Sam Cooke

  • R&B singer, songwriter born Samuel Cook, in 1931, in Clarksdale Mississippi, and raised in Chicago Illinois. Died in 1964 of a gunshot wound to the heart, by the manager of the motel in Los Angeles where he was staying. The manager claimed it was in self defense, as Cooke was attacking her.
  • His singing career began at the age of 6, when he sang gospel music with his brothers and sisters in a group called The Singing Children. At 14, he became the lead singer of the Chicago based gospel group The Highway QCs, and at 19, he became to lead singer of The Soul Stirrers.
  • In 1951, his first recording as leader of The Soul Stirrers was Jesus Gave Me Water. They recorded other gospel music, including some that Cook wrote. By 1956, he decided to expand to R&B and soul music – he released his first single, Lovable, using the alias name Dale Cook, hoping to hide the fact that a gospel singer was performing secular music. It fooled no one, given his distinctive voice.
  • In 1957, he signed with a record company, and released his debut solo album – and added an ‘e’ at the end of his name to signify a new start in life. The album, titled Songs By Sam Cooke, was typical of his 15 studio albums, in that the album itself did not sell particularly well, but it contained a song that was a big hit. The debut single from the album was You Send Me – it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Rolling Stone puts the song at #115 on their list of the Greatest Songs of All Time.
  • Twelve more albums were released between 1958 and 1964. Cooke had numerous big hits during this time, with 16 singles hitting the top 10 on the R&B chart, including #1 songs I’ll Come Running Back To You, Twistin’ The Night Away, Another Saturday Night, and #2 songs Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha, Wonderful World (#302 on the Rolling Stone GOAT list), Chain Gang, Bring It On Home To Me, Nothing Can Change This Love, and Send Me Some Lovin’. 
  • In 1964, 11 days after he was killed, the single A Change Is Gonna Come was released, from his studio album, Ain’t That Good News, which was released prior to his death. The song is an anthem of the civil rights movement, inspired when Cooke was not permitted to stay in an all-white hotel in Louisiana in 1963. While it was a modest hit compared to his earlier work, it is considered his signature piece. Rolling Stone places it at #12 on the GOAT list, and in 2007, the Library of Congress selected it for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
  • Two studio albums were released in 1965 after Cooke’s death – Shake and Try a Little Love. Shake reached #1 on the R&B album chart, along with his live album released 2 months before his death – Sam Cooke at the Copa. Many compilation albums have been released since his death – most notably, Portrait of a Legend: 1951 – 1964 released in 2003, is considered the most comprehensive and complete collection of his work, earning a place on Rolling Stone and Time Magazine’s “All Time Best” lists of albums.
  • The impact that Sam Cooke had on music cannot be overstated. He is considered the first great soul singer, pioneering the genre, and often is referred to as the King of Soul. In 1986, he was inducted as a charter member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as a member of the Soul Stirrers. In 1999, he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Rolling Stone ranks him at #16 on their Greatest Artists of All Time list, and at #4 on their Greatest Singers list.
  • His voice is incomparable – smooth and effortless. Hard to find Cooke’s performances on YouTube. Here he is on American Bandstand, singing You Send Me. Plus, a performance of Twistin’ the Night Away.

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