daniel Wolff, “fit in beautifully with the Soul Stirrers’ tight, light harmonies. It was… an urban sound: cool, sophisticated, and yet shot through with emotion.” The audience, Crain and gospel-scene colleague J. W. Alexander remembered, went wild in response.
Gospel Gave Way
As his star rose, and with little real home life, Cooke was enjoying the perks of a musician’s life. He had a child out of wedlock with his high-school girlfriend, Barbara Campbell, but the following year married another woman, Dolores Mohawk, whom he had met in California. As the decade progressed, Cooke saw that religious music was losing ground as rock and roll—in many ways, a less threatening hybrid version of several black musical traditions—gained in popularity. A producer named Robert “Bumps” Blackwell soon joined Specialty, and brought his talent for making successful R&B records—“Long Tall Sally” with Little Richard had been his creation. Blackwell noticed the way audiences responded to Cooke onstage and thought he should be making pop records. Yet in the world of gospel, even the suggestion of such was heresy. Among the performers, fans, and behind-the-scenes people, there was a high wall separating religious-themed music and that of the “devil.” To scale that wall was the worst sin a gospel singer could commit.
In 1956, Cooke wrote his first pop song, “Lovable,” and recorded it on the sly with Blackwell under the name Dale Cook. It was not a success, and many of Cooke’s fans saw through the ruse immediately since his tenor was so distinctive. He tried to say it had been done by his brother “Dale,” but few believed him. Rupe was not happy about the crossover anyway, and Specialty failed to promote it. When the label president discovered Cooke and Blackwell recording another pop song one night with white background singers—a serious transgression in gospel—he became angry and fired Black-well on the spot. According to Wolff’s biography, Rupe looked around the studio and hired a hanger-on who had been looking for work at the label; it was Sonny Bono’s first big break.
In his anger, Rupe also signed away the rights to the track that Cooke and Blackwell were working on that day, “You Send Me.” Thus Blackwell and Cooke signed with a fledgling pop label, Keen Records, and released their single in September of 1957. “You Send Me” hit No. 1 on both the R&B and pop charts and sold 1.7 million copies—and lawyers for Specialty began looking for a cut. Rupe was reportedly livid about Cooke’s success as a solo artist, and to skirt legal entanglements both Cooke and Keen executives quickly decided to credit the songwriting on “You Send Me” to L. C. Cooke, Sam’s brother, to avoid paying publishing royalties to Specialty. (The song had technically been written while Cooke was still under contract to them as a songwriter).
Such legal headaches made Cooke determined to retain legal and financial control over his artistic career from then on. He soon became partners with J. W. Alexander in the already-formed KAGS Music, his friend and advisor’s song publishing company. This meant Cooke would receive his own royalties. It was groundbreaking at the time for artist to have financial control over his songbook; only Berry Gordy, founder of Motown, would later outdo Cooke in establishing himself outside a cutthroat recording industry known for its dishonest practices. Racism seemed a fact of life in the entertainment industry. The same year “You Send Me” hit No. 1, Cooke’s last-place slot on the Ed Sullivan Show was cut off due to time constraints—an insult seen as deliberate by his African American fans. The slight only spurred records sales, and Sullivan gave Cooke what amounted to a fawning apology when he was rebooked a few months later. In one incident in New Jersey, Cooke and the band had stopped at a roadside restaurant, and the waitress there refused to take their order; when someone put “You Send Me” on the jukebox she continued to ignore them while swooning at the jukebox to her favorite song, completely unaware who the men were.
Cooke was originally positioned by Keen as a teen idol for African American girls, but it soon became clear that white audiences found his style appealing as well. The early years of rock and roll were marked by odd rules of conduct seemingly aimed at stifling the cross-cultural appeal of the music: in the South, segregated audiences were common, divided by a rope between whites (right and center of stage) and Negroes (to the left). In live shows on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, police would become belligerent and menacing if white teenagers got up to dance. Cooke also made history by appearing on one of the first mixed bills in the South in the fall of 1958, when he played with Danny and the Juniors and Conway Twitty, among others; still, the event was plagued by threats of trouble from the local Ku Klux Klan.
In 1958 Cooke wrote and released several singles for Keen, including “Stealing Kisses” and “Win Your Love,” but none did as well as “You Send Me.” Some encouraged him to give up rock and segue over to a more upscale audience. In 1958, he appeared at New York’s priciest supper club, the Copacabana, in some awkward performances which soured him on the idea of moving “up.” He instead grew resistant to the idea of what he felt was “selling out” to white audiences, as he noticed some of his fellow performers had done, and approached the dilemma from another angle: the following year, he toured with Jackie Wilson, brought in huge crowds, and was able to force one promoter in the South to desegregate the seating.
Meanwhile, Cooke’s personal life was as melodramatic as ever. He divorced Mohawk, but then nearly died in a car accident shortly thereafter (it put fellow passenger Lou Rawls into a coma); later a despondent Mohawk was killed after driving into a tree while intoxicated. There were paternity suits from women claiming to have had his child, but in 1959 he married Barbara Campbell, the mother of his daughter Linda. The ceremony was performed in Chicago by his father.
Cooke’s second marriage coincided with his pursuit of a more solid foundation for his artistic abilities than the small Keen label. He desired a major-label contract, and with it the powerful manager and solid marketing people who would push his records. Cooke’s decision to leave Keen ignited a bidding war among the big labels, and it was the team of Hugo (Peretti) & Luigi (Creatore), two cousins who were A&R men at RCA, who managed to lure Cooke there. After Harry Belafonte, a calypso singer, Cooke was RCA’s first significant African American signee. His first single for the label, “Teenage Sonata,” was released in early 1960 to dismal results, but its follow-up, “Wonderful World,” released in April, fared much better; his third that year, August’s “Chain Gang,” gave him another gold record. The song had been inspired by call-and-response tunes Cooke and his fellow bandmates had heard from the prison work gangs as they drove through in the South—virtually the modern-day version of the slave spiritual. Cooke wrote, arranged, and produced “Chain Gang,” and devised its unusual percussion: a stick hitting a leather stool instead of the drum, and banging the microphone on the base to get the clanky “chain” sound.
Cooke had formed his own label, SAR, in 1959, and the first act he signed was the Soul Stirrers, whose career had declined considerably after Cooke’s departure. SAR headquarters, at 6425 Hollywood Boulevard, was also home to several other gospel and R&B acts, including Lou Rawls, Billy Preston, and a young Cleveland family of gospel singers known as the Womacks. Cooke’s excellent ear for pop hits gave him the confidence to experiment with different musical styles in his solo career on RCA. Most of Cooke’s singles for the label charted in the Top Forty. In the summer of 1962 he released “Bring It on Home to Me,” cited by McEwen as “perhaps the first record to define the soul experience” for its audacious borrowing directly from the gospel call-and-response style and the seen-it-all mood of Cooke’s vocals. Its B-side, “Having a Party,” also fared well, and remained an unusual statement on the cross-racial appeal of Cooke’s music: the song begins as an innocuous, assuredly “white” party, and by the time of its close the background sounds disclose a far hipper, more raucous bash.
Cooke still toured extensively in early Sixties—including several dates with an eighteen-year-old Aretha Franklin in 1961—but made his home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. He and Barbara had two more children, and friends remembered him as generous with his fortune, on some occasions buying cars or fur coats as gifts for no reason. Yet fame brought with it its own difficulties: in the summer of 1962 Cooke was plagued by a bizarre rumor that he was suffering from leukemia, was near death, and planned to donate his eyes to Ray Charles; other versions had him already dead. The unsubstantiated gossip bothered him greatly. “In the Clarksdale of Sam’s infancy,” wrote Wolff, “there were whispers that pacts with the devil—strange midnight transactions—gave people unearthly artistic power. This was like some modern version of that payback.”
Real tragedy did befall Cooke, however, in June of 1963, when his eighteen-month-old son Vincent drowned in the family swimming pool. Friends marked this incident as a turning point in his life, as Wolff’s biography recounts, and afterward the singer grew far more introverted and sought solace in alcohol. At the same time, Cooke would need his full range of talents to counter the coming changes in popular music. By 1963 the British invasion and the Motown sound were making huge inroads into the charts. Cooke hired Allen Klein as his new manager. Klein was an accountantturned-management impresario famous for auditing record-company books and forcing them to pay past-due royalties to artists. Cooke also toured England with Little Richard. Audiences were responsive, but Cooke felt ostracized by” the general public. In his hotel room one night, Cooke penned “Another Saturday Night” there, which yielded him another No. 1 hit and his biggest success of 1963. That year his SAR label also released a song by Valentinos (actually the Womack Brothers), “It’s All Over Now,” which was immediately covered by the Rolling Stones and became one of their first huge hits.
Cooke’s life came to a mysterious, scandal-obscured end one night in December of 1964, when he checked into a motel on South Figueroa in the rough Watts section of Los Angeles with a woman who had a criminal record for prostitution. He and Lisa Boyer had met earlier at a restaurant, where Cooke’s companions there remembered him pulling out a large wad of cash—as he usually carried on him—when it came time to pay for drinks. Both the cash, his license, and credit cards and a ring were missing when police arrived and found him dead in the motel manager’s office later that night. The manager, Bertha Lee Franklin, claimed that Cooke--looking for Boyer who had fled with his clothes and money-had kicked down the door and lunged at her, so she shot him in self-defense. His last words were, “Lady, you shot me.”
Upon hearing radio reports of his death, fans began congregating outside the seedy motel. At the coroner’s inquest a few days later, Boyer claimed she had been kidnapped, the Cooke family lawyer was not allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, and in the end the jury ruled it justifiable homicide. Several outrageous conspiracy theories were heard, but it was more likely that the police’s slipshod investigation had failed to look more probingly into the matter. Two funerals for Cooke were held, in Chicago and Los Angeles, and at the latter Ray Charles sang “Angels Watching Over Me.” Outside both were agitated mobs of grief-stricken fans. Two months later, Cooke’s widow became the wife of Bobby Womack when the young singer reached the age of twenty-one and could marry without consent. Supposedly Cooke had died without a will, and his widow and Cooke’s former business associates battled in court for years over his estate and royalty rights.
RCA released “Shake” eleven days after Cooke’s death, but the song’s B-side, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” may have been more indicative of Cooke’s legacy to black music. The song was reportedly inspired by the Bob Dylan protest song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and he had performed it on the Tonight Show shortly before his death. “Curtained with shimmering strings,” wrote McE-wen in the Rolling Stone homage, “and anchored by a dirgelike drumbeat, ‘Change,’ like Martin Luther King’s final speech, in which he told his followers he had been to the mountaintop, was appropriately ominous, as if to anticipate the turbulent years facing black America,” he continued. Cooke was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one its first honorees in 1986.
(With the Soul Stirrers; on Specialty Records)
“Peace in the Valley,” 1951.
“Come, Let’s Go Back to God,” 1951.
“I’m Gonna Build on That Shore,” 1951.
“How Far Am I from Canaan?” 1952.
“Just Another Day,” 1952.
“Jesus Paid the Debt,” 1953.
“He’ll Welcome Me,” 1953.
“He’s My Friend Until the End,” 1954.
“Jesus, I’ll Never Forget,” 1954.
“Nearer to Thee,” 1955.
“One More River,” 1955.
“Touch the Hem of His Garment,” 1956.
(as solo artist)
“Lovable,” Specialty, 1957.
“You Send Me,” Keen, 1957.
“I’ll Come Running Back to You,” Specialty, 1957.
“For Sentimental Reasons,” Keen, 1957.
“I Don’t Want to Cry,” Specialty, 1958.
“You Were Made for Me,” Keen, 1958.
“Stealing Kisses,” Keen, 1958.
“Win Your Love,” Keen, 1958.
“Love You Most of All,” Keen, 1958.
“Everybody Likes to Cha Cha,” Keen, 1959.
“Only Sixteen,” Keen, 1959.
“Summertime,” Keen, 1959.
“I Need You Now,” Specialty, 1959.
“There I’ve Said It Again,” Keen, 1959.
“T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness,” Keen, 1959.
“Teenage Sonata,” RCA, 1960.
“You Understand Me,” RCA, 1960.
“Wonderful World,” Keen, 1960.
“With You,” Keen, 1960.
“Chain Gang,” RCA, 1960.
“So Glamorous,” Keen, 1960.
“Sad Mood,” RCA, 1960.
“Mary Mary Lou,” Keen, 1960.
“That’s It—I Quit—I’m Movin’ On,” RCA, 1961.
“Cupid,” RCA, 1961.
“Feel It,” RCA, 1961.
“Twistin the Night Away,” RCA, 1962.
“Bring It on Home to Me,” RCA, 1962 (B-side, “Having a Party”).
“Nothing Can Change This Love,” RCA, 1962.
“Send Me Some Lovin’,” RCA, 1962.
“Another Saturday Night,” RCA, 1963.
“Cool Train,” RCA, 1963.
“Little Red Rooster,” RCA, 1963.
“Ain’t That Good News,” RCA, 1964.
“Good Times,” RCA, 1964.
“Cousin of Mine,” RCA, 1964.
“Shake,” RCA, 1964 (B-side, “A Change Is Gonna Come”).
Sam Cooke: The Man and His Music, RCA, 1986.
Sam Cooke With the Soul Stirrers, Specialty, 1991.
The Great 1955 Shrine Concert, Specialty, 1993. Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story, 1959-1965, ABKCO, 1994.
Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, edited by Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, Random House, 1992, pp. 135-138.
Wolff, Daniel, with S. R. Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tenenbaum, You Send Me: The Life & Times of Sam Cooke, William Morrow, 1995.
Entertainment Weekly, December 10, 1993, p. 88.
Guitar Player, June 1996, p. 132.
Jet, January 27, 1997, p. 20.
Life, December 1993, p. 28.
Nation, March 13, 1995, p. 357.
"Cooke, Sam 1931—1964." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cooke-sam-1931-1964
"Cooke, Sam 1931—1964." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cooke-sam-1931-1964
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American Psychological Association
Soul singer Sam Cooke was acclaimed as “a bravura vocal stylist who blazed the path for a generation of singers from Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett to Aretha Franklin and AI Green,” by Jim Miller in Newsweek.A prominent feature on the music scene from the early 1950s, when he sang with the black gospel group the Soul Stirrers, through a solo pop career that ended when he was shot to death in late 1964, Cooke “became famous for letting his voice glide over every syllable of a song in a sustained lyrical caress,” according to Miller. Popular with black and white audiences alike, Cooke—who wrote most of his own material—is remembered for such hit songs as “You Send Me,” “Only Sixteen,” “Wonderful World,” “Cupid,” and “Chain Gang.”
Cooke, one of eight children in his family, was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, the Reverend Charles Cooke, was a Baptist minister, and Sam began singing gospel songs in his father’s church as a child. While still attending Chicago’s Wendell Phillips High School, he and one of his brothers sang in a gospel group called the Highway Q.C.’s. But Cooke did not begin to achieve fame for his vocal abilities until he joined the already well-established Soul Stirrers.
Cooke quickly became the Soul Stirrers’ featured tenor, and sang the lead on their hits “Pilgrim of Sorrow” and “Touch the Hem of His Garment.” Gene Busnar asserted in his book, It’s Rock’n’Roll, that “many knowledgeable listeners consider these two gospel performances the best of [Cooke’s] career.” In addition, Cooke, “with his good looks and dreamy voice…lowered the age of the average female attendee of a gospel program by about thirty years,” according to Ed Ward in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll.
But even while a Soul Stirrer, Cooke was showing interest in more secular forms of musical expression. He released a pop single called “Loveable” in 1956 on the Specialty label that recorded the Stirrers’ music, but was credited with the name “Dale Cooke” instead of his own. Art Rupe, the owner of Specialty, feared that the Stirrers’ fans would be offended at their lead singer cutting a pop tune. He also felt that Cooke’s voice was too mellow and smooth to make much of a dent in the pop music scene, and tried to discourage the singer from following that direction. Cooke did record a few more pop tunes for Specialty, however, including “I’ll Come Running Back to You.”
Despite Rupe’s negative attitude, Cooke was undaunted in his mainstream musical ambitions. He left the Stirrers, and with Bumps Blackwell—who had produced his pop efforts for Specialty—broke with Rupe and signed with the fledgling label, Keen. Cooke’s first hit for Keen was the 1957 release that he wrote with his
Born January 22, 1935 (some sources say 1931 or 1932), in Chicago, III.; died of gunshot wounds, December 11, 1964, in Los Angeles, Calif.; son of Charles (a Baptist minister); married Barbara Campbell, October 1959. Education: Attended Wendell Phillips High School, Chicago, III.
Singer, songwriter. Singer with gospel group the Highway Q.C.’s, c. 1950; featured singer with gospel group the Soul Stirrers during early 1950s; solo vocalist, c. 1957-64; record producer on Sar label during early 1960s.
brother, L. C. Cooke, “You Send Me,” which sold 1.7 million copies in 1957 alone.
Cooke was an instant solo success; the “B” side of “You Send Me,” “Summertime,” also made the charts, and he followed this up with another double-sided hit released later in the year, “Desire Me,” and “For Sentimental Reasons.” As Busnar explained, these songs “introduced the public to a voice that was unlike any that they had ever heard. Cooke had a delicate but intense voice. His clear diction and timbre reminded some people of Nat King Cole. But Cooke had a depth of emotion below his polish which Cole could not touch.”
Cooke had several other hits for Keen, including “Win Your Love For Me,” “Everybody Likes to Cha-Cha-Cha,” “Only Sixteen,” and “Wonderful World” before moving to RCA in 1960. His first big hit for his new label was “Chain Gang,” a song describing the sufferings of convict labor that rose to second place on the record charts. In 1961 he released “Cupid,” his hit song of supplication to the Roman god of love, and in 1962 he capitalized on the new dance craze, the Twist, with “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
Cooke also introduced black phrases into the popular music lover’s vocabulary with songs like his 1962 hit “Bring It on Home to Me,” on which he was backed up by soul singer Lou Rawls in a call and response style, and his posthumous release “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which gave new social overtones to a familiar black expression. In the early 1960s Cooke was also working as a record producer on his own independent label, Sar, which released cuts like “Soothe Me,” by the Sims Twins, and “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day,” by Johnny Taylor.
The circumstances surrounding Cooke’s death are somewhat cloudy. In December 1964 he was vacationing in Los Angeles, California. In Rock of Ages Geoffrey Stokes claimed that Cooke, though he had married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Campbell, in 1959, checked into a motel room with Elisa Boyer as Mr. and Mrs. Cooke. He allegedly tried to rape her, and she fled. In the confusion that ensued, Cooke pounded at the motel manager’s door, “eventually breaking in on the 55-year old manager, Bertha Franklin. She shot him three times with a .22 revolver…. He was dead when the police arrived.” Despite the sordid aspects of his death, Cooke was perceived as a martyr by many of his fans, according to Miller. “Thousands of distraught fans mobbed A. R. Leak’s Funeral Home in Chicago to catch a last glimpse of their idol,” Miller noted. Cooke left some recorded but unreleased material when he died, thus 1965 added “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Shake” to his list of hit records.
Composer of numerous songs, including (with brother, L.C. Cooke) “Another Saturday Night,” “Bring It On Home to Me,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Cupid,” “Frankie and Johnnie,” “Good News,” “Having a Party,” “It’s Got the Whole World Shakin’,” “Shake,” “Sweet Soul Music,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
Major single releases
(Under name Dale Cooke) “Loveable,” Specialty, 1956.
“You Send Me,” Keen, 1957.
“For Sentimental Reasons,” Keen, 1957.
“There, I’ve Said It Again,” Keen, 1959.
“Wonderful World,” Keen, 1960.
“Chain Gang,” RCA, 1960.
“Cupid,” RCA, 1961.
“Twistin’ the Night Away,” RCA, 1962.
“Bring It on Home to Me,” RCA, 1962.
“Another Saturday Night,” RCA, 1963.
“Little Red Rooster,” RCA, 1963.
“Ain’t That Good News?” RCA, 1964.
“Shake,” RCA, 1965.
“A Change Is Gonna Come,” RCA, 1965.
Best of Sam Cooke Volume 1, RCA, 1962.
Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke, Specialty, 1964.
Gospel Soul Volume 2, Specialty, 1965.
Best of Sam Cooke Volume 2, RCA, 1965.
Unforgettable Sam Cooke, RCA, 1966.
Man Who Invented Soul, RCA, 1968.
Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, RCA, 1985.
Also featured vocalist on gospel recordings by the Soul Stirrers, including “Pilgrim of Sorrow,” and “Touch the Hem of His Garment.”
Busnar, Gene, It’s Rock’n’Roll, Messner, 1979.
Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Summit Books, 1986.
Newsweek, June 3, 1985.
"Cooke, Sam." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cooke-sam
"Cooke, Sam." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cooke-sam
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Cooke, Sam , one of the most popular and influential black singers to emerge in the late 1950s; b. Clarksdale, Miss., Jan. 2 or 22, 1931 (although some claim Chicago, Jan. 2 or 22, 1935); d. Los Angeles, Calif., Dec. 11, 1964. The son of Reverend Charles Cooke, Sam Cooke was raised in Chicago where he was a member of the family gospel quartet, the Singing Children, at age nine. Performing in the gospel group The Highway Q.C.s in high school, Cooke joined the Soul Stirrers, one of the most popular and influential gospel quartets of the 1940s, as lead vocalist around 1950. He remained with the Soul Stirrers until 1956. Cooke also briefly manned the Pilgrim Travelers with Lou Rawls.
In 1956 Sam Cooke, under the name Dale Cook, began recording pop material for Specialty Records. In late 1957 he scored a top R&B and pop hit on Keen Records with “You Send Me,” written by his brother Charles “L.C.” Cooke. Subsequent smash R&B and major pop hits through 1960 included “I’ll Come Running Back to You” on Specialty and “You Were Made For Me, “Win Your Love for Me, “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha, the classic “Only Sixteen” and “Wonderful World” on Keen.
In 1960 Sam Cooke accepted a lucrative offer to join RCA Records. Recorded with cloying pop arrangements featuring strings and horns under producers Hugo (Peretti) and Luigi (Creatore), Cooke scored a series of hits between 1960 and 1964. These included the pop and R&B smashes “Chain Gang, “Twistin7 the Night Away” and “Another Saturday Night”; the hits “Cupid, “Bring It on Home to Me” backed with “Having a Party, “Nothing Can Change This Love, “Send Me Some Lovin’, “Frankie and Johnny, and “Little Red Rooster. “(Ain’t That) Good News” and “Good Times” became major R&B and pop hits.
In 1961 Sam Cooke launched Sar Records, followed by Derby Records in 1963. R&B/pop hits on Sar included “Lookin7 for a Love” (1962) and “It’s All Over Now” (1964) by the Valentinos (later covered by the J. Geils Band and the Rolling Stones, respectively), “Soothe Me” by the Sims Twins (1961), and “Meet Me at the Twistin7 Place” by Johnnie Morisette (1962). “When a Boy Falls in Love” became a moderate hit for Mel Carter on Derby in 1963.
In early 1964 Cooke announced that he was going to cut back on his touring to concentrate on running his record labels. Later that year the live set At the Copa was issued, but a far more representative set, Feel It! Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, recorded with saxophonist King Curtis, was eventually released in 1985.
Sam Cooke’s career was secure by 1964, with enormous promise for the future, but on Dec. 11, 1964, he was shot to death in Los Angeles. Posthumously, his “Shake” (covered by Otis Redding in 1967) became a near-smash hit in 1965, followed by his most enduring composition, “A Change Is Gonna Come, only a few days later.
Cooke was one of the first black recording artists to successfully synthesize a popular blend of gospel music styling and secular themes. Eschewing the harsher shouting style of Ray Charles and emphasizing his high, clear, sensual tenor voice, Cooke, along with Charles, helped pioneer the sound that became known as soul music, influencing black singers from Smokey Robinson to Al Green, and Otis Redding to Aretha Franklin, and white British singers such as Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. Along with James Brown, Cooke was one of the first black artists to write his own songs and gain control over his recording career (also founding two record labels). He demonstrated a growing sense of social consciousness with the moving “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, 1986, and the Soul Stirrers were inducted into the Hall as Early Influences in 1990.
SAMCOOKE : Two Sides of Sam Cooke (1957); Sam Cooke Sings (1958); Encore (1958); Tribute to the Lady (1959); Encore, Vol. 2 (1959); Hit Kid (1960); I Thank God (1960); Wonderful World (1960); Cooke’s Tour (1960); One and Only (1960); Sam’s Songs (1961); Only Sixteen (1961); So Wonderful (1961); Sam Cooke—Swing Low (1961); My Kind of Blues (1961); You Send Me (1962); Cha Cha Cha (1962); Twistin’ the Night Away (1962); Mister Soul (1963); Night Beat (1963); Ain’t That Good News (1964); At the Copa (1964); Shake (1965); Try a Little Love (1965); The Unforgettable Sam Cooke (1966); The Man Who Invented Soul (1968); One and Only (1968); This Is Sam Cooke (1970); Sam Cooke (1970); The Unforgettable Sam Cooke (1973); Golden Sound (1973); Sings the Billie Holiday Story (1973); Interprets Billie Holiday (1975); You Send Me (1975); Right On (1975); Feel It! Live at the Harlem (1985); Forever (1986); The Man and His Music (1986); The Rhythm and the Blues (1995). SOUL STIRRERS : Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers (1959); The Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke, Vol. 1 (1970); The Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke, Vol. 2 (1971), The Original Soul Stirrers (1971); That’s Heaven to Me (1972); In the Beginning (1989); Jesus Gave Me Water (1992); Heaven Is My Home (1993); The Last Mile of the Way (1994).
J. McEuen, S. C.: A Biography in Words and Pictures (N.Y., 1977); D. Wolff with S. R. Grain, C. White and G. David Tenenbaun, You Send Me: The Life and Times ofS. C. (N.Y., 1995).
"Cooke, Sam." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cooke-sam
"Cooke, Sam." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Retrieved April 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cooke-sam